Global Fund for Women

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Global Issues
Human Rights
The Global Fund for Women is a California-based grantmaking foundation that provides grants to organizations who are working for the betterment of women. The organization provides funds to organizations that address key women's issues such as economic and environmental justice, civic and political participation, access to education for girls, and a variety of other topics.

Written by Michael Zimmerman with some content from an earlier edition by 



The Global Fund for Women is a grant-making foundation based in San Francisco, California.  It promotes women’s human rights and women’s programs around the world by providing grants to organizations who are working for the betterment of women.

The Global Fund for Women’s mission is to be a global champion for the human rights of women and girls.  They use their powerful networks to find, fund, and amplify the courageous work of women who are building social movements and challenging the status quo.  By shining a spotlight on critical issues, they rally communities of advocates who take action and invest money to empower women (Global Fund for Women).

To achieve this mission and vision, the Global Fund for Women provides funds to organizations that address key women’s issues including violence against women, economic and environmental justice, women’s health, women’s civic and political participation, access to education for girls, and social change (Global Fund for Women).

In 2015, the Global Fund for Women awarded $6,958,217.73 in grants in 82 countries for efforts pertaining to freedom from violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and economic and political equality.  Their work benefited 774,434 individuals including 180,005 girls and 6,265 trans* youth and adults.  Their work resulted in 17 new laws and policies which include pregnant girls now allowed to attend school, increased minimum wage for factory workers, and civil unions for same sex couples.  Their work was implemented through 495 grants (Global Fund for Women).

It is important to note that the Global Fund for Women does not give grants to individuals or organizations in the United States.  Instead, it funds organizations in developing countries in order to help them grow and meet the needs of women in their communities (ibid.).  The Global Fund for Women feels that because financial resources for women’s programs are more available in the United States than they are in developing countries, and because resources can stretch a lot farther in the developing world than in North America, that they should focus their programs in this way. 

It is also important to note that in addition to being a grantmaking foundation, the Global Fund for Women is an international network of men and women who are committed to women’s rights.  For example, the Global Fund for Women provides newsletters and other resources about women’s issues to its supporters, and sponsors learning events about gender issues (Katz 2004). 

The Global Fund for Women functions as a non-endowment charity.  This means that rather than dispersing interest from an endowment fund to make grants, the Global Fund for Women relies on the contributions of individuals, foundations, and corporations to meet its annual budget (Women’s International Network 2000).  This support comes from a variety of sources including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Global Fund for Women). 


Historic Roots

The Global Fund for Women was founded in 1987 in Palo Alto, California by Anne Firth Murray, Frances Kissling, and Laura Lederer.  These three women recognized that women around the world lacked basic human rights.  They also realized that women lacked access to the resources that could change their situations.  Murray, Kissling, and Lederer believed that these factors were a key cause for female poverty, and that by investing in women they could make a significant positive impact (ibid.).

Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Esther Hewlett, and Walter Hewlett were early investors in the Global Fund for Women.  They believed in the ideals that Murray, Kissling, and Lederer expressed, even if the initial plans for the global fund were small.  These early investors provided seed capital to get the fund started while Murray, Kissling, and Lederer provided the oversight and staff time. In their first year, the Global Fund for Women provided eight grants, totaling $34,000, to women’s groups in different parts of the world (Ramdas 2003).

Today, the Global Fund for Women is governed by 15 board members and managed by 29 staff.  It receives roughly 2,700 grant proposals each year from organizations around the world.  The staff of the Global Fund for Women work with an advisory council to select about 400 of the proposal ideas for funding.  The grants are usually between $500 and $20,000 and are intended to be spent within one year.  Current and former grantees also play a role in referring and recommending new organizations and programs for funding (ibid.).



The Global Fund for Women provides support to human rights organizations who are working specifically to improve women’s quality of life.  This meets an important need around the world. 

Of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, 2/3 are women. The share of illiterate women has not changed for the past 20 years. Among the world’s 123 million illiterate youth, 76 million are female. These gender disparities remain persistent, with little change over time (UNESCO, 2014).

The Global Fund for Women seeks to challenge these realities by providing financial resources to women’s human rights organizations. As a result of the Global Fund’s investments, women around the world have worked together to fight violence, promote women’s leadership, and advocate for their rights (Global Fund for Women). 

The Fund also believes that investing in women is one of the most effective actions you can take to overcome global issues like war, poverty, and disease. This is because women play a special role both within a family structure and in their communities.  When women are educated, their children are more likely to attend school.  When women increase their income, they are more likely than men to reinvest this money into their family’s wellbeing.  When women are given a voice in society, they are more likely than men to speak up on behalf of their family’s needs (ibid.). 


