Islamic Finance

Women champions: The changing face of philanthropy

This Q&A is with Kimberly Gire, Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy. It is part of Salaam Gateway’s International Women's Day 2020 series that is co-designed and curated by Nyra Mahmood, MD of UK-based Simply Sharia Human Capital (SSHC LTD), the publishers of the 2016 report "Women in Islamic Finance & Islamic Economy”.


1. Salaam Gateway: What is the biggest gap and hence biggest opportunity for women and philanthropy?

Kimberly Gire: I feel it is important that I start off by framing this conversation in the context of global events. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness for all of us on just how interconnected our world is, highlighting the need for immediate response and the importance of ensuring all countries are well-prepared with strong primary health systems.  

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has moved quickly and joined forces with Wellcome Trust and Mastercard to create a COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator backed by $125 million to identify potential treatments for COVID-19, accelerate their development, and prepare for the manufacture of millions of doses for use worldwide. This is an example of the critical role philanthropy can play, through pooled funding as well as through catalysing innovation and leveraging well-respected voices to draw in additional partners and funds.

This agile leadership and expertise stems from the role the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and founding partners, demonstrated in establishing GAVI - the global vaccine alliance.  GAVI has helped countries broaden vaccine coverage and – very importantly - strengthen their primary health systems. This makes them less susceptible and better able to prevent disease outbreaks that pose a threat to people in these countries, protecting millions of others around the world.

For many women, philanthropy often starts very close to home, and women throughout history have supported the most vulnerable, giving their time, voices and raising much-needed resources directed to causes in their own communities.  In our increasingly interconnected world, and with women leading at the highest levels in business, government and beyond, there is both the need and the opportunity for women to contribute to regional and global challenges on a much larger scale, leveraging their expertise, voices and funds both at home and beyond borders.

2. Do we need to look at women’s philanthropy differently for Muslim-majority countries, compared to how organisations in the Western hemisphere work with female philanthropists in Europe and the U.S.?

Women’s collective giving is an extremely popular and effective model of philanthropy in the Western hemisphere, which I can speak to from my personal experience founding and leading women’s philanthropic initiatives - including giving circles, advocacy collectives and skills-based strategic philanthropy.

When looking at the opportunity to accelerate and grow the impact of women’s philanthropy in Muslim-majority countries, it is important to recognise that many women’s collectives and Quranic groups around the world make their own donations and fundraise for those most in need, therefore women are active givers and receivers of philanthropic efforts and of Islamic charity including zakat and sadaqah.

Muslim women are increasingly changing the wealth and economic landscape.  For example, women in the Middle East now control 22% of the region’s wealth, and women in Saudi Arabia hold a combined fortune of $11.9 billion, in cash. Working Muslim women are now a trillion-dollar market, representing 30% of the 450 million women in Muslim-majority economies. 

There is a need to create new spaces where Muslim women can take the lead as decision-makers in expanding their philanthropic efforts, impacting lives and creating pipelines for sustainable action regionally and globally.

3. Following on from the Question 2, how do we leverage the growing wealth, influence and expertise of women in Islamic countries?

It is important to mention that Muslim women are already involved in global philanthropic activities. Indonesian philanthropist, Peggy Melati Sukma has devoted herself to charitable endeavours, collaborating with Aksi Cepat Tanggap or ACT, a charity focussed on social care and humanitarian relief. In a project with ACT, Peggy launched the Akhwat Bergerak or “Sisters Who Move” aimed at raising awareness among Muslim women and inviting them to contribute to humanitarian activities. Incidentally, Indonesia topped the CAF World Giving Index in 2018 with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates named in the top twenty most generous countries.

New pathways for women’s giving have neither been properly identified nor framed by Muslim women as donors and leaders, enabling them to accelerate their own collective journey towards critical impact, addressing the needs of people and other women and girls at the margins in the region and globally.  There is an opportunity to mobilize Muslim women's collective giving and strategic philanthropy, empowering, enabling and listening to women in Muslim-majority countries through an approach which gives them the tools to lead.

4. Are there specific Islamic social financial tools you think are suitably matched to Muslim women philanthropists across the OIC?

It is not often that you find a financial tool which embodies the holistic empowerment of society, alleviates poverty and examines the long-term and continued benefit of communities and sustainable development.  Waqf - a voluntary and irrevocable dedication of a person’s wealth or a portion of it – in cash or in kind for the perpetual benefit of a community is the embodiment that does just that. It is probably one of the most underutilized tools in Islamic social finance.

What is even more remarkable is that the tradition of waqf investments was once the domain proliferated by women across 16th and 17th century Ottoman empire. In fact at one point in Jerusalem 56% of waqf funds were run by women, notable women with means supporting the most vulnerable in their communities, whether through a physical endowment in the shape of a property (shelter) or though cash endowments. This was all made possible because of the frameworks established through Islamic law and traditions, which facilitated women to serve as waqf managers, foundation officers, and beneficiaries.

Reviving that once rich Islamic tradition, which became a practice of solidarity, cultivating civic duty and moving outside the traditional purview of women as only ‘care-givers’, legitimized the invested stake women had in their community and wider society.

5. How can women use the tools of finance, including Islamic social finance, to take the lead and drive transformative changes needed to support the most vulnerable communities, which are disproportionately women and girls themselves?

Based on my personal experience - leveraging my global banking and finance career and expertise gained in structured finance – women can use the tools of finance and Islamic social finance to bridge the gap between philanthropy and finance. 

Women in finance and business can work together to create new pathways to support the most vulnerable communities, especially women and girls at the margins.   

