Islamic Finance

INTERVIEW-What is the Global Women Leaders, how can the Islamic economy make philanthropy strategic?

What is the Global Women Leaders, and what does the Islamic economy need to make philanthropy strategic?

Interview with the founder of Global Women Leaders (GWL), Kimberly Gire, who is a strategic philanthropist and ex-banker. GWL works with institutional partners to explore new financial tools for the humanitarian world. If you can't access audio, the transcript of the interview can be found below. 



Emmy Abdul Alim (EAA): Thank you for listening to Salaam Gateway. You’re listening to our interviews with Islamic economy people from the Global Islamic Economy Summit that was on October 30 and 31 in Dubai.

Hi Kimberly, thank you for joining us. My name is Emmy Abdul Alim. I am the editor for Salaam Gateway. If you’re listening in, this is Kimberly Gire and Kimberly is the Founder of the Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy and she is speaking here at the Global Islamic Economy Summit about philanthropy. Kimberly, if you’d like to give us a little bit of a background on the work that you do with your organisation.

Kimberly Gire (KG): Absolutely. We are a community of women who are what I would call strategic philanthropists, a little different to a pure cash-based donation. We actually have skills and connections and careers that we have built up over the years that we feel we can donate, not just our money, but our time to create economic solutions, philanthropic solutions for humanitarian organisations and developmental issues.

EAA: Where do you operate?

KG: We’re global. So I’m American by birth, I am married to a Dutchman, I live in Australia, I’ve spent time in China, Switzerland, California, Sydney… We are a global group and we have women all over the world who are looking to help.

EAA: Could you give us an example of the kind of work and initiative that you have already done?

KG: Yes. So, we recently had a role in the first Humanitarian Impact Bond put together by the International Committee of the Red Cross. That is a great example of structuring banking and finance skills and seeing an opportunity to translate those into a bond instrument, a first of its kind, to bring solutions in physical rehabilitation for thousands of recipients that otherwise wouldn’t have that impact.


Strategic giving is the next disruption in Islamic philanthropy

EAA: Do you also work in the Islamic economy or the Islamic finance space?

KG: Yes. So, I’m very pleased to be down here for this Summit. I just spoke at a panel just now about how we can build bridges to the Islamic economy and one of the best ways to do that is actually through investing in the people and the resilience and the livelihoods of the people in the Islamic economy. So, a good example would be building up skill sets and livelihoods to make sure that people are resilient to shocks. So, we are working on a facility with the World Bank and a collaboration of NGOs, philanthropists and tech companies to find ways to invest earlier to make sure people are resilient to the risk of famine.

It’s quite exciting, using technology for good, AI for good, to use predictive tools and data to figure out how we can create early warning signals and actually pre-agree financing upfront, before a crisis hits, so we can invest earlier and actually save lives so that people that would normally be impacted through a late response.

EAA: Who are the beneficiaries for this project that you are working on with the World Bank?

KG: Pilot countries that were the most prominent and that we are looking at first is Somalia. So, if you’re familiar with the famine in Somalia in 2011, 250,000 people died in that shock. And if you look at what the response was in terms of dollars spent, $53 million in humanitarian aid could have been saved by investing upfront and actually, most important, actually saving those lives. But, you know, having a smarter use of that aid money by investing in resilience upfront to make sure that people don’t get into that situation in the first place.

EAA: Is there a timeline for this project? Are we going to see something come out of it really soon?

KG: So, it was just announced at the UN General Assembly in September and again at the Annual World Bank Meetings in Indonesia last month. There’s a collaboration working on this and it really is exciting to have a seat at the table as strategic philanthropists to see how we can contribute solutions to this. We have three tech companies involved: Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

We are also looking at how you can use financial techniques, insurance techniques to potentially create a contingent financing product around this, similar to the pandemic facility that was put in place after the Ebola crisis.

But most importantly, it’s actually telling the story about how we can really shift the mind-set of what humanitarian response looks like – you know, philanthropic investment, impact investment can actually mean investing earlier and pre-agreeing how money is raised, where it goes and which agencies get this money upfront so that we act sooner.

EAA: So, of course, as you know, in the Islamic finance and the Islamic economy, philanthropy covers quite a lot of areas. For a Muslim, it is compulsory for us to pay 2.5 percent of zakat on our income, both for individuals as well as companies in certain countries, they have to do that. We have sadaqah, which is charity, and we have other Islamic social finance tools as well. How do you think we can mobilise Islamic social finance funds, especially zakat and waqf, which is endowment, to make that more impactful for people who really need the money on the ground?

KG: I think the number one thing, I would say, and that’s the message I am trying to get across as a part of this Summit is to actually take a seat at the table.

This is a new project. We are looking for cornerstone philanthropists to sit down and actually design the solutions in partnership with the collaborations.

