Tewa: Promoting Philanthropy to Create Self-Reliance

Tewa, an organization located in Nepal, exists to empower women and create sustainable development. Working in a culture that is based in divisions of caste, gender, and ethnicity, Tewa has created an organization run by women who have trained hundreds of women across the country in how to promote giving in their local areas.


Tewa is Nepali for "support."  Tewa is an organization founded in 1996 that is located in Nepal and exists to “strengthen communities, to bring Nepali women and men into equitable partnership in the development of the country and assist in empowering emerging groups of rural women” (Tewa 2004).  The goal is to empower women and create sustainable development.

Tewa seeks to promote philanthropy among Nepali men and women by changing their concept of economic security.  They encourage people to view economic security not simply as financial savings, but as a stable economic environment.  Tewa’s philosophy is that true stability requires the development of a stable rural economy in Nepal, and that the best way to encourage the development of such an economy is through donations, both financial and in training. 

Funds that Tewa raises are used in training volunteers to further their philosophy of philanthropy that is necessary in order to have sustainable development in Nepal.  Tewa believes that development based upon foreign aid in not sustainable.  Volunteers are selected from groups all over Nepal, but primarily from rural women groups, these volunteers receive training in how to increase charitable giving in their local areas.  Tewa also provides grants to high priority groups.  The goal is to promote a stable economy that is not reliant on foreign aid and a society that values women (Tewa 1997).

Historic Roots

Tewa was created in 1996 while Nepal was undergoing significant socioeconomic change. The country converted to democracy in 1990 after the people revolted against the existing government. The newly formed democracy created significant economic and social changes.  Tewa was founded to ensure that development would benefit all people of Nepal (rural and urban, men and women), and to ensure that development efforts created sustainable results. The organization seeks to break down barriers of age, caste, gender and ethnicity and promote a non-hierarchical model of development (Thapa 2002).

The organization was founded by Rita Thapa, a self-defined feminist, who sought to decrease dependence on foreign investment as well as increase the welfare of women in Nepal by educating women and promoting philanthropy across Nepal.  After 8 years of operation, the organization has trained over 275 women to raise
funds locally to support a variety of smaller community development groups (Tewa 2003).  Tewa was formed with an all women board that represented people from across Nepal—geographically, ethnically, and across castes.  The goal was to create an organization that could reach out to all the people of Nepal, but at the same time, could work to empower women and create a socioeconomic environment that utilized and valued women.  Utilizing an all women board has proven an effective strategy as it has created an organization that is undeniably effective and female lead. It has also allowed strong partnerships with other women-led organizations that have been able to thrive with Tewa’s support (Thapa 2002). 


After operating for just eight years (1996-2004) Tewa has made a significant contribution to both Nepal and to women’s organizations. It has been recognized as an effective and unique organization by various international groups including Global Giving, Mama Cash, and the Global Fund for Women.  It has provided training and financial support to hundreds of organizations in Nepal, thus stabilizing and promoting communities (Tewa 2003). 

Tewa has also made a significant contribution to Nepal by existing as a women’s organization.  In a country that is traditionally based in caste and gender biases, this organization has been successful with a female director and all female board.  It has funded primarily women-led groups and, in doing so, has empowered women by giving them a voice and independence. 

Tewa’s importance is furthered because it has resulted in sustainable practices around Nepal.  By working with small community groups, teaching them how to develop funds at local levels, Tewa has helped ensure that these organizations will continue to operate for years to come.  This long term payoff will continue to benefit the nation for years to come (Thapa 2002).

Ties to Philanthropic Sector

It would be difficult to overstate the contributions of Tewa to the philanthropic sector of Nepal.  Working in a culture that is based in divisions of caste, gender, and ethnicity, Tewa has created an organization run by women who have trained hundreds of women across the country in how to promote giving in their local areas.  The goal of the organization has been to change the mindsets of the wealthier segments of the population to recognize that supporting the betterment of the lowest income population is a necessary aspect of stabilizing the nation.  This grassroots effort has been extremely successful, allowing organizations to move from grant recipients of Tewa to grant providers to Tewa in only a few years (Tewa 2003).