There is an amazing cohort of women in finance, including Islamic finance, in the GCC and Malaysia, for example, who bring a depth of experience, and local, regional and global perspectives.  Women such as Saudi Arabia’s Rania Nashar, the first female CEO of Samba Financial Group and named as one of Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2019 – who in 2020 is also leading the B20 Saudi Arabia Women in Business Action Council. Maya Marissa Malek, Executive Director for Global Shariah Advisory and Compliance business for Amanie Group and the Chief Executive Officer of Amanie Advisors’ global office, UAE – who is passionate about innovating solutions though Islamic finance. And Elissar Farah Antonios, CEO for Citi UAE since 2016 and Citi Cluster head for UAE, Levant & Iraq from 2019 who is a seasoned banker with over 25 years of experience focused on the Middle East.

There is no shortage of women of talent and expertise in Muslim-majority countries to lead transformative change.

6. You are resolute in the belief that women should be at the centre of design, when it comes to mechanisms which look at sustainable and scalable solutions for areas disproportionately affecting women, such as health and education. How do we make this a reality?

Absolutely.  It is critical to look at solutions through a gender lens when it comes to issues and areas impacting women and girls. 

We are achieving this by creating new spaces, such as our Global Women Leaders community, with women at the center of the design process.  To have long-term sustainable impact, it is imperative to include women from not only business and philanthropy, but also from NGOs, grass-roots organizations, and with input from the women and girls we seek to support.

As a member of the B20 Advocacy Caucus, I also believe the lead up to the B20 Saudi Arabia in October 2020 offers a high-profile, global platform to bring more women leaders in finance and business to the philanthropy ‘design’ table.  I am excited by the opportunity to work in partnership with women leaders from the MENA region and OIC countries, pooling and leveraging our skillsets, connections and knowledge to create new philanthropic pathways to contribute to global public goods, including key challenges in health, education and emotional and economic empowerment.

7. In your experience, have you seen women become more strategic in their philanthropic efforts and reaching beyond traditional giving pathways, pivoting to grassroots communities and causes?

Women do not simply want to donate, but they want to see proper governance and be involved in impactful projects which can be scaled and sustained. What they’ve managed in the last decade is to democratize philanthropy through collective giving circles, which is changing the face of philanthropy. Giving circles are not a new concept and have existed throughout history in different forms globally and across traditions, including within Muslim women-led groups.

What is also important to note is that women, especially in the GCC are also playing a vital role in family businesses. A Strategy& report conducted a GGC-wide study of family-run offices and found that 50% of those interviewed said women are leading their families’ philanthropic activities, and  90% expected women to take on even larger philanthropic roles in the coming years. These women, like many young millennials in the region, want sophisticated ways in which their philanthropy can enable and engage wider audiences and create sustainability as well as bring technical know-how and innovations to their regions.

To build on the work and success of women within philanthropy, and across Muslim-majority countries – with rising social mobility, increasing labor participations and women taking the lead in philanthropic activity in family-run businesses - we need to lay down more direct pathways for them to navigate beyond local charity, enabling them to build that value chain of impact, so they can support local community and grassroots charities, when they choose, but also participate as global citizens.

8. There is an opportunity to engage and draw in Muslim women philanthropists in the OIC by institutions – government, NGOs, private foundations – why is this not happening on a large scale and how do we change that to engage more women?

To date, there has been very little engagement with Muslim women philanthropists – due to a lack of visibility / profile and lack of obvious pathways for them to engage.  For the past three years, Global Women Leaders has stepped in as a global collective of strategic philanthropists, sharing experiences from around the world and collaborating with Muslim women diaspora and particularly with women in MENA.

It is important for women in the region to explore new philanthropic models, with the narrative they want to create and lead, mapping out their expectations, how they can take ownership of their philanthropic efforts, while shaping their own agenda. Taking ownership, steering conversation, shaping agendas and being decision-makers in philanthropy through a MENA women-lens.  Finding the language that tells their story – demonstrates the value sets and ideas of the region and its women.

9. As women advance in the workforce and their wealth increases, they are more likely to give to charity than men (according to the Institute of Fundraising research 2017 and the US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy 2018), so how do we utilize and develop the pipelines for more strategic giving among women?

Women are not new to the philanthropic space both in the OIC and across the globe. They have arguably lacked the visibility on par with their male counter-parts, despite women volunteering their time and expertise to philanthropic activities and making 75% of the non-profit workforce.  In creating the pipelines and developing strategic thinking for women donors and philanthropists, first we need to understand the motivations behind women’s giving  - what are the expectations of this key audience and how do you as an organization facilitate that deeper and long-term connection with women.

One of the critical successes for developing women’s giving, especially at an institutional level, is to have strong, engaged and knowledgeable women as a part of the process in advisory, on boards, in decision-making and in designing tools and mechanisms for scale and impact.

In my experience women are much more practical and hands-on in their approach to giving, so pipelines and pathways for giving must engage women on the issues that matter to them and look further than the dollar amount raised, connecting with their expertise, networks and influencing power in a meaningful and authentic way.

10. What personally drives you in this space and to work with women specifically?

From a personal perspective, I know that the skills and expertise built up through a career in banking and finance is a valuable and largely untapped philanthropic asset that can be ‘given back’ alongside traditional giving.  

As demonstrated by the GAVI model, innovative, collective models of giving can be extremely effective and impactful.  There is an enormous opportunity for women to step forward and contribute on a significant scale, with a gender lens, to creating new philanthropic models tailored to the OIC and utilizing finance and Islamic financial mechanisms.

The time is now, to elevate, amplify and accelerate the collective action of Muslim women, who are defying labels and definitions constructed on their behalf.  

Global Women Leaders are committed to working collectively - supporting an environment, based on equity and equality, that helps create the pathways needed to mobilize women donors and design mechanisms they can access and direct.  It is my absolute privilege to do all I can to encourage and inspire more women to join us on this collective journey.


Continue reading Salaam Gateway’s International Women's Day 2020 series.

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