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A Word with Aleem Jivraj

Posted 15 March 2022 in EMpower News   |   Share


Recently, Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO, spoke with Aleem Jivraj, Chief Operating Officer, Global Markets Asia ex-Japan and Global FX & Emerging Markets, Nomura, and Co-Chair of EMpower’s Hong Kong Board of Directors. They spoke about gender equity, EMpower’s new campaign in Asia, and why he’s such an avid supporter of this work.

March 8th was International Women’s Day. I’m interested to hear your thinking about what it would mean if women and girls had the same opportunities as their male counterparts?

There is a saying that if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, then you educate an entire family or community. I strongly believe that there is a huge multiplier effect from educating women. And it permeates through several generations.

Having visited several of our grantee partners, I also see that it’s really about access to opportunity more than anything else; you meet girls who may not be treated the same in their family, they may not have the same access to education and know very early on that they may be forced into marriage. If they are given the opportunity, you see that they seize it as much, if not more [than boys]; they have the same passion, the same drive, to grow.

A number of organisations are now focused on trying to support women and adolescent girls. It’s great to see this is becoming a big focus area. In addition to our work supporting women and girls, EMpower is championing a model of also trying to work with males to change their viewpoints, to change the stereotypes. That’s one of the things I’m very proud about; we are, as an organisation, constantly innovating and trying to identify ways to make a difference.

We have just launched our signature annual fundraising campaign in Asia. Why should people support our campaign?

Being based in Asia, it’s perhaps more visible to us that there’s a huge need. At the same time, there are a number of excellent organisations doing amazing work in this region.

What differentiates EMpower? The first thing that stood out for me is how transparent the organisation is around which organisations to support. The measurement and reporting around the impact of donors’ dollars was also something that I had not seen anywhere else.

As I got to know EMpower better, a few other things stuck with me—like the 10-year model of supporting different organisations. Taking an organisation that is at a certain stage in its development and then supporting it all the way through to the sunset grant. We’re giving funds to build capacity and help partners become more sustainable. I think that’s a model that a lot of finance professionals would understand and believe in. In addition, 100% of the cost is covered by underwriters, which means that all of the donations that come to the campaign will go towards the programmes that we’re supporting.

As the team has grown in Asia over time, we have made real inroads in terms of our relationship with our grantee partners, they constantly talk about the fact that they value EMpower—almost above other funders—because we’re not just providing financial support, we’re also building capacity, technical expertise, and connecting them with other grantee partners.

EMpower picks best-in-class organisations, supporting them all the way through their journey, connecting them and helping them to collaborate with others. I think that’s a very compelling reason for people to give.

You’ve visited several of EMpower’s grantee partner organisations on your own and with your family. What are some of the highlights for you?

One of the amazing things about EMpower is that directors and donors can go to visit these grantee partners, see the community they operate in, meet the people that we’re supporting. My family and I have visited grantee partners in India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. We haven’t yet been to Indonesia, but that’s definitely on the list.

It can at times be quite bracing because when you see the places that our partners operate in, it is a world apart from the developed countries that we live in.

When we went with Aangan Trust to visit a migrant Muslim community in Mumbai, the thing that stuck with us was that for 3000 individuals, there were only four public toilets; and during the monsoons each year the roofs that families built were not enough to withstand the rains. Similarly, when we visited our partner Zoto in Manila, we saw groups of families living under a bridge. But when we got to spend time with these families, we saw that despite their challenges, the parents continued to strive to provide opportunities for their children. And these girls and boys would smile and tell you about their dreams and how determined they are to build a better life for themselves. In so many ways, they are no different from us—it’s just that we were born with a different set of opportunities.

I highly recommend to all of our supporters to visit grantee partners when they can. For one it gives us perspective about how fortunate we are. And it makes us more determined than ever to try and make a difference, and to provide others with an opportunity to improve their lives.

Another thing that has really stood out in our visits is that EMpower supports amazing founders. Almost every time we go to visit one of the grantee partners, we spend some time with the founder or the founding team. All these amazing founders of these organisations are doing such great work and have been doing it for a while now and have really made inroads and developed relationships with the government. They all talk so glowingly about EMpower’s support and what a difference it’s made to them.

I love being able to see the changes over time, what they’ve been able to do. One last question, what gives you hope?

I don’t want to downplay how challenging the last few years have been. There are a lot of things that are not great right now in the world. But the philanthropic sector has developed so much and it feels like we are on the cusp of a step-change—with more individuals, foundations, and companies realising the importance of reducing inequality, and the importance of supporting women and girls.

Within EMpower, our directors, underwriters, and all the donors who are so eager to give back in a meaningful way give me a lot of hope. We have an amazing team who are so passionate and knowledgeable. Our grantee partners and their founders and teams are all doing amazing work and making such a difference. And most importantly, the young people who we’ve met—hearing their aspirations and their determination —that should give us all hope for a brighter future.

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