How The Growing Role Of Women In Philanthropy Empowers Change

The economic influence of women is palpable, as evidenced by Forbes India's 100 Richest list of 2023, which showcased nine women billionaires. This growing economic significance of women is paralleled by a rise in their engagement in philanthropy

Neera Nundy
New Update
Image credit oxfam india

Image from Oxfam India

Philanthropy continues to evolve, marked by a diverse range of voices that are reshaping the sector's trajectory. At the forefront of this evolution are women, whose increasing influence is evident globally, propelled by a surge in female entrepreneurship and a more equitable distribution of intergenerational wealth.


Contrary to popular belief, women have historically played a pivotal role in philanthropy in India, despite facing socio-economic barriers. Figures like Savitribai Phule, Lady Avabai Jejeebhoy, and Pandita Ramabai among others exemplify the enduring legacy of women giving back to society, laying the foundation for increased female participation. Despite disparities in wealth, women's contributions have transcended financial means to include time, energy and talent, reflecting a deep commitment to advancing social change.

Rising Economic Influence of Women

Research conducted by The Boston Consulting Group in 2020 reveals women are accumulating wealth at an accelerated pace, contributing an estimated $5 trillion to the global wealth pool each year. This surge in women's wealth accumulation is projected to continue, with their share of the wealth expected to grow in the years ahead. 

The economic influence of women is palpable, as evidenced by Forbes India's 100 Richest list of 2023, which showcased nine women billionaires with a combined wealth of $57.96 billion. This growing economic significance of women is paralleled by a rise in their engagement in philanthropy-related decision-making among India's high-net-worth donors. This trend signifies a positive shift in Indian philanthropy, underlining women's capacity and motivation to drive change within the philanthropic landscape. 

Wealth advisory firms corroborate this trend, noting that female clients often exhibit a long-term vision for philanthropy, gravitating towards underserved causes and demonstrating a strong desire to support women, ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities. Moreover, women are actively involving their children in philanthropic endeavors, fostering an intergenerational commitment to social impact and community development.

Furthermore, early insights suggest parallels between Indian and US philanthropic trends, hinting at a potential convergence in the approaches adopted by women donors across borders. This convergence holds promise for fostering collaboration, sharing good practices, and maximising the collective impact of women-led philanthropic efforts on a global scale.


Increasing Engagement in Philanthropy

As philanthropy evolves, women are assuming a more prominent role in driving its trajectory. In FY 2022–23, the EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List 2023 recognized seven women on the list, with a total contribution of INR 261 crore. Notably, Rohini Nilekani of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies emerged as India’s most generous female philanthropist, with a substantial donation of INR 170 crore. Following closely behind were Anu Aga & family of Thermax and Leena Gandhi Tewari of USV, each contributing INR 23 crore, demonstrating a significant commitment to social causes.

India Philanthropy Report 2024, co-created by Dasra and Bain and Company, offers valuable insights to understand diverse approaches and motivations driving women's philanthropy. Based on early hypothesis and emerging data from GivingPi, India’s first family-focused philanthropy network, the report notes that ~70% GivingPi members in over 210 families reported active women representation in their family philanthropy and 54% of the members indicate women-led family philanthropy. Interestingly, women philanthropists are showing promise in giving to underrepresented causes, demonstrating a strong emphasis on adopting a Gender, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (GEDI) lens in their philanthropic endeavors (44% vs. 33% men). 

These women are supporting newer approaches such as championing the causes of the most underserved communities and geographies (children with disabilities, nomadic and denotified tribes, women survivors) and shifting their focus to newer sector such as mental health, scientific research and innovation, climate action, among others. Examples include Amira Shah Chhabra who supports a diverse range of nonprofits with flexible, accountable, and goal-oriented support to impact lives purposefully and patiently. Another example includes Leena Dandekar who is championing the voice of nature with a landscape approach to climate action that recognises the intersectionality and interconnectedness of various actors in a landscape and uses data to inform the problem statements and solutions. The report also notes that women lead with higher involvement and show greater accountability through their funding initiatives which shapes champions, fosters collaborations, and builds institutions. 

However, despite their impactful contributions, women often face challenges in receiving recognition and visibility commensurate with their male counterparts. Additionally, there exists a notable research gap in understanding philanthropy and civil society in India, particularly regarding disaggregated data on women's philanthropic behaviors. Bridging these gaps is crucial to gaining deeper insights into women's giving behaviors and ensuring adequate support to unlock greater philanthropic capital.

In summary, the evolving role of women in philanthropy reflects not only their growing economic power but also their dedication to effecting positive change. As women continue to ascend to positions of influence and leadership, their contributions to philanthropy are poised to catalyze transformative change, driving progress towards a more equitable and inclusive society for all. As an ecosystem, it's imperative that we create pathways for their sustained engagement, while amplifying our narrative-building efforts surrounding women in philanthropy. These endeavors hold the potential to yield gender-transformational outcomes in the long run.

Neera Nundy, Co-Founder and Partner at Dasra. Views expressed by the author are their own

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