Wendy Anderson on Stepping into the Uncomfortable

Wendy Anderson – WMM October 2018 Member of the Month
Author: Wendy Anderson
Date: October 31, 2018

To me, strategic philanthropy demands that you surround yourself with people who support and encourage you to step into the uncomfortable and create an environment in which you and your philanthropic goals can grow. I didn’t always know that philanthropy was learned; I thought it was something one ‘did’ — and the process of changing my perspective hasn’t always been easy. It’s required questioning, challenging, participating and looking deep into mistakes for the opportunity to learn. And it’s meant putting myself in places I never thought I’d fit.

A little over 10 years ago, my husband and I decided to designate fifty percent of our earned income to our family foundation and share responsibility in its running. He’d manage the environmental side and I’d look after the humanitarian. I understood very little of philanthropic foundations and even less about strategic giving, but I had a clear goal: to invest in the health and education of women and girls.

At that time, being a Swedish philanthropist was a lonely experience and many organizations were not used to working with individual funders. I started by engaging in very traditional philanthropy: I learned how project briefs and funder updates worked and gained insight into the structures of larger organizations. It was a great experience — and it led to a meeting with Cristina Ljungberg, who would eventually become my collaborator and co-founder at The Case For Her.

Cristina prompted the first ‘A-ha’ moment in my journey towards strategic giving. We were invited to the same proposal presentation in one of those traditional conference rooms with IKEA furniture and a whiteboard in the background. I’d read the proposal and was having an internal dialogue on the asked amount when Cristina – a rule breaking, sharp and educated philanthropist – started asking questions, pushing the envelope, and really using her skills to support and challenge the proposal in front of us.

It sounds silly to say this — but I didn’t know that one could challenge a proposal in that way, to demand more detail or question a method. I had significant work experience as a project manager and analyst in the financial services industry, but what I hadn’t realised is to what extent that experience was valid & could still be applied, despite the change in framework. I gained confidence that day in trusting the value of my own perspective. I also learned that effective giving requires doing homework — and that it’s much more fun with teamwork.

Together, Cristina & I began discussing the complex challenges facing girls, and one particularly underfunded area rose to the surface: menstruation. Health education, sanitation services and social support programmes are siloed  – menstruation is a red thread that runs through each and yet has no champion. We would fill that role. Our two separate foundations began co-funding organizations and researchers through grants, and undertaking direct investment, convertible debt or working capital loans to companies and social entrepreneurs working in menstrual health. Seven years later, we launched our own organization, The Case For Her, and added another team member: our managing director and co-founder, Gerda Larsson.

The Case For Her is a nimble, lean and trailblazing funding collaborative and investment portfolio that today invests in three areas – Menstruation, Female Sexual Pleasure and Menopause. Some may call us a gender-lens investing portfolio, but we do more than invest: we’re systems entrepreneurs. Our strategy is to build and nurture networks, support local leadership and to convene meetings and events. We actively engage with our partners and provide resources to help ensure success.

One of my biggest learnings on this journey has been that ‘resources’ means more than money. It means time, dedication, and stepping up publicly. The latter — for me — is where things get really uncomfortable. My first step into the public sphere began with a commitment. I joined Women Moving Millions in 2017 in time to participate in the ‘Acing Your Advocacy’ seminar with Lisa Witter on offer that spring. I was beyond nervous. Until then, I’d been a quiet philanthropist. A silent one, even. Only my closest friends knew how I spent my time. Walking into that seminar, I felt like an imposter in a room of capable, professional women. My legs shook & my voice trembled — but every person gave me her full attention and patient understanding. I felt supported and encouraged. Later that year, still nervous but more confident, I took the stage on Member Day to share my experiences in collaboration, and insights in gender lens investing.

My strategic learning journey took an accelerated turn when I was invited to participate in WMM’s pilot of the Leadership Curriculum. Public Narrative, OpEds, Collective Impact became tools, not just terms. And along with that, my cohort became a Sisterhood.

In September this year, I joined the Board of Women Moving Millions. I am honoured and humbled by the opportunity, and look forward to moving our collective impact forward through the strength of our combined commitment and the power of our voices.

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