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New Charity Invites Female Millionaires To Donate — And Get Involved

Kate Roberts is running a new kind of philanthropy — funded by women and devoted to women's issues.

There's a lot of talk about helping the girls and women of the developing world, but there's not a lot of money to back it up.

According to a 2014 report from the United Nations Population Fund, "less than two cents [of] every international development dollar is spent on an adolescent girl."

The Maverick Collective hopes to change that breakdown. It's a philanthropic organization that was publicly launched this week at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen. Its 14 members, all women, have each contributed at least $1 million to fund a specific project in the developing world that tackles a women's health issue: domestic violence, maternal health, cervical cancer. The goal is to come up with projects that get good results, then build them up to a bigger scale.

And it's not just about writing a check. Each donor is involved with the project she is sponsoring. The women have traveled to the countries where the project is going on and are tracking its progress.

The group's CEO is Kate Roberts, who was a top advertising executive before becoming senior vice president of the nonprofit PSI — Population Services International. The co-chairs are Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, who is also the co-founder, and Melinda Gates. (As our readers may know, the Gates Foundation is a funder of NPR.)

We spoke with Roberts in Copenhagen to learn more about this new organization. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What was the inspiration for the Maverick Collective?

I have worked in development for 16 years. I was a huge champion of the Girl Effect. But I was noticing that the funding didn't match the rhetoric. So I wanted to develop a platform that would amplify impact for women philanthropists.

What adjective would you use to describe the Maverick Collective?

Disruptive, but in a good way. These women are risk takers. Any form of innovation is risky. It's not a donor and an NGO separately. The two are working together. Larger agencies like USAID are risk-averse.

Tell me about the women you've invited to contribute to the Maverick Collective?

The women that we're bringing in have more than just money to contribute. They come from varied backgrounds and have their own skill sets — be it in finance, design, development, public health. That's incorporated into the projects they support. We reached out to them and picked them because they were eager to learn and wanting to get deeply involved.

If we know that helping women can have a positive impact on society, why is more money not given to women's health or women's issues as a whole?

That's a good question. I don't really know.

Have women been marginalized in philanthropy?

Yes. Women told us that they would be at a cocktail party, and people would come talk to their husbands, but not them. They felt that they were expected to give to what their husbands were giving to. And these are educated, empowered women. Women have a different take on philanthropy, though: They have empathy and are learners. So they should definitely be a part of the conversation.

Before you launched the Collective officially this week (and its website), you did a lot of work and made a lot of connections.

USAID, for instance, has supported one of [our] programs in India on gender-based violence and donated $5 million. In total, we've helped unlock about $60 million in funding, and we're just getting started.

What's next?

We'll be recruiting new champions. Diversity is really, really important — cross-generational and cross-geographical. We've got off to a good start. Our members are from 26 to 72. We might even be selecting a male.

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