What Will It Take to End Violence Against Girls and Women?
Imagine if someone gave you a billion dollars with one condition: the money must be used to create positive change in the world. What would you do?
That’s exactly what happened to us in 2006, when we received a fax that changed our lives — we call it the big bang. Peter’s father, Warren Buffett, had decided to award our small foundation with a pledge valued at approximately one billion dollars with that one simple but enormous requirement.
As we determined where to focus our giving, we were reminded of our father and father-in-law’s own investment philosophy. He often says invest in companies that are undervalued in the marketplace but which have great potential. In applying this approach to our philanthropic work, we clearly saw one area that was ripe for investment: improving the status of girls and women.
Around the world, girls and women are deeply undervalued. But what we are so heartened and hopeful by is what women and girls are capable of doing when they are seen and invested in. Girls and women heal and grow strong, and then go out and heal, help, and invest in the health of their families and communities. They create more positive and lasting change.
That girls and women are marginalized and victimized by violence is no secret. The rates of violence against girls and women alone are staggering and devastating. One in three women around the globe will be affected by physical and sexual violence. An estimated 500,000 to two million people, mainly women and girls, are trafficked each year. In this country, the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 44 is domestic violence, and worldwide we see the vulnerability of women to increased sexual assault when their countries are brutalized by war. There is no vaccine or magic pill that can address this.
What is not recognized as often is the potential girls and women have – once free from violence – to bring about social transformation. Through our work on the “girl effect,” we have learned that when girls receive support, it reverberates. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent, and girls and women reinvest 90 cents of every dollar they earn into their families, while boys and men reinvest just 30-40 cents. Invest in a woman and you invest in a community; educate a girl and you educate a future generation.
“The problem is that girls and women simply cannot become fully active, participating, contributing members of their communities if they are being shackled by violence. Through our work we have met with girls and women all over the world. Again and again we have heard stories about how violence has prevented them from realizing their full potential.”
In Liberia, girls told us stories of how their teachers demanded sex in order to get a passing grade, or how boys would sexually assault them as they walked to school. In the Democratic Republic of Congo women described the fear of sexual assault they experienced while in their home, their villages, or gathering firewood or water. And here in the United States impoverished girls are being prostituted by abusive and controlling pimps, rather than getting an education. Numbers also tell a story. The Center for Disease Control estimates that domestic violence drains the U.S. economy of over $6 billion dollars each year in medical care, counseling, and lost work time.
These experiences of learning from and sharing with girls and women all over the world has led us to see gender based violence as both a cause and a consequence of a world greatly out of balance. We firmly believe that our vision for a more just and balanced world will not be fully realized until violence against girls and women ends forever. We seek a societal transformation starting at the very roots of our communities and families, and we see girls and women as the primary agents of achieving this kind of fundamental change.
“Building a world based on peace, compassion, justice, and love — and investing in women and girls as the drivers of that change — is a big vision. And it’s not one that can be achieved overnight, or even in this generation. But that does not mean it is not worth pursuing.”
So much of philanthropy is geared towards the short term. Funders get attached to the most visible issue of the moment, and expect easy and quick answers from their grantees on where to have impact. Real, lasting change however does not occur this way. Tackling systemic inequalities requires movements – collective action by large numbers of people towards a common goal. And movements require time to grow and strengthen.
The word NoVo is Latin for “change, alter, and invent.’ Certainly it speaks to why we have decided to work on certain issues and with certain communities. But “NoVo” also captures how we desire to do this work — and Move to End Violence is one key example of our vision for philanthropy.
Move to End Violence is the NoVo Foundation’s expression of what it takes to build movement. It reflects what is being asked of all of us — no matter where we sit — to achieve a world without violence. As funders, we have a responsibility to do philanthropy differently. To challenge ourselves with the hard questions about what will it take from the two of us and our foundation to end violence.
Move to End Violence alone will not be the reason we end violence against girls and women in the United States. But we hope it will demonstrate what happens when philanthropy makes space for gradual, yet systemic change, and recognizes that true transformation happens in the long term.
The NoVo Foundation is committed to this program for the next ten years. We expect the work of all five cohorts to be difficult, slow, and incremental. We also believe that the impact of their work will be powerful and effective. Move to End Violence enables advocates to inform each other of their work, to understand the linkages within this field and between others, and to develop a common vision for how to move forward. It invests in the long-term health of both the individual and the organizations that are committed to this work — recognizing them as leaders who we cannot afford to lose because of burnout or lack of resources. We hope that Move to End Violence lives up to the NoVo Foundation’s name, and that it creates change.
The questions of what will it take, and what will it take from each of us do not end here. NoVo continues to learn and to consider what its own role is in creating change. We look to our partners to do the same. We expect the cohort participants and other advocates — who work in community organizing, policy advocacy, funding, and, direct services — to ask themselves the difficult questions of what they can do, and what their leadership in this movement to end violence will look like.
We are all partners in this effort, and ultimately what it will take is for all of us to come together bringing our most daring, committed, and visionary selves. The girls and women with whom we do this work deserve that. We will not end violence without it.
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