Tewa has created a sizable endowment for itself with which it can be ensured a relatively stable future.  This endowment also speaks to its effectiveness in convincing others that charitable giving is a vital part of the future of Nepal.  Tewa’s dedication to promote philanthropy in Nepal has played a significant part in creating a modern philanthropic community in Nepal.

Key Related Ideas

Foreign Aid: assistance for development that originates outside the nation which receives the assistance. Tewa saw large amounts of foreign aid as a potential threat to a sustainable philanthropic sector in Nepal, and thus was founded to increase domestic giving.

Sustainable Development: economic and collaborative efforts that seek to improve the community or subset of a community and are dependant upon local resources, not outside contributions. Sustainable development focuses on increasing local resources such as educating women and increased local giving to an organization.  Please note the differences from the more commonly used definition of environmental sustainability.

Women’s Organization: an organization that seeks to promote the opportunities and education of women.  They are primarily led and founded by women. 

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Dame Nita Barrow (1916 – 1995):  Barrow, former Governor-General of Barbados, also served at various times as the world-wide President of the Young Women’s Christian Association, the World President of the International Council for Adult Education, President of the World Council of Churches, and Barbados Ambassador to the United Nations. A member of the Global Fund for Women’s Board of Directors, Barrow was also a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Mission to South Africa in 1986, and the Convener of the NGO Forum for Women at the United Nations World Congress on Women in Nairobi in 1985. In all these capacities, Barrow championed the causes of justice, equality, peace, and the empowerment of women.

  • Rita Thapa (1952 -): Thapa is the founder, former president and director of Tewa (1996-2002). Thapa left a position with the United Nations to start Tewa in 1996.  She is recognized as a women’s activist and continues to speak around the world regarding women’s rights and sustainable development. She was able to use her skills and connections to assemble a diverse group of women to establish Tewa. 

  • Lida van den Broek (1949 -): Van den Broek is an organizational anthropologist by profession. She was a member of the advisory council (first to the Culture Fund, then to the International Fund) and council member from the origination of Mama Cash.  She managed the staff’s portfolios on the Council.  She was the Managing Director of the ‘Ombudsvrouw’ in Amsterdam and was co-organizer of the first women’s festivals. 

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Global Fund for Women is a grantmaking agency dedicated to supporting women’s human rights organizations around the world by improving women’s access to education and economic independence.  The organization seeks to end violence against women (www.globalfundforwomen.org).

  • International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) is an association of agencies that is dedicated to furthering women’s rights around the world. The network consists of 17 non-profit agencies and meets every other year to discuss topics relating to women’s rights. The Web site has links to various women’s rights organizations (www.inwf.org).

  • Mama Cash was one of the first international women organizations.  It seeks to create a peaceful and just world where women are free to make their own choices.  Mama Cash provides grants to other women’s organizations around the world (www.mamacash.nl).

Related Web Sites

The Université Libre de Bruxelles Web site, at www.ulb.ac.be/ceese/meta/sustvl.html, is maintained by the Center of Economic and Social Studies on the Environment at the university and provides links to over 350 sites and other sources relevant to sustainable development.

The United Nations Web site, at www.un.org/esa/sustdev, is an excellent source for papers and current efforts to promote sustainable development around the world. 

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Web site, at www.unifem.org, is part of the United Nations and is dedicated to the empowerment of women and gender equality.  This site contains links to international women rights issues and agencies.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Culshaw, Murray. “Stability through local resource mobilization,” Fundraising-India (January 2001). http://www.fundraising-india.org/newsletter/006.

Mama Cash.  History.  Accessed 1st October 2004.

Tewa.  About Us. Accessed 1st October, 2004. www.tewa.org.np/about.

Tewa. 1997 Annual Report.  Accessed 1st October 2004. www.catmando.com/tewa/.

Tewa.  2002-2003 Annual Report.  Accessed 1st October 2004. www.tewa.org.np/publications.htm.

Thapa, Rita.  “Tewa – Doing the impossible: Feminist Action in Nepal,” Dame Nita Barrow Lecture (2002) Toronto, Canada. Available from the University of Toronto, Center for Women’s Studies in Education. http://www1.oise.utoronto.ca/cwse/Rita%20Lecture%206.pdf.



This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.