Maintaining and Enhancing Social Purpose Through Philanthropic and ESG/Impact Investing During High Inflation and Stressful Economic Times
At Maverick Collective by PSI, I have the privilege of working with a community of women philanthropists who are not only funding cutting-edge innovation but are engaging in a hands-on learning journey to become more empathetic, impactful philanthropists. So, when I began reflecting on the theme of this Philanthropy Impact issue – giving during stressful economic times—I knew I could find inspiration from our incredible members. Despite high inflation and economic uncertainty, these women are buckling down in their efforts for social impact; centring the communities that they support and their needs with unwavering commitment, remaining steady against the turmoil, and focusing on their values and core beliefs to continue bringing about change.
What follows are the thoughts of four young philanthropic leaders reflecting on the question, “How do you maintain or enhance your social purpose during stressful economic times and competing global crises?” I hope you are as inspired as I was after reading their responses!
“The 2020s have been ‘roaring’ for all the wrong reasons; an unprecedented pandemic, racial reckoning, and the global energy crisis are only a few of the latest challenges that have made life more difficult for the vast majority of people. When one crisis abates, another strikes just in time to keep us on our toes.
The devastation and resulting divisiveness have caused me to take a step back, reflect on what is important, and shift gears accordingly. By aligning my career, personal life and philanthropy around my values, I am learning to place social purpose at the centre of how I respond to these sequential events.
In practice, this has materialised in several ways: applying a DEI lens to my family foundation’s strategy, working as a field organiser to elect democrats , and, most recently, joining my family’s energy company to bridge the gap between sustainability and public policy.
As I now work to find solutions to the dual challenge of climate change and energy security, I ground myself in the awareness of how privileged I am to have the agency to make these choices for my life and career. My motivating purpose is to make it a little easier for the next person to have the same freedom of agency. Imagine what we could achieve.”
Hilary Hamm is a policy specialist who believes that systemic change requires cross-sector collaboration. She currently serves as a Board Member of the Arnall Family Foundation and Director of Federal Affairs and Corporate Sustainability at Continental Resources.
“In my family, we have two mottos. The first is ‘A mind conscious of right’. The second: ‘Leave room for a crisis.’ We’ve seen our fair share of those recently. Disease, disaster, injustice, war… all are happening – in parallel, compounding – and all hit women and girls the hardest. It’s hard to stay hopeful; it’s even harder to stay focused.
During my time at the WHO, I watched Ebola devastate the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Crisis changes everything; we don’t just do our normal work, faster. The whole system shifts to make room for the disruptions and tribulations of circumstance. But, though we treat them as such, crises are not acute events. Their effects are felt for years, if not decades, and trickle down into every aspect of human life. Crisis is a multiplier. To combat its consequences, we must find others.
Funding women and girls is proven to be a rising tide that lifts all ships. I’ve found my focus in supporting agency, knowing that looks different to everyone: the ability to choose if and when to have a family, to stay in school, to work outside the home. Causation aside, find your cause; then go there. Then work.”
Miller Morris is a global health researcher, social entrepreneur, and Founder/CEO of The Comma Collective, with a graduate degree in Social Determinant of Health and an M.P.H in Global Health. She is passionate about interdisciplinary, people-centred ways to make a more just world.
“During stressful economic times and competing global crises – when most philanthropic dollars would be flowing to more pressing immediate issues – the need to support less mainstream causes is even greater.
Distracted by the pandemic, what little funding and support issues like sexual and reproductive health received were unfortunately diverted away towards the immediate needs of COVID-19. This is in spite of the fact that women and girls were even more impacted from lockdowns, with an inability to access contraception or health providers, being forced to stay at home with abusive husbands and having to prioritise childcare ahead of their careers. Bringing the flow of funding back to pre-pandemic levels will prove to be tricky, especially given the lack of widespread support in the first place.
I understand everyone has different priorities, and economic uncertainty makes it even more difficult to be as generous as before, but I believe now is the time to act, to double down our efforts and keep momentum going. Giving women autonomy over their bodies at a time when freedoms are being taken away will not only effect change today but for generations to come. This has cemented my conviction to support the causes closest to my heart, especially during times of crisis and stress.”
Shaline Gnanalingam runs her family office out of Hong Kong and sits on the Board of Westports Malaysia. She has an MA from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
“A guiding principle that drives our work at The Marks Family Foundation is that there are deserving individuals who just need a little ‘lift’. Not unlike how we approach investing in start-ups in the venture world, our foundation invests in people. We encourage, advise, and provide capital so they can put their best foot forward. We believe there is a multiplier effect in investing in people who demonstrate great ambition and talent, and resolve to overcome the disadvantageous lot they've been given in life.
Market forces and turbulent economic times only intensify the current against which these individuals must swim. It is our belief that these times call for trust-based philanthropy that empowers the organisations and individuals we support to make the best use of funds given the environment. We are aware that tough times may call for funding more basic needs over programmatic ones. For example, teachers may provide snacks in the classroom for food-insecure students rather than getting new learning materials, as kids don’t have the capacity to learn if they come to school hungry. Tough economic times call for agility and a commitment to trusting the people and organisations we support.”
Amy Marks Dornbusch is Director of The Marks Family Foundation, which awards risk tolerant grants for women and girls, music and the arts, and education. The Foundation invests in scholars, talent, refugees, and the development of programs that are designed in part by the populations they intend to serve.
It’s so powerful that all four women highlighted the importance of agency in their own framing – their own agency and the agency they strive to enable for all women and girls around the world. I’d like to add a few more ‘A’-words from a philanthropic approach we’ve been developing at Maverick Collective. In times of economic stress; activate – bring your full net worth to the causes you’re passionate about, giving not only your funding, but your time, networks, and voice to make change; be authentic – show up as an active listener and see how you can support the organisations you care about through difficult times; and finally, be accountable – whenever you can, commit to providing long-term, steady funding to ensure the causes you care about can also weather the economic storm.
No matter where you are in your philanthropic journey, you can adopt these practices to strengthen your giving, solidify your purpose, and create social impact for the causes and communities you care about.