By Rena Greifinger, Managing Director, Experiential Philanthropy Maverick Collective & MaverickNext

Originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

When asked “What kind of society do we want to build?” I did what I always do when I am grappling with hard questions and looking for inspiration. I turn to women that I respect and admire.

When asked, “What kind of society do we want to build?” I did what I always do when I am grappling with hard questions and looking for inspiration. I turn to women that I respect and admire. Women who, whether we have collaborated for years or met only once, have left me thinking, “Wow. I can learn from her.”  

This time I turned to 13 leaders in philanthropy, all of whom identify as women, working on issues like racial justice, entrepreneurship and gender equality. To each I asked, “What new values or principles have guided your philanthropic practice during COVID-19 that you would like to continue past the pandemic?”  

Rena Greifinger

Perhaps it’s because I crave such a gathering of kindred spirits; but I cannot help but write as if the 14 of us were curled up in my living room, glass of whatever in hand, examining this question from our diverse perspectives and experiences. Four continents and a global pandemic mean we settled for email. However, the responses I received (excerpts of which appear below in quotations) were so rich, so resonant and so in line with one another that it feels as though we were indeed together — in conversation and in mindset. Let’s imagine that we were. 

Rena Greifinger leads the Experiential Philanthropy division at Population Services International and is Managing Director of Maverick Collective. With over 15 years of entrepreneurship, global health and design-thinking expertise, Rena has been at the forefront of designing and delivering unique philanthropic programmes that drive lasting impact for women and girls around the world; while co-creating a movement of philanthropists who are becoming informed advocates, bold leaders and strategic investors through their partnership with PSI.

As PSI’s Global Youth & Girls Advisor for five years, she led the organisation’s work in design-thinking and private sector approaches to adolescent health. Prior to PSI she started Next Step’s One Love Project, an award-winning programme that builds leadership, life-skills and mentoring support for young people living with HIV in the US. She holds a Master of Science from the Harvard School of Public Health.


I imagine Vini Bhansali, who leads Solidaire, kicking off the evening. “COVID-19 has exposed longstanding inequities caused by systems and policies robbing our communities of the resources they needed to be healthy and resilient. I am moved to see our donors…providing the long-term sustained support needed for our collective liberation.”

“Right!” Mosun Layode, who leads African Philanthropy Forum, might respond. “Meaningful social changes are not achieved by quick fixes. We must be willing to take the time necessary to understand the problem and have the readiness to stay the course long enough to mitigate or resolve it.”

“Yes!” Sudha Nandagopal exclaims. As leader of Social Venture Partners, she implores that we fund “systems change efforts led by and for those most impacted by unjust systems…institutional philanthropy has historically not gotten funds to these leaders and their organizations.” 


“We cannot overcome this crisis and realizequality for women without fixing this funding chasm,” agrees Sarah Haacke Byrd, who leads Women Moving Millions. “As a community of funders, we are meeting this moment by asking our community to give boldly to close this funding gap and to challenge ourselves to adopt new approaches, listen to diverse perspectives, and work within and across movements.”  

Christine Switzer, philanthropic strategist with Fidelity Charitable, would add: “The trend I am seeing is that there is more of an appetite now to consider funding other issue areas that may not have been on donors’ radars, funding organizations focused on racial and social justice, and leveraging impact investing opportunities.” 

At this point, the nods of agreement would be ferocious. Getting to root causes means interrogating and dismantling the broken systems that much of our societies are built on — systems of racism, oppression and patriarchy. To tackle these injustices means to move philanthropy from the oft-used model of single-issue funding to funding through an intersectional lens. Not doing so, asserts Jamie Cooper, who leads Big Win Philanthropy (www.bigwin.org), will not only create further crises, but “we miss opportunities to thoughtfully design interventions that could ultimately spur a stronger foundation for improved service delivery, economic growth and societal well-being”. 


Systemic change relies on our ability as a society — particularly among those that have historically held power — to shift the power to design, deliver and decide how programs are funded to those who are closest to the problem. That requires humility, courage and trust. In speaking about her work with the Liberian Amujae Leadership Forum, Jamie reminds us that “Liberia’s [COVID] readiness—seemingly much beyond where the US and UK were at that time—reinforced that we never assume we know better than the leaders we work with what needs to be done in their context, and count on them to guide how we direct our efforts for greatest impact.” 

Latanya Mapp Frett, who leads Global Fund for Women, would likely chime in here with her steadfast commitment to feminist principles of philanthropy — those espousing “core support, flexible funding and community-led responses.” Sarah agrees, urging us to embrace the “guiding principles of trustbased philanthropy…and giving multi-year, unrestricted funding”.  

This could be the behavior change we need to get people to release the money in their Donor-Advised Funds (DAF), I could imagine Jennifer Risher saying. She launched a challenge encouraging DAF holders to give now and give big 

The belief that communities can and should determine their futures without excessive donor intervention was proven this past year as donors remained grounded at home. “This,” explains Fanta Toure-Puri, who leads the Girls First Fund, “gave some much needed space to the grantees/communities to strategize and catch up with their priorities.” 

In recounting her own experience galvanizing peers to cofund a COVID-19 rapid response, Cristina Ljungberg who leads The Case for Her remarked how “a group of individuals can move fast, take risks and fill a gap where a reasonably small amount of funding can kick off a movement across the globe”.  

Latanya concurs. “When the pandemic spread, [our] grantee partners got right to work and used our flexible funding to respond [to COVID-19] …while laying the groundwork for broader gender justice and equality.”  

Marina Feffer who leads Generation Pledge said, “Our family foundation created a new budget for mitigating negative impacts of the crisis in a speed of decision-making we had never experienced before!”  


In spite of the need to shelter in place and socially distance ourselves from each other, COVID-19 has sparked collaboration in philanthropy that we will all strive to maintain. Sudha says what I imagine most of us are thinking: “Solving systemic crises requires collective action. That’s why it’s more important than ever to participate in donor networks and utilize collective giving opportunities…to turn what is usually an isolated, individual action (writing a check), into a collective, transparent, system-level and long-term response.” 

Christine has “connected more philanthropists and nonprofit organizations across the country through virtual gatherings to build community”. 


Philanthropy has not always been a collaborative practice. Like shifting power and trusting others to direct resources, it takes courage. “As an investor”, Jacqueline Novogratz, who leads Acumen, says, “we’ve also had to practice courage, listen deeply and redefine success in terms of who, what and how we fund.”


As we wrap up this imaginary evening of discussion, I feel more encouraged than ever about the future of our society if we can, in Fanta’s words, “remain humble and think big” about philanthropy’s role in it. Thank you Vini, Sudha, Latanya, Cristina, Jennifer, Mosun, Christine, Fanta, Priya, Jamie, Marina, Jacqueline and Sarah. As I continue to build my own leadership, I commit to keeping you all — and other inspiring leaders — close, and continuing to, as Priya Bery, who leads the Tarsadia Foundation, implores: “Ask questions rather than chase outcomes. Be brave, courageous and uncomfortable. Be honest and speak up. Lead with your heart.” 

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