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The Global Fund for Women is a charitable organization that supports nonprofit work around the world.  It is the only foundation in the United States that awards grants specifically to women’s rights groups around the world.  It is also the largest foundation in the world with this mission (ibid.).

Because the Global Fund for Women receives its annual support from individuals, corporations, and foundations, it also acts as a private non-profit corporation.  This means that North Americans can use the Global Fund for Women to support the work of organizations around the world, while also receiving the tax benefits of donating to a US-based non-profit (Women’s International Network 2000).

The Fund currently holds a 3 out of 4 star rating for 2016 on Charity Navigator, the largest independent evaluator of charities in the United States.  They failed to receive four stars as they have in previous years as they were lacking important documentation on their website such as their Donor Privacy Policy.  78.6% of their funding goes to program expenses while the remaining percentage of funding goes toward expenses such as administrative costs.

An additional tie between the Global Fund for Women and the philanthropic sector has to do with its method of grantmaking. The Global Fund for Women provides small, flexible grants to organizations based on the importance of their programs—not the size or location of the organization itself.  This method of grantmaking has been so effective in advancing women’s causes that other foundations are adopting it for their grantmaking (Women’s International Network 2000).

The Global Fund for Women has also been instrumental in supporting the birth and development of women’s funds around the world.  Women’s funds raise money in their local communities and then distribute grants to women’s organizations within their own region.  The thinking behind women’s funds is that by keeping the resources and programs local, people making decisions about spending will be more knowledgeable about the problems that need to be addressed.  The programs will, therefore, be more effective.  So far, the Global Fund for Women has provided seed money and technical expertise to numerous women’s funds in countries like South Africa, Nepal, and Mexico (Women’s International Network 2000).


Key Related Ideas

  • Access to education refers to the process of helping women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys to attend school and become literate.  This includes changing mindsets in society, opening up school enrollment to girls, and helping families afford to send their daughters to school (Global Fund for Women). 
  • Economic and environmental justice refers to women’s ability to have access to income and the right to make decisions on how that income is spent.  It also refers to women’s rights to protect their home and physical surroundings from pollutants and negative influences so that their quality of life is improved (ibid.).
  • Social change refers to over-arching ways of thinking.  In the case of the Global Fund for Women, the fund is seeking social change that will help families, communities, and larger societies learn to value women and women’s roles.  By changing mindsets, the Global Fund for Women hopes to help communities make improvements in areas such as access to education, economic and environmental justice, violence against women, women’s civic and political participation, and women’s health (ibid.).
  • Violence against women refers to the infringement upon women’s rights to be safe from harm in their homes and society.  Programs that the Global Fund for Women supports include advocating for peace, improving women’s status in society, and providing resources for women who need help (ibid.).
  • Women’s civic and political participation refers to women’s equal rights, with men, to participate in government and hold law makers accountable.  Programs that the Global Fund for Women supports include helping women gain the right to vote, educating women about civic processes, and working with people to advocate for women’s issues (ibid.).
  • Women’s funds are grantmaking organizations that raise money in their local communities and then distribute grants to women’s organizations within their own region. The idea is that by helping women mobilize funds within their community and by using those funds for local programs, women’s funds can decrease women’s dependence on outside donors.  The belief is that programs will also be more effective because local people have a better grasp of local problems and can best route resources to where they are needed (Women’s International Network 2000).
  • Women’s health refers to a variety of factors that affect women’s physical well-being.  This includes protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights.  It also refers to their ability to access adequate health care (Global Fund for Women).  


