Helping Women Get Ahead

Craig Styles, Philanthropic Advisor

Supporting the advancement of women and girls is an increasingly popular and worthy goal, but it can be complex from a charitable giving perspective. I recently talked it over with Melanie Schnoll Begun, Head of Philanthropy Management at Morgan Stanley. Here, she shares some ideas about how individuals who have a passion for helping women and girls can define their focus and have the most impact.

Craig Styles: When we talk about organizations that “support women and girls,” what does that typically mean? What kind of work should someone expect to see from an organization focused on supporting women and girls?

Melanie Schnoll Begun: Supporting women and girls through philanthropy can take many forms.  It can range from supporting women’s health issues like breast cancer or maternal health, to funding scholarships that encourage more young women to study STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), to advocating for equal pay and upward mobility in the workforce.  The key is to think about how specific initiatives supporting women can be incorporated into areas of your overall giving plan like education and healthcare.

CS: Do you typically think about this work in more of a domestic or international context?

MSB: I think of this work as designed to tackle global issues. Issues like maternal health, domestic violence and breast cancer affect women everywhere. I personally support causes that address these issues, and I also believe in investing in organizations that support women entrepreneurs.

CS: Why focus on women and girls as opposed to everyone?  How would you respond to those who say this discriminates against men and boys?

MSB: Women’s issues are everyone’s issues. They affect all of our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends and neighbors. The reality is women and girls face different challenges than men and boys and those challenges require different solutions. They face health issues like complications of pregnancy and childbirth, which  results in more than 300,000 deaths every year, and issues resulting from the fact that many are raising families alone. The solution to these issues can only be achieved by specifically targeting philanthropy towards women and girls.   Most importantly, women can’t be alone in supporting women’s and girl’s issues. Men are a big part of the solution!

CS: What are some of the main issues you see facing women and girls in the U.S.?

MSB: In addition to workplace issues, poverty, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and criminal justice reform directly affect women and demand attention from the philanthropic community and society at large here in the U.S.

CS: What are some of the main issues you see facing women and girls internationally?

MSB: Access to adequate medical care and sanitation are certainly significant issues. Additionally, many women across the globe cannot legally own property or lack access to basic education.

CS: There’s a lot of rhetoric about supporting whole communities by supporting women, as though they’re a conduit. Can you explain that rationale? Do you agree with it?

MSB: It’s been shown that helping women gain access to financial resources can help them attain higher levels of education and earnings which, in turn, can lead to lower infant mortality rates and improvement in child health and nutrition, According to a Harvard Business Review study, women in emerging markets reinvest 90% of every dollar earned into “human resources”—their families’ education, health and nutrition—compared to only 30-40% of every dollar earned by men.


CS: How can folks start researching different organizations if they want to start getting involved?

MSB: The best place to start is by checking out research and nonprofit ratings websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator or seek inspiration in publications like Morgan Stanley’s Perspectives in Philanthropy.

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