So, rather than waiting to ask for philanthropy at the end of a process, this time, we are actually trying to have people like myself gather cornerstone philanthropists, including Islamic philanthropists, to sit down and see and design how those tools can be used.

So, it’s an exciting time to step up and be involved from the very beginning. So, I don’t want to dictate or forecast what that might look like yet; I think, right now, it is so early in the process. We are actually issuing the invitation to come and sit at the table and work with us.

EAA: know it is early in the process, but what kind of response have you gotten from people about what you do and what you want to structure for this?

KG: Well, I think even beyond the famine mechanism, which is one example, but I think that one of the things that is so encouraging is people leaning in to see how they can donate their skill sets.

So, here in the region and around the world, people are looking for what they can do to solve some of these and contribute to some of these growing humanitarian crises.

You know, people feel a little bit helpless: What can we do beyond just your pure zakat or your dollar contributions?

And I think for someone like myself, that has been hugely rewarding and well beyond my own personal financial means, my skill set that I built up over many, many years in banking and finance is actually a translatable donation.

And so, the response has actually been not just encouraging, but overwhelming in terms of people really loving that model and wanting to see how they can participate.

So, I guess, for me, that is the number one takeaway: people leaning in and actually asking how they can help. And I think the more people that do that and the more people that advocate and understand the needs, then the more people will come to the table and come up with the solutions together.

EAA: The obvious question, for me at least, is why is this a women leaders forum? Why is this so specific?

KG: Well, I think the name and the title Women Leaders is: we are taking a leadership position through our connections, through our willingness to connect people. Women are actually naturally collaborative; I think they’re also quite drawn to the humanitarian space and some of the donor research has shown that women actually have an outsized impact when it comes to this space.

So, it’s a natural place to start. It doesn’t mean that men are excluded from the process; it just means that we are at the front, sort of putting a stake in the ground to say this is important to us and we want to work together.

And I think humanitarian work is sometimes quiet, behind-the-scenes work as well, you know. It’s not about us as women; it’s not about us putting our own personal profiles out there. We have women, some of whom are attached to large companies, or government positions, but they in their own way, in their personal capacity, want to help. And I think that’s just the collaborative nature of women.

EAA: Do you see anything on the ground in the Islamic world that encourages you on the gender equality front in philanthropy?

KG: Yes, well, I have just recently been to the field with UNHCR and with the focus in particular on secondary girls’ education. So, for me, and beyond me, one of the best philanthropic investments you can make is investing in girls’ education.

And as we know, the statistics show we still have a long way to go on that. So it’s not just raising money but raising awareness – that is a priority. But it’s definitely about raising money as well.

And so, for us as women to speak out, to say that we want to put girls’ education and particularly girls’ secondary education and beyond, tertiary education, to say this is a great investment, this is an investment in women who are going to go on to invest in their own families and actually go on to invest in businesses.

And the money that they earn, statistics show that they spread around more; they spread around their own families and they spread around in the economy. So investing in women and education in Islamic philanthropy is actually a good investment for the Islamic economy.

EAA: When you look at the people that you talk to here in the GCC as well as in other Islamic countries, what do you say to the young girl or the woman about what they can do for philanthropy, either as individuals or as micro entrepreneurs or as owners of small businesses? How can they contribute?

KG: Well, there are a number of ways they can contribute. I guess the other thing about women is that they look at things through a woman’s lens as well. So, what are the services – and you can see this in some of the industries that are showcased here at this Summit – what are the services that women as consumers are both going to purchase and invest in, and also in terms of women’s entrepreneurship, putting more money into female founders, I think that’s a great focal point for this region as well.

There are some great funds that are happening and I think some of the announcements around the world, with the World Bank’s women’s economic financing facility and other funds of that nature.

The more we can invest in these women, the more they’re going to employ other women, but also, the products they sell are actually powering the economy as well.

EAA: If I may, a last question: the field of philanthropy, charity, refugee work and relief, is very fragmented. There are a few very large institutional players and, as well, a lot of very good-meaning NGOs are out there, trying to channel, for us, zakat, to relief work for instance. In that very fragmented scenario, what do you think women can do to more effectively use the funds that we have raised to help people who really need it, instead of competing with each other?

KG: Yes, exactly. I think that is one of the main things that we really took into account when we set this model up.

We are a community of women and we actually are a neutral organisation, so we work across the different agencies, and we don’t belong or support any one more than the other.

So I think having that view across, looking at the synergies but also being able to be a neutral voice to highlight ways that things could be done differently or things that we are seeing in terms of efficiency of donor capital, we are heightened to that from the beginning.

So I think joining a neutral group like this as opposed to maybe aligning with any one is a way to solve for that and it is very important for us to be able to work across those groups.

EAA: Thank you, Kimberly.

KG: Thank you. 

(Interview by Emmy Abdul Alim

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