How to Use This Report

For funders who have not yet chosen focus areas for their philanthropic efforts, our ‘Ten Best Bets” provide an excellent place to start. These best bets reflect those cornerstone issues that link to impact across multiple dimensions of women’s lives. For philanthropists who are already engaged in efforts to improve women’s lives, our five dimensions framework and summary infographic can help funders see a holistic picture, preventing the kind of silo-ed efforts that results in missed opportunities for increased impact. Finally, for all funders, the specific indicators we outline in the infographic provide a way to measure progress.

Main Ways to Help

This report can:

  • Help you get oriented to the women’s social impact landscape. Our five dimensions framework introduces you to the key aspects of women’s lives where a donor can have an impact: health, education, economic empowerment, personal safety, and legal rights. Unlike other frameworks for social impact, this one is both more focused specifically on women and girls and comprehensive across all dimensions of their lives. Yet, it has the benefit of being compatible with some of the most widely used frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving any of the outcomes described in our five dimensions graphic would reflect a meaningful improvement in the lives of women and girls. Our ‘Ten Best Bets’ list offers a synthesis of the top, cross-cutting issues that, if addressed, would positively affect outcomes across multiple dimensions.
  • Help you find the right partners. Just because all five dimensions are critical to improving women’s lives, it doesn’t mean you have to (or can) do it all. As you pick an area of focus, this framework can help you identify the partners (nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, etc.) that you’ll need in order to maximize your impact. For example, if you are funding an education project, you might want to look for partners who can help address some of the health and safety issues at home that may be hindering girls’ educational access.
  • Open your eyes to women’s issues you hadn’t considered. If you have been focused on one specific women’s issue, this work may open your eyes to issue areas you had not considered, but that would be high impact areas for investment or that affect progress in your chosen area. For example, you may have been focused on girls’ education without realizing the important link between legal rights related to child marriage and educational attainment. Or, you may have been focused on improving women’s health by increasing access to formal healthcare systems such as hospitals without fully considering that access to basic needs such as clean water and sanitation have the greatest influence on women’s health worldwide. Or, you may have been working on a specific issue that affects a relatively small percent of women (e.g., obstetric fistulas), not realizing that an issue like mental health is a much larger determinant of women’s health outcomes worldwide.

Determining How to Measure Progress

This report can:

  • Help you assess whether or not you’re making a difference. If you want to know if you are truly enhancing women’s lives, this work provides the agreed-upon indicators to use in order to align measurement efforts with desired outcomes. For example, it introduces you to the consensus indicators used internationally in education: enrollment rates (a measure of educational access), completion rates (a measure of educational attainment), and literacy rates (a measure of educational achievement). If you use these measures to assess progress in women’s education initiatives, you will know whether or not you are moving the needle.
  • Provide a common language. Our five dimensions framework and associated indicators offer a way for funders to speak with partners and other stakeholders. These indicators provide a common language and set of metrics for goal creation and measurement. This is helpful in engaging across all three sectors—public, private, and social. It also allows for comparability across projects and facilitates sharing with and learning from others.
  • Help you identify structural barriers that hinder progress for women. By tracking the indicators using both absolute figures for women and figures relative to men to see if there are significant disparities between genders, donors learn about the structural inequities that point to where intervention is most needed. For example, you may find that school enrollment rates have increased for girls in a given region over the last ten years, but as compared to those of boys, the rates for girls are increasing at a much slower pace. This might prompt you to understand what factors are slowing progress for girls and reassess your intervention strategy.

Case Studies: How Funders are Using this Framework

Here we provide two examples to illustrate how funders can use this framework to identify new philanthropic efforts and improve upon existing ones. Both are based on conversations with real-life funders, though their names and details have been changed.

Both funders used the five dimensions framework as a guide to identify the best available programs to achieve their social impact goal of improving the lives of women.

Reena’s story

Reena is the principal of a family foundation that has always funded efforts aimed at improving the lives of women and girls. The foundation’s grantmaking has specifically emphasized increasing access to reproductive health services. The five dimensions framework has strengthened the case for those efforts. In particular, two grantmaking areas clearly address priority outcomes identified in the framework: 1) policy efforts that maintain women’s legal rights to affordable reproductive healthcare and 2) maternal health clinics with skilled birth attendants in regions of sub-Saharan Africa with some of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world. In addition, the framework has helped the foundation identify a relatively new area of philanthropic interest: trauma-informed care. The foundation has begun funding a nonprofit working on that issue, recognizing that mental health is a major—but frequently overlooked—determinant of overall women’s health.

Benjamin’s story

After a long career as a successful lawyer and entrepreneur, Benjamin decided to devote more of his time and resources to philanthropy. Benjamin chose not to focus on a particular region, issue, or community. Instead, he searched for nonprofit organizations whose work has not only demonstrated social impact, but whose approaches held promise for others working on the same or similar issues. Recently, he selected an organization focused on domestic violence against women. In selecting that organization as the recipient of a major gift, Benjamin was most impressed by how many of the dimensions of women’s lives the program addressed at once: health, by engaging emergency room, crisis center, and counseling staff; personal safety, by strengthening a network of community-based housing and referral services; and legal rights, by engaging both the local police and justice systems.