Strategic Giving and Investing in Women and Girls in Asia


Liz McGuffee

Strategic Giving and Investing in Women and Girls in Asia


3 min read

As wealth grows in Asia, so is philanthropic giving from within the region. And yet a recent report by the Lien Center for Social Innovation revealed the seeming lack of focus of philanthropic capital towards gender equality and SDG5. In examining trends in gender philanthropy across three Asian countries (China, India and Indonesia), the report identified growth opportunities for philanthropic entities across the region, including transnational approaches, strategic and collaborative giving, and talent and capacity building.

Yet, the question remains: how can we trigger more funding to empower women and girls in Asia? Here are the three ways philanthropy can confront the myriad of issues needed to create equality for women in Asia.

Women supporting women. As more women have control of capital (32% of global wealth is now controlled by women), they are supporting gender causes. As Ann Putnam Marks, Vice President of Major Gifts, UNICEF USA explains, “Women often donate based on their personal experiences,” such as challenges in school, the home, or in the corporate world.

Women also seek partnership within a community of donors, and that shifts the nature of philanthropy from being a flow of capital from donor to organization. “Today our donors seek to collaborate, and to “think with us’.” Deeper collaborations with donors can also lead to broader collaborations across philanthropic entities, governments and developmental organisations.

Lasting change will come with strategic and patient investment. Despite the pandemic setbacks just beginning to be understood, the deep, structural barriers that are holding women back need to be addressed, including the deeply patriarchal system in Asia. Although it may take generations to shift, investment in programs for adolescent girls has a strong return on investment. A young woman who stays in school is more likely to have skills needed for employment, will have higher survival rates for her infants, and will make better health care decisions for her family. The full return on investment for a donation to a 12 year old girl’s education may take two decades to realise, but it is clear that keeping her in school for 8 years–not just one–is the target.

From a corporate giving perspective, Renyung Ho, Vice President, Brand HQ of Banyan Tree Holdings, describes how her organisation does just that, and seeks to approach philanthropy with a broader understanding of deploying financial assets and human capital, working toward capacity building that benefits the communities in which they work today, and the company’s employment pool ten years down the line.

Data and research is empowering. Data allows philanthropists to gain clarity about how to align their resources (both philanthropic and human capital) with their long term goals. And for corporate donors, that can insure sustainability in their giving. But data and research, when it is executed by the beneficiaries themselves, can also be empowering for the beneficiaries. Nani Zulminarni, an Ashoka Fellow reflects on Ashoka’s “Everyone a changemaker” philosophy, describing the impact that community-driven change can have. “Research can be very powerful to help the poor community to look at their reality – critically – and understand that they are poor not because it is their destiny, but because of injustice.” And through the proliferation of smartphones, projects such as UNICEF’s U-Report also provide timely data while empowering young women using the technology.

By the very intersectionality of gender issues, it is challenging them. “When something is so pervasive, it can be invisible,” reflects Renyung. Mobilising individuals to invest is also a challenge because the problems are so varied, diffused and systemic. Paralysis can easily set in when trying to choose the right approach or project.

Nonetheless, we can each do something, through our philanthropy, our relationships and our strategic grantmaking, to contribute to creating a greater awareness of inequalities. There is good work to be done together–strategic, patient, collaborative and challenging work–to mobilise capital to SDG5 and bring gender equality to Asia.

The Asia Gender Network (AGN), established in 2020 with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and powered by AVPN, is the first pan-Asian philanthropy network, established to mobilise capital to improve outcomes for women and girls in Asia. One of the founding members, Renyung Ho, spoke on a panel with Ann Putnam Marks (UNICEF East Asia Pacific Region) and Nani Zulminarni (Ashoka Southeast Asia) on what is needed to bring progress to SDG5 in Asia.

For more information about the Asia Gender Network, please contact Patricia Mathias, Head- Gender program, AVPN ([email protected]).


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Liz McGuffee

Liz McGuffee has had the very good fortune of living and learning in four countries with her family, most recently for three years in Singapore. With thirty years of experience in fundraising, strategic management and communications, she has worked in education, global health, impact travel and gender justice.

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