“When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”
— Melinda Gates

‘Ahead of her time’ is a phrase frequently used in respect of what many women have achieved across various fields of activity. In the field of philanthropy in Ireland, it most definitely applies to Katharine Howard. Founder of a foundation bearing her name in 1979, KHF, her vision in establishing the fund has positively impacted the lives of socio-economically disadvantaged children and families over the last 40 plus years.

KHF places great emphasis on working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary organisations and other funders, affirming the Foundation’s developmental approach to its work. Their two main programmes, the Community Mothers Programme and The Nurture Programme-Infant Health and Wellbeing, have impacted nationally, effectively impacting policy. It continues as one of the few independent all-island grant-making foundations in Ireland building a legacy not just of impact but of leadership.

Irish philanthropic funds targeting support for women have a record of achievement. They have shown to both support project initiatives and to challenge ongoing issues of equality and diversity across many strands of society today. In 2010, for example, the Community Foundation for Ireland established a Women’s Fund. While the primary purpose was to address immediate needs, it has also acted as a channel for a growing community of female philanthropists who, as changemakers, bring important new perspectives to the grants process. The fund has provided multi-annual funding for larger scale projects and at the other end of the scale it supports smaller community-based projects.

The Mná na hÉireann, Women of Ireland Fund is the first fund in Ireland to support charities and social enterprises that seek to enhance the economic mobility of women and is designed specifically to equip these organisations to expand their business acumen, drive growth and deepen their impact across Ireland. A €1.8 Million Fund over three years, 2020-2022, it was created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with Bank of America and the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund. It aims to empower 1,000 women to secure employment across Ireland.

Supporting COPEGalway to build a fit for purpose shelter for women in Galway at the site of the old Magdalen Laundry (now Modh Eile House), Lifes2Good Foundation is helping to change the way Galway can support its most vulnerable women and children. The new facility has a mix of one and two bedroomed units with cooking facilities, and can accommodate nine women and twenty-four children. The complex also incorporates a state-of-the-art childcare unit (more than half of the people who turn to COPE for assistance are children). This new facility raises the standard of domestic violence services not just in Galway, but in Ireland.

This is just a snapshot of how philanthropy by women and for women in Ireland can and does play a significant role in challenging and addressing key issues of concern. Noting the words of Kathy Calvin, former CEO and now Board Member of the UN Foundation, “giving is not just about making a donation it is about making a difference”, women in philanthropy are quietly make a real difference. As key influencers both as individuals and within families, the field of women’s philanthropy is evolving day by day. We need to encourage and support engagement to realise the continuing potential for women in philanthropy to choose to challenge on key issues in our society.

And there are many women supporting philanthropy here in Ireland. As we look to our own membership in Philanthropy Ireland, we are proud to recognise the depth and calibre of female leadership in the Irish philanthropy sector. In addition to organisations already mentioned here, we have women leading in philanthropy on a wide range of issues: of peace, culture, education and community development in The Ireland Funds; supporting social services to solve complex problems and scale social innovations in Genio; on issues for the most marginalised including, migrants, travellers and ex-offenders in St. Stephen’s Green Trust; on youth mental health and well-being in IYF; on education for brighter futures at basis.point; supporting communities and driving social change in CFNI; and in third level education support and access through DCU Trust.

This is just a snapshot. There are so many more women who are quietly active, so many more who are engaged at varying levels, in varying ways and on varying issues.

In their own way, they are all choosing to challenge. Can you join them on the journey?  

For more information, contact Éilis Murray, CEO Philanthropy Ireland [email protected]