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Dame Nita Barrow (1916-1995) joined Murray, Kissling, and Lederer as an early supporter of the Global Fund for Women.  Her career in health spanned more than half a century.  She was a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow and served as Nursing Advisor to the World Health Organization.  She also served as the Governor General of Barbados and as an Ambassador to the United Nations (Caribbean Community Secretariat 1994).
  • Anne Firth Murray was one of the founders of the Global Fund for Women, and served as its president from 1987 through 1996.  She was born in New Zealand but spent her career working for American foundations.  She now serves as a consultant on civil society to many foundations and non-profit organizations (Global Fund for Women).
  • Frances Kissling was one of the founders of the Global Fund for Women, and now serves as the president for Catholics for a Free Choice.  This is a non-profit organization working to advance gender equality and reproductive rights (ibid.).
  • Laura Lederer was one of the founders of the Global Fund for Women, and is now the director of the Center on Speech Equality and Harm.  This institute examines various forms of harmful speech around the world.  It is concerned both with the protection of free speech and lessening the negative impacts of harmful speech (ibid.).
  • Kavita N. Ramdas is a past president and chief operating officer of the Global Fund for Women, who served in that role from 1996 to 2010.  Ramdas earned several awards and recognitions for her philanthropic leadership and contributions to women’s issues.  In 2004, the National Women’s Association named her the woman of the year for the public sector, and Women and Philanthropy gave her the “Leadership for Equity and Diversity” award.  In 2003, the National Women’s Leadership Summit named her one of 21 leaders of the 21st century and gave her the “Choosing to Lead” award.  In 2002, the Santa Clara Women and Law Society selected her as woman of the year. And in 1999, the Women’s Funding Network gave her an award for “Changing the Face of Philanthropy.”  Ramdas was born in India (Ramdas 2003). Currently, Kavita is the Ford Foundation’s representative in New Delhi. She also serves as a trustee of Princeton University, Mount Holyoke College, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and sits on the board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the African Women’s Development Fund USA. She also chairs the Women in Public Service Initiative, a joint effort by the U.S. State Department and an alliance of women’s colleges. Kavita is a Henry Crown fellow of the Aspen Institute and chairs the expert working group of the Council of Global Leaders for Reproductive Health (Global Fund for Women, Kavita Ramdas, 2017).
  • Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is the current President and CEO of Global Fund for Women. She is an activist for women and girls’ health and human rights, and passionate about using philanthropy and technology to drive social change. Born in Kenya, Musimbi traces her passion for human rights, peace, and justice to her Quaker family and community. She is one of 10 children – every daughter given the same educational opportunities as the sons. “I want the same for every girl and woman, no exceptions,” Musimbi has said. During her time at Global Fund for Women, Musimbi has seen the organization surpass $100 million in grant-making and spearheaded a successful merger with another non-profit. She continues to expand the organization’s influence through her frequent contributions to major media outlets and many speaking engagements in prominent global forums (Global Fund for Women, Musimbi Kanyoro, 2017).


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Association for Women’s Rights in Development is a membership organization that connects, informs, and encourages people to work together to advance gender equality, sustainable development, and women’s rights. They provide educational resources, facilitate debates, and bring people together to advocate for change.
  • International Network of Women’s Funds is a network of grant-makers who are interested in and committed to advancing women’s rights.  The network is made up of women’s fund organizations from around the world that provide information, resources, advice, and mentoring to each other. They also coordinate their efforts, activities, and strategies to maximize their impact.
  • Women’s Funding Network is an association of foundations and donors that support programs that deal with women’s issues.  They work together to strengthen funds and advance social justice.
  • She Should Run, a non-partisan 501(c)3 that provides an approachable starting place and network for women leaders considering a future run for office and for those who support them. Their mission is to expand the talent pool of women running for office in the United States by providing community, resources, and growth opportunities for aspiring political leaders. 
  • National Organization for Woman is a 501(c) (3) organization devoted to achieving full equality for women through education and litigation.
  • International Center for Research on Women provides research, resources, and advocacy on women’s issues.  They conduct research and then provide concrete action steps that you can take on the issues.
  • Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution is an organization which provides the history of women’s social and political movements from the 1940s to the present as well as an extensive resource library.
  • Women’s Watch, hosted by the United Nations Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality, provides information and resources on gender equality and the empowerment of women.  The site includes news, articles, statistics, and links to other sites. 


Reflection Question - How does awarding grant money allow the Global Fund for Women to implement their philanthropic endeavors throughout the world?



  • Caribbean Community Secretariat. Dame Nitta Barrow. [updated December 1994].
  • Charity Navigator. Charity Summary: Global Fund for Women. 
  • Global Fund for Women. Global Fund for Women.
  • Global Fund for Women, Musimbi Kanyoro.
  • Global Fund for Women, Kavita Ramdas.
  • Ramdas, Kavita. “Early Investors in the Global Fund for Women.” Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture, 13 April 2003. Available through the Stanford University’s Educator’s Corner.
  • Ramdas, Kavita. “Supporting Women’s Human Rights Worldwide.” Palo Alto Research Center Forum, 30 January 2003. Available through the Palo Alto Research Center.
  • UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. [Updated 2014].
  • Women’s International Network.  “The Global Fund for Women Brief Article.” WIN News, Winter 2000.


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.