Women in the Delta are hoping to use their money to change their communities. The idea is to pool funds to create a permanent source of wealth that can be funneled into communities in a way that leaves a lasting impact. The YK Delta Women in Philanthropy launched earlier this month with a kickoff event in Bethel.
“This is a women’s giving circle,” Vicki Malone, Giving Circle Coordinator, said. “It is a movement across the globe where women come together. They collaborate. They all pitch in a little bit of money every year, and they work together to decide what kinds of projects they want to fund in their community or in the world.”
The circle has about 40 members and has pooled almost $20,000. And they’re just getting started.
“I just thought it was a great opportunity for all of us who want to throw some money into a pot for a huge impact," said Debbie Fairbanks, one of the founding members, "compared to giving $25 here or $100 there where you never really see the impact."
Some of the money will go to a local project, some to a global project, and the rest will get invested. The local project has yet to be decided. The global project for the next three years is Dr. Jill Seaman’s Sudan Medical Relief. Dr. Seaman splits her time between Bethel and South Sudan. Fairbanks is a long-time fundraiser for Seaman’s project.
“Her [Seaman's] saying is that children all over the world have the same dream,” Fairbanks said. “They have a dream just to be healthy. They have a dream to try and stay alive, and that’s a pretty heart-rending thing to hear.”
Money for the group can come from anywhere. The founders emphasized that men’s money is certainly welcomed, but only women can join. To do so, women donate a minimum of $250 a year and then help decide where the group’s money goes.
Michelle DeWitt had the initial idea. She’s the Executive Director of the Bethel Community Services Foundation, which will manage the money, and says that the giving circle concept appeals to how women donate.
“Women have typically composed most giving circles, who in trends often want to participate in the grant making and work collaboratively on identifying what issue they want to address or assist with funding,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt says one of the most important focuses of the group is that they work with communities.
“In other words, that we’re not sitting around deciding what would be the best project to solve a particular problem. Instead, the community is telling us what they want us to do to solve that problem,” she said.
To get there, DeWitt says the group is making itself accessible and inclusive to women across the Delta regardless of location, race, age or if they’ve ever donated before.
Monica Charles was one of the few Yup’ik women in the room of mostly white faces. She pointed out that the group had the potential to become another group of well-meaning white people using money to save the natives, but she expressed her confidence that with DeWitt and the other founders in the lead and with her own watchdog methods, it wouldn’t.
“I was texting people during the meeting, saying, ‘You have to do this! Did you hear about this?’” Charles said. “And I’m thinking of a friend near Kalskag who’s an awesome, outspoken woman, who’d be wonderful in contributing to this and who could help represent that part of the YK Delta or people from across the tundra or the coast. And getting the communities to come together and realize that, as the YK Delta, we can make an impact that we can see in our lifetime with just a little bit of money.”