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Philanthropy reimagined: how women are shaking up the world of giving

Wealth Planning
Women and wealth
Wealth planning

Philanthropy reimagined: how women are shaking up the world of giving

Feb 21, 2022

The philanthropic landscape in Asia and around the world is in transition. Female philanthropists are stepping to the fore and pioneering new and innovative ways of giving at the same time as meeting community needs.

The role of women in driving philanthropic goals has continued to rapidly grow alongside the number of wealthy women. In 2021 there were 328 women billionaires, up 36 per cent year-on-year,1 and the global wealth of women is estimated to reach USD81 trillion by 2023.2


Moreover, the timing of this transition is significant. Systemic challenges are amplifying needs, be they regarding public health, environmental protection or tackling inequalities. Fresh thinking is required on how to address these issues and female philanthropists are finding themselves on the frontline, shaping a new way forward.

Women philanthropists are innovating around ways to give

Female philanthropists are adopting a do-it-yourself mindset, one where they are much closer to the outcomes of their giving. For examples, women are starting their own non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as opposed to just donating to existing ones. Many of these women who founded NGOs have spotted gaps in the causes they want to support and are funding the development of solutions to cover these. 

Another shift in approach is giving to organisations instead of projects.

Because project-based giving is constrained by the respective project’s parameters, funding an organisation is a way to broaden the horizon of possibilities for impact.3 This also represents a more human-centric way of giving, with female philanthropists focusing more on identifying the promise of an organisation and empowering its leadership to organise the best ways to address challenges.

But achieving this human-centric philanthropy requires alignment of values such as compassion and empathy, which many philanthropists believe should be instilled early in life. At HSBC Global Private Banking’s Philanthropy Forum, Karen Cheung, Chief Strategist for The D. H. Chen Foundation, said: “Our grandfather instilled in our family the mindset of ‘caring for others as you would care for yourself’ when we were growing up, and those values have guided the way we operate our business and family foundation.”

Being shaped by values means that female philanthropists are no longer just providing the funding. They are also bringing in their friends and family to support the causes they are interested in with various forms of complementary non-monetary support to strengthen organisations, and enhance their impact.4

Alia Eyres, CEO of Mother’s Choice, a charity serving children without families and pregnant teenagers in Hong Kong, described how philanthropists can add value beyond writing cheques: “Sometimes donors don’t realise it’s more than just giving money. Non-profits are looking for you to share the expertise, the ideas, the connections, the experiences that you have.”

Ensuring the impact of philanthropic investment

Women are bringing fresh ideas and values to bear when it comes to responding to community needs. This extends to the rise of impact and gender lens investing, which many are coming to see as complementary to traditional forms of philanthropy. If measurable outcomes are the goal, then a mindset that links financial returns with generating positive societal impact will deliver success in giving.5

A noteworthy driver animating female philanthropists today goes under the mantle of “women supporting women”.

Not only are these women changing the face of philanthropy, but they are also concerned about redressing gender issues that may not have received adequate attention from the philanthropic community historically.

The momentum around gender lens investing in Asia is testament to this focus among female philanthropists in the region.6 Private market gender lens investment vehicles in South and Southeast Asia, for example, cover a wide range of sectors, healthcare and education being two of the most popular.

Dee Dee Chan, Chief Investment Officer of Park Lane, describing making a difference through gender empowerment, said: “There is more and more power and wealth in the hands of women, but we need to create an ecosystem in which women feel confident and are helping other women to succeed both in business and investing.”

Key to this effort has been women shifting philanthropy from what has been dubbed an “ego-system” to an ecosystem. This more inclusive and collaborative approach enables the co-creation of solutions between givers, receivers and stakeholders.

Such innovation is ideal for beneficiaries because they are the closest to the issues and can bring the perspective needed to create novel organisations for distributing resources.

Making success sustainable through lasting change

As female philanthropists mobilise to rebalance the giving landscape, new and dynamic approaches are creating lasting changes in the community. These embody the motivations of women in their philanthropy and reflect the shifts that are taking place across the giving landscape.

There is a paradigm shift underway to move from only providing aid in the form of grants and donations towards including a more holistic mindset that includes investments and the application of business solutions to advance development. Women are adopting a total portfolio approach,7 which is enabling impact through a wide range of integrated and aligned financial activity – from grants to capital investments. 

The total portfolio approach diversifies beyond grant making and attempts to make philanthropic activity more collaborative, which often leads to the formation of giving circles.

The first giving circles were created by women, for women (today some 70 per cent of giving circles are majority-women8) and they embody the innovative effort to democratise philanthropy. They are a popular organisation for women to collectively fund and develop solutions to problems – as just one example, Annie Chen, the Founder and Chair of RS Group in Hong Kong, started the Sustainable Finance Initiative to bring together private investors of all genders interested in deploying their capital for good.9 Giving circles reflect the power and promise of the ecosystem approach to philanthropy and are creating new possibilities for change.

Total portfolio approach to impact

Total portfolio approach to impact

A bright future

The rise of female philanthropy is promising to disrupt and at the same time advance the giving landscape. At HSBC Global Private Banking, we believe that as women control more of the world’s wealth, they have a unique opportunity to pioneer new approaches to overcoming challenges and creating solidarity around the issues of our time. We aim to connect women philanthropists to key opportunities in the causes they want to champion and to support them on their journey. To learn more, contact us or your Relationship Manager.

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