The World Bank estimates that the pandemic has pushed as many as 150 million people back into poverty. And, women and girls are more likely to be poor. Yet, we’ve seen time and again that putting money in the hands of women lifts whole communities, as women-earned funds are much more likely to be invested in children’s welfare, education, health, and safety. This is why many funders believe in the multiplier effect of giving to organizations that teach women business education and economic sustainability. 

But progress toward gender equity and inclusion is at risk - approximately 85% of nonprofit organizations reported financial insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In response, one women-led organization and its global community of largely female donors has found a unique opportunity to mobilize around hopefulness and determination for years to come. 

Setting the Stage 

Street Business School (SBS) was founded by three women who wanted to use their various resources to teach women—traditionally overlooked in patriarchal societies—the skills to start businesses and care for themselves and their families. SBS provides entrepreneurial education for women living in deep poverty, on average tripling a woman’s income to nearly double the International Poverty Line. SBS has scaled its program from operating in Kampala, Uganda to now having a presence in 21 countries through a social franchise model in which it trains other nonprofit organizations how to incorporate and customize its business education programs. To date, nearly 100 organizations in developing countries have partnered to become SBS-certified and help families rise out of poverty. 

Due to the alarming rates of increased poverty due to COVID-19, SBS sought opportunities to be even bolder with its work to alleviate poverty through women’s economic empowerment. The organization has launched virtual classrooms, remote coaching, distance certification, open-source toolkits and a series of focus groups. These offerings have been created to accelerate reach and help train more women despite the new economic obstacles. 

Launching The Pledge

Last September, conversations with SBS’ philanthropic community led to articulating a new message of optimism and resolve with the launch of The Pledge. The Pledge is a public statement of support for SBS as a solution to the increased levels of poverty disproportionately affecting women and girls. All who sign The Pledge commit to making a three-year gift of $1,000 or more per year in support of SBS’ work to alleviate poverty through women’s economic empowerment. 

This philanthropic community launched The Pledge on New Year’s Day as a way to turn the page on 2020. Thirty-five individuals, foundations, and corporations signed The Pledge with an average three-year commitment of $51,000, raising nearly $2 million. More than half of those who joined The Pledge were individuals with gifts ranging from $1,000 to $1,000,000. Those who signed The Pledge understand the importance of human-centered solutions and long-term, sustainable commitments to dynamic nonprofits. They believe that philanthropy is more than giving; philanthropy includes collective action and advocacy to build a community of voices for change.

Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) from Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis published similar findings in their Women Give 2020 Report, titled “New Forms of Giving in a Digital Age: Powered by Technology, Creating Community.” The report states that “expanding the definition of philanthropy to more than money can help a movement spread globally, in particular to a more diverse group of women donors.” (Women's Philanthropy Institute, New Forms of Giving in a Digital Age, 2020, p. 7) While money is an essential currency to measuring philanthropic progress, women donors are more responsive to opportunities that embrace philanthropy’s multiple currencies such as combining voices, mobilizing supporters, and inspiring others to take action. 

The Donor’s Perspective

When asked to join The Pledge, donors connected with the idea that now was the time to respond to the urgent needs created by COVID-19 and support marginalized communities and nonprofit organizations like SBS. Additionally, many donors understood that their impact could be greater by coming together with others in this work.

Additionally, the high-level of participation was significant because many of these donors traditionally do not make long-term pledges or shy away from public statements. Marty Cordes, Co-Founder of the Cordes Foundation and member of Women Moving Millions, stated, “When we partner with a nonprofit, it’s about more than writing a check. It’s all about supporting groundbreaking work, engaging with a great team, and being part of a larger community of like-minded advocates. We have found all of these in our long relationship with SBS.” 

Business leader and author Jane Miller, CEO of Lily’s Sweets, is also one of the donors who signed The Pledge. She points out the significance of providing multi-year funding to organizations:

“I have been a supporter of Street Business School since its inception as providing education and training for women to succeed is our future! It is unbelievably powerful to see the impact of SBS and the confidence it instills in women. The Pledge is important in that it provides a three-year commitment to this amazing work. I implore any woman who has benefited from the gift of education and the resulting successful career to join in The Pledge!”  

Make A Pledge

The Pledge has the potential to make an exponential impact within the sector. In 2020, WPI published the Women & Girls Index in which it reported that, among the $410 billion that was given throughout 2017 to nonprofit organizations, only 1.6%  was gifted to organizations advancing issues related to women and girls. (Women's Philanthropy Institute, 2020, p. 18). Many donors see this is a critical time to change that trend. Philanthropists supporting nonprofits focused on women and girls have an opportunity to create their own pledge statements and mobilize their philanthropic communities. As International Women’s Day approaches, a wave of pledges could be shared to convey confidence that creating positive change for women and girls is not fading away. Implementers and philanthropists are standing together to say, “We are here to stay, to serve, to overcome.”