Spreading the Word Sophie McBain hears how innovative philanthropy is tackling one of the most barbaric practices around today: female genital cutting
Spreading the Word
Sophie McBain hears how innovative philanthropy is tackling one of the most barbaric practices around today: female genital cutting
Dr Frederick Mulder CBE
Founder, the Funding Network
I GREW UP in a religious background, so I was used to giving to my local church. I was forever setting up small businesses as a kid — for several years it was selling Christmas cards door-to-door — and I tithed my profits.
By the time I reached university and ceased to be a believing Christian, this practice of giving money away to something I felt strongly about had become embedded. I’ve always found that side of my life very satisfying.
When my business as a dealer in European printmaking began to do well and I started out in philanthropy, I wasn’t confident enough about my giving to do it wisely, and I never knew how much to give. There’s often no ‘price tag’ on a charitable cause and you don’t want to give too little, nor do you want to be seen as foolishly generous. It’s concerns like these that keep people from giving.
In 2002 I set up The Funding Network, a public giving circle. I could see it was something that hadn’t been done before, and I knew that I would love to use an organisation like it. Giving is still a slightly counter-cultural exercise, so I think it’s helpful to have other people to do it with.
I’m still very active in my business, and the format we developed for TFN was also for busy people who could come to one of our evenings and hear about five or six charitable projects. The chances are that whatever someone’s interest, they will hear about something that sparks a reaction in them.
Getting the culture right for TFN was very important. I wanted it to be serious and thoughtful, but also fun and easy to participate in, and I didn’t want people to feel pressured to give.
I support every project that is presented at The Funding Network, but some I’ll support more highly than others. I’ve supported anti-female genital cutting (FGC) projects before; I think it’s an important issue and a great injustice to women. I felt very convinced by Julia, the CEO of the Orchid Project, and could see that the project has an approach that really stands a chance of making a difference.
Rather than working in lots of villages, and having lots of isolated women feeling they don’t want to cut their daughters, they focus on one community at a time and try to reach a tipping point where enough people in the community are anti-FGC that the whole community chooses to abandon the practice.
I hope that with TFN’s funding they will be able to at least help a few villages, and if they’re really successful then I trust the Orchid Project will be able to influence the debate, and that their way of working will gain traction with the wider community.
All philanthropy involves risk. Even when you invest in the stock market, you can never be sure of what it will do. You’ve got to think: I’m impressed by this project/this person, this could give a fantastic social return, and you know that in the end you win some, you lose some. If you don’t take the risk, you’re missing out on one of the great pleasures of life, the chance to make a difference.
Founder, Orchid Project
I FIRST CAME across female genital cutting when I was volunteering in Ethiopia around four years ago. I was struck by how taboo it was, how the scale and impact of what entire communities go through is huge, and yet FGC was barely mentioned. I spent a long time researching the issue and the more I investigated FGC, the less I found.
I was driven by two things: I wanted to find out more about why FGC happens, and to be absolutely clear about what needs to be done to end it. I was lucky that early on I won a YouTube competition, which took me to Davos.
A lot of people said to me: ‘You can’t go and talk about vaginas in Davos, it’s not the right place to do it.’ In fact, I found the opposite. If you can be open, honest and straightforward about what’s happening to over three million girls a year, people will respond to that.
This inspired me to set up the Orchid Project. Our vision is a world free from genital cutting, and we believe that’s possible within a generation. We believe that the entire community holds the practice of FGC in place, and that because FGC is something that’s just always been done; people don’t question it. When a child dies, or there are resulting infections, the causal link between cutting and its effects are often not made as they are not understood. In many cases, traditional beliefs such as the interference of spirits will be used to explain what has happened.
Our partner, Tostan, runs 30-month-long programmes with communities; these cover human rights, health and hygiene, and often at the end of that programme the community chooses to abandon FCG. We also carry out advocacy work and aim to communicate the scale and impact of FGC.
Working with The Funding Network was fantastic — I’d love to do it every week. You have five minutes’ time and a willing audience in front of you, and you’ve got to make that work. It’s very uplifting coming face-to-face with donors and seeing how incredibly concerned they are by the issue.
We were lucky that our first pitch to The Funding Network was for £5,000 and raised £16,000. That enabled us to support our volunteers and the rest went into our core costs, which was great, because it’s often very hard for charities to fundraise for their running costs.
What’s very compelling about ending FGC is that every community that abandons it will then volunteer to carry the story of why they’ve abandoned, to encourage others to do the same. That appealed to me, as an ex-business person, and I think it appealed to the TFN audience too: it’s a self-seeding grassroots movement, and if you can just help seed it, it has its own momentum.