Trillium News

Global Fund for Women: Giving — and Investing — In Line With Our Values

By Elizabeth Schaffer, Chief Financial and Operations Officer & Sara Ferree, Director of Donor Services – Global Fund for Women

Since 1987, the Global Fund for Women (GFW) has been a leader in advancing women’s human rights around the world. It is a truly global, publicly supported, women’s fund.


In the early 1980s few foundations, governments, or multilateral agencies were willing to invest directly in locally led, community-based, overseas women’s rights organizations. Those that did made contributions to large international NGOs that administered programs where women were seen only as beneficiaries, not leaders of change. GFW’s founders made a conscious decision to listen and learn from women working in their own communities. They recognized that women were best positioned to identify and implement solutions to the challenges affecting them and their communities, and they understood the biggest barrier to addressing those challenges: little or no access to money.
GFW then started its work providing women with the financial resources needed to catalyze or advance their vision for change.
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, we have granted more than $110 million to groups working across 175 countries in five regions—Asia and the Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, GFW engaged researchers from Stanford University to assess the impact of its first 25 years. The assessment confirmed our belief that the groups receiving support have made a significant difference in the lives of women and girls, including securing new laws in 25 countries that criminalize gender-based violence and give protection to more than one billion women and girls.

GFW works to achieve a just, equitable, and sustainable world in which women and girls have resources, voice, choice, and opportunities to realize their human rights.

To effect real change on the most pressing issues facing women and girls, GFW supports women’s efforts to end violence against women, secure sexual and reproductive rights and health, and build women’s economic and political empowerment. In addition, we support organizations that use education, technology, and leadership to achieve progress and momentum within those three impact areas.
It is challenging to only be able to fund a quarter of the 2,000 worthy requests we receive each year. We genuinely rely on our grantmaking philosophy: to provide flexible funding, select groups using a rights-based approach to their work, create trusting relationships with our grant partners, and support greater connection and engagement between women’s groups to strengthen women’s movements. At the core of this philosophy is our founding president, Anne Firth Murray’s, belief that “The way we do our work is more important than what we do.”
Our organization has also adopted an investment policy that is directly in line with the philosophy of our work and our organizational values. To prevent a conflict with these values, we seek to invest in companies whose policies we support and avoid investment in companies whose behavior we consider reprehensible.
We avoid companies that are deriving revenue from products that we see as harmful to the rights of women and girls, in particular their health and freedom from violence. Our secondary avoidance screen enables us to avoid investing in companies that have business practices that we do not believe uphold the dignity and rights of female workers and consumers.
Our supportive investment screens include investing in alternative energy and companies that believe in a high quality of products and services, research, being of service to the economically disadvantaged, and fostering a sense of community and respect in the workplace. Our proactive social investment includes shareholder activism on issues that reflect our values.
GFW celebrates and upholds giving as an act of social change because our donors participate as women’s rights activists within the wider global movement for freedom, nondiscrimination, security, equality, and justice for women. This approach acknowledges that each one of us has a unique, significant role to play in bringing about a more compassionate, just, and healthy world.
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Editor’s Note: This article was published in the summer 2014 issue of Trillium’s quarterly newsletter, Investing For a Better World.