A Global Fund Lens On NBC’s New Show ‘The Philanthropist’

Posted by Sande Smith

I just finished watching the new NBC show, The Philanthropist. I couldn’t not watch it. After all, I’ve worked at the Global Fund for six years, and I know a lot about philanthropy. And to be honest, this highly dramatic and emotionally riveting fiction is hard to turn off.

So while I found much to criticize, in its overwrought way, the show actually hints at why being a philanthropist is so hard. In the first episode, our playboy billionaire, Teddy Wrist, battles corrupt government officials, gun-toting rebels, flesh-cutting  vines, (and his own internal demons), to get a package of cholera vaccine to a village north of the capital. Along the way he pays bribes, gives up his fancy satellite phone, and generally takes a beating.

The truth is, getting money into the hands of daring and courageous women’s groups does require overcoming a host of very real obstacles every single day. Last year alone, we raised and gave away $8.6 million in grants (ranging in amount from $1,000 - $30,000), while incurring the cost of doing that grantmaking in 167 very different countries. Different laws, different levels of infrastructure such as road and telecom, different governments and many, many languages. Very few funders are willing to do this.

Global Fund grantees deal directly with corrupt governments, poor roads, entrenched ideas of women's roles, and other barriers that keep lasting change out of their reach. So we have to go beyond just making a grant. For example, since the Global Fund accepts proposals in any language, we incur translation costs. Some of the women’s groups are in rural areas where travel is arduous, and internet communication is unreliable on a good day. Our due diligence must include our program team's journeys to meet personally  with grantees, (or eyeball to eyeball as Teddy calls it) hold strategic grantee convenings, and maintain our advisory council (which connects with women and organizations that we can’t reach directly). In addition, we pay bank fees and money transfer charges for sending and receiving money in various countries. One less cost for grantees.

Plus, we willingly incur the costs of raising awareness. Women have the answers to the problems they face, but that's not widely promoted. So we collaborate with other funders and individuals. We share women's stories, concerns, challenges and accomplishments – whether on our website, print publications, through op-eds, or other articles in the mainstream media and alternative press. We want people to know about the work that women are doing  to change laws so that they can own the land they work, protect themselves from sexual violence, actively participate in governing their communities and countries -- and get the cholera vaccines when they need it!

And who knows? One day, maybe we too will produce a TV show where the adventures of courageous women who are saving their communities are projected front and center!

Sande Smith is the Director of Public Education at the Global Fund for Women.


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