Photo: Courtesy of PSI.org
Jennifer Buffett and Maria Eitel—two of the most powerful philanthropists in the world—explain how they focus time, energy and millions of dollars on helping women and girls overcome poverty, discrimination and violence around the world.
As presidents of two exceptional, multimillion-dollar foundations, Jennifer Buffett and Maria Eitel are women with a shared passion to effect change among girls in the developing world. Buffett is president and co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused primarily on the empowerment of women and girls. She shares leadership of the foundation with her husband Peter Buffett, a composer and son of investor Warren Buffett. Maria Eitel is the founding president of the Nike Foundation, where she works to drive resources to girls through a variety of initiatives and put them on the global agenda.
In 2008, NoVo joined forces with the Nike Foundation, committing $90 million to The Girl Effect, a global campaign that promotes the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate.
Here, Eitel and Buffett share their thoughts on investing in girls with PSI's vice president of corporate marketing and communications, Kate Roberts.
Kate Roberts: The Nike and NoVo Foundations focus on empowering women and girls around the world. Would you say this battle overall is being won or lost?
Maria Eitel: Slowly, but surely I believe the battle is being won. Our goal is to eradicate global poverty by investing in girls. The challenge is massive. Despite their proven potential to change the world, the 600 million adolescent girls living in today's developing countries are still more likely to be uneducated, child brides and exposed to HIV/AIDS. But I believe we've made some tremendous milestones in changing this picture. The first step has been to get the world to realize the power of The Girl Effect. When you improve a girl's life, everyone benefits: her brothers, sisters, parents, future children and grandchildren.
Jennifer Buffett: To reframe slightly, we don't think of this as a "battle." Who is against whom? However, the challenge is getting the message out in ways that truly address and change the inequity and imbalance that exists. The reason that empowering girls and women is so absolutely critical is that when they are empowered, everyone—boys and men included—benefits. This is a win-win! Girls and women are the mothers of every child born. So if they are not educated, safe, skilled, healthy, able to nurture their children, disease-free, violence-free or able to lead...they cannot offer much to their children. They can't ensure that they are nurtured, healthy, educated or able to contribute in positive ways.
So, perhaps to reframe the question: "Are we making real progress?" There has been a tremendous amount of awareness-raising about the importance of empowering girls and women. However, are we moving systems towards meaningful action in terms of modifying attitudes and patterns of behavior and moving large dollars and resources for more equitable distribution? I think we are just scratching the surface.