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A Word with Rachel Andrews

Posted 20 March 2024 in EMpower News   |   Share

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Recently, EMpower’s President & CEO Cynthia Steele spoke with Rachel Andrews, a trusted advisor to both corporations and nonprofits, and a member of our Hong Kong Board of Directors. They spoke about different approaches to philanthropy, moving beyond grantmaking, and more. 

I'm very interested in understanding the contrast between your background at Fidelity and the Foundation there in terms of corporate philanthropy and your involvement with EMpower, a public foundation, which is a different kind of grantmaking and programmatic vehicle.

So there are a few similarities between Fidelity and EMpower and that was actually one of the things that first made me really comfortable with getting involved with EMpower. I felt like both organisations have a real emphasis on impact. I think how they look at it is slightly different. Fidelity is probably more quantitative in how it assesses its grants. 

EMpower is more qualitative or holistic in how we work with our partners. But within both there is an emphasis on identifying strong partner organisations who are leaders within the nonprofit space and reaching out to them and proactively aiming to work with them Also, just the processes around grantee selection and governance of grants is really strong in both organisations. So, again, that was something that I really admired when I first started working with EMpower, and I was always very keen to ensure that I did when I was working at Fidelity.

In terms of differences, I think you touched on the obvious one. Fidelity is essentially a funded corporate foundation, so all the grants that Fidelity makes are funded by a percentage of the profits of the corporate, Obviously with EMpower, we don't have a captive source of funds. We are continually working with donors, both in the institutional space and individual donors, and that does imply a very different operating model. Fidelity's programme is very much its grants. With EMpower's programme, grants are only one part of the work that we do, and that's part of our value proposition to our donors. 

One of the questions that I was asking when I first came in as a director was what is EMpower doing? What are we doing that is adding value for our donors so that it makes sense to fund through EMpower rather than fund those partner organisations directly? And obviously, that comes down to our capacity-building and field work, and meaningful youth engagement, which is work that's done by our programme teams on top of the grantmaking, and complementary to that. The other main difference would be the unrestricted versus restricted side of things. Whereas Fidelity would mainly make restricted grants for specific capacity building projects, with EMpower, we have that 10-year relationship with the unrestricted grants—which again is more holistic in terms of how we think about how our grantee partner organisations develop over the period that we're working with them. 

Could you speak a bit about EMpower’s value beyond the cash grants that we make, moving beyond this financial aspect?

Again, it kind of comes down to the relationship that we have with our grantee partners and how we see our overall programme. EMpower as a funder, I think is unusual, or possibly even unique, in terms of how it invests in the overall development of an organisation over a decade and how it's not really tied to specific project outcomes or predominantly focused on scaling an organisation. We have a very flexible view of how an organisation can be impactful either in its own right or as part of a broader ecosystem. 

One thing that EMpower does really well is focus on that ecosystem and appreciate that the ecosystem makes the organisations within it stronger—if it's a positive environment to be in. Drawing out learnings and cross- learnings between our partner organisations strengthens the overall sector, including the organisations who are working in that sector that we don't directly work with. That's really valuable. 

Meaningful youth engagement is also a really important part of the model. It's something that a lot of funders talk about. It's something that a lot of NGOs talk about. However, in terms of lived experience or participant voices, it's something that's very difficult to get right. I was really excited at the recent programme meeting to see the presentations from both India and Southeast Asia, where our programme teams were talking about the specific initiatives that EMpower is undertaking—such as the Girls Council—that are really delivering impact in that space. 

Both of us had the good fortune to be part of a fantastic trip to India recently, to Rajasthan and Delhi, and met a variety of different grantee partners and young people. The world is a grim place these days, so I wanted to end on a hopeful note: what did you see or hear that you found inspirational?

I certainly did find it inspirational. I also found it very humbling in terms of meeting participants who have been born into far less fortunate circumstances than I have been—and just to see how positive they are about their lives and about the change that they believe that they can make for themselves and their communities. When I went to India, the main objective for me was to really try and answer the question: “Is EMpower doing what we say that we do?” particularly in terms of capacity-building and meaningful youth engagement. I could comfortably come back with a resounding yes. 

The thing that really impressed me most is how with all the partner organisations that we met with, and EMpower's own programme staff, the emphasis was really on encouraging young people to identify and execute their own solutions within their communities. Rather than us coming in and telling them or the partner organisations telling them how to improve things, they are actually coming up with these solutions themselves. I think that's sort of genuine empowerment. So, to thrash the “teach a man to fish” analogy a little bit, I think it’s important to know: does the man want to fish? Why is the man not fishing already? Maybe it's because he doesn't like fishing. There's no river. There is a river, but he can't get to the river because of the power structures within this community. And those are the questions that our grantee partners and EMpower itself asks, and that's where you get genuine change. That's one of the things I found really exciting about the India trip. 

Thank you. I love that metaphor. I'm going to use that! 

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