DOING GOOD

Tsitsi Masiyiwa is putting her millions into reducing Africa's gender gap

Tsitsi Masiyiwa, the philanthropist behind African Gender Initiative is leading Africans in philanthropic efforts to tackle gender inequality.
Tsitsi Masiyiwa is putting her millions into reducing Africa's gender gap
Photo: African Philanthropy Forum
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According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take another 132 years to close the gender gap. This means that no one living today is likely to see a time when men and women have equal rights or access to resources.

Zimbabwean philanthropist, Tsitsi Masiyiwa, who was recently named the African Philanthropist Of The Year wants to play her part in reducing the gender gap.

Barriers to women’s access to financial resources, ownership rights to the land they farm, and access to opportunities including education motivate Masiyiwa in her philanthropy work, something she started over 25 years ago. She is currently executive chair and co-founder at Delta Philanthropies and Higherlife Foundation, and she sits on the board of directors at Co-Impact, a global philanthropic collaborative.

In late October 2022, she launched the Africa Gender Initiative, which plans to raise $50 million within the next few years from African philanthropists to support Co-Impact’s $1 billion gender fund. In the past few months,the Africa Gender Initiative has already raised $5 million.

Co-Impact’s Gender Fund provides funding primarily to women-led, local organizations tackling systemic gender-based issues in the key areas of health, education, and economic opportunity in the Global South. In Africa the Gender Fund will focus on Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

“Africans have a culture of giving,” Masiyiwa says. “If your money isn’t talking it’s difficult to have an authentic voice.”

In conversation with Quartz, Masiyiwa speaks about the new initiative, why she believes African philanthropy has a key role to play in reducing the gender gap, and her own personal story that drives her to want more for marginalized populations.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What role do you believe philanthropy can play in advancing gender equality?

I am the youngest of five girls and I have five daughters [and a son.] Being both on the philanthropy side and part of an entrepreneurial family, one of the observations I have made is the extent to which women are still excluded across various spheres of life. We [Higherlife Foundation] have been in philanthropy for 25 years and we got into this space as a result of HIV/AIDS pandemic. We felt the most effective role we could play was in supporting HIV orphans. We saw education as the quickest and most effective way of helping these children. Over time we then included children who are not orphans, but are vulnerable.

What was always consistent was that the girl child was always more disadvantaged. If scholarships were available, we had to go out and find girls from day one. Based on how difficult it was to even find these girls, we increased the scholarships to girls. Boys found it easier to find their way to our offices, call, find a third party to bring them to our office.

In addition to focusing on education over the past 25 years, we also do a lot of philanthropy in economic empowerment, where we provide training to smallholder farmers using climate smart technologies, then we give them seed packs. We want to provide food security and nutrition. The story throughout our continent, it’s the women who do more. They are both the smallholder farmers, but also the ones responsible for most of the domestic tasks and household chores such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and sick relatives. Despite this, they are the ones with the least access to resources.

They say the gender gap is 132 years at the rate we are going. It’s by witnessing firsthand those experiences that we realize even if you provide the training and seed packs to help productivity and achieve food security, at the end of the day you are only supporting this one person, who has so much expected of her.

I asked myself, “what role can I play?” I found the Co-Impact Gender Fund very attractive because they are looking at funding organizations that are working on systemic change. This means working with local organizations which understand what policies are putting women at a disadvantage. These organizations not only work to change these policies and create pathways for gender justice, but make sure existing laws are enacted. In many countries laws for gender equality exist, but how do we fund those highly skilled passionate female leaders who can go and push for the activation of these laws that exist in theory but that are not being implemented to support women and girls.

It’s a very personal journey for me. Even when I look at myself as a very privileged person—a wife, a mother, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur—I still see this injustice even in my case. If it exists for me, how much more my aunts? These are not communities I am far away from. These are my aunts, members of my family, community champions, smallholder farmers, mothers having to perform all these roles and responsibilities with such little resources and such little support. More importantly, they get very little recognition from those in power that these disparities exist and there needs to be agency to do something about it.

How does the Co-Impact Gender Fund work?

Co-Impact started up in 2017 and this is its second fund. The first fund [foundational fund] focused mostly on education. This second fund will be a $1 billion fund. We have made some inroads. We raise and disburse as we raise.

The organization has systems in place to identify the right organizations to fund—the ones focused on systems change—so that we can make impact at scale. It’s a very clear, simple, straightforward process for organizations to apply. We are looking to offer medium term funding, covering multiple years as opposed to project funding, where you fund for two years.

Co-Impact wants to ensure that organizations have time to focus on effecting change as opposed to constantly having to apply for grants and writing proposals. All these activities hold back our organizations. It has also held back our feminist movement a lot as these organizations are constantly having to raise funds. Sometimes they get funding for short term work which limits their ability to deliver. If you start on an issue, you need to press on. You need good long term funding.

This fund is also quite different in terms of the areas we are focusing on. We are not being all things to all men. We are focusing on key areas where the issues are deep-rooted. In particular, this is education, health and economic opportunity so women can participate fully.

How is the $50 million fund going to get the money?

We put in place African Gender Initiative to support the Gender fund. If you don’t have skin in the game...If your money isn’t talking it’s difficult to have an authentic voice.

In conversation with Olivia Leland [Founder and CEO of Co-Impact] and her team, it was clear that the fund will be a $1 billion, 10 year fund. I felt that given ten years is the timeline, Africa can bring in our own funding into the initiative. To do this though, we had to address some challenges that constrain philanthropy on the continent.

Firstly, we had to allow any currency to be donated. Current funding mechanisms typically make no sense. Traditionally, if an organization approaches an African philanthropist saying they are looking for $10 million and would want $1 million from them [for activities in Africa], this philanthropist writes out an actual cheque of $1 million that is sent to an account in the US. You then factor in the overheads, administration and other costs. Then the money is sent back to an African country then changed into local currency.

Those inefficiencies are cogs in the system that make it difficult for African philanthropists to partner with people in the Global North. If i’m earning my money in Kenya Shillings, just open an account in Kenya, put the money in Shillings! You don’t need to go to the reserve bank to get permission to send dollars. It’s expensive and outdated to send to the US as dollars then send it back. It diminishes the importance of local currencies. At the end of the day, if we are buying seed for maize, can you tell what currency it was paid for in?

Second, we have made it easier for anyone to partner with us. It’s not just philanthropists who can give. It’s for anyone. The Gender Fund is for Africa, India and Latin America. We will target foundations, individuals and also Africans in the diaspora. We have raised $5 million of the $50 million primarily from the diaspora and we haven’t even started the big push. Our big push will be in 2023.

Africans have a culture of giving. This type of giving that is larger brings in its own types of complications, but we want to make it such that those who want to participate, can participate.