Musimbi Kanyoro: The Global Fund for Women's new leader

Musimbi Kanyoro, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women. Photo by: monadman64 / CC BY-SA

Musimbi Kanyoro assumed the Global Fund for Women top post in August – and the seasoned activist for global health and gender equality hasn’t wasted any time mapping out the donor’s growth strategy.

We caught up with Kanyoro on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York last week to talk about her vision for the San Francisco-based Global Fund’s growth and its focus on sexual rights, peace and gender violence, education, civic and political participation and economic and environmental justice.

What are you hoping to achieve in your role as chief of the largest fund for women’s organizations and women-led grassroots movements working outside the United States?

At this second, when thinking about the next five years, I think we would want to try and look at the impact of these organizations that we have helped, that work with women, and at the same time, to expand our collaboration with other organizations so that we can liberate our power together with other women. The thing that we really want to do a lot of at this point in time is to see whether we can double our resources for women, in terms of what we give to women.

Because we have been giving them, say, $10,000 up to $50,000, and some of them are now grown already and doing big work. We want to see where we can get to a point where big organizations can get to, really, $100,000, $150,000 in funding. And hopefully we can even give some of the organizations that are doing good work half a million because our whole issue is we want women to have resources, to provide for solutions that they care for.

But we also still much care for women who cannot access large resources. So we want to be present with women who are doing important things with little money and struggling to build their capacity, so that they can be visible in other places. And then we also stand with women who are doing controversial, fast things in their own places because we trust them.

When you are reviewing applications and giving out funds, what do you think of as the ideal organization or recipient?

Someone who is grounded on a vision that is going somewhere. She should be rooted within the community where she is working, and be able to grow from there. And she should really believe she is going to make a difference. As she is not giving up.

So, we like to have people who are strong-willed. And people who can also be able to draw others into the vision that they have.

Do you see the areas of funding for women internationally changing, to focus more on non-communicable diseases or nutrition, for example?

These things are very important and we see large organizations that have larger amounts of money wanting to fund in these areas. And we are delighted about it. So, whenever any money can come to women, through any means, we celebrate it and then we try to see what niche we can continue to fill. Sometimes it is drawing more attention to certain areas – like now, our Africa grants are still really concentrating on women in conflict areas and trying to see that the ones who are struggling most are not forgotten.

But I think there are so few global women’s funds; we still are the largest fund that gives directly to women issues.

I feel, secondly, we want to look at the area of communication and to see how women are communicating, what they have done – working with journalists, people on the ground, but also people who are interested in telling stories about women. Together with our communication advancement, we have begun to try and see who we need to be talking to.

A fourth question, if I may. Are you worried about how the lingering global economic and financial challenges may affect your funding?

A lot of the funding comes from the USA, but also from Europe. We are concerned and we are aware of the financial situation worldwide. The best thing about the Global Fund is most of the projects are from individuals who have really committed – and then we have institutional funders.

Institutional funders are very open. They like to have things that are really working, which can be scaled up. And we love them, but we know that in order for us to reach women at critical levels, we need other funders and then these additional funders can work with us in areas that we want to scale up.

We are right now living in a world in which there is really no borders between institutions and individuals. We are getting women working in the corporate world to try to say to them, “As individuals, how do you want to translate your care for what is happening in the leadership of women in the nonprofit world?”

I just met with a great woman today from J.P. Morgan, just an individual, to try to have a good discussion. And she really cares, she cares for women’s issues, women and breast cancer, she cares for women who are working on human rights. I think that this is an area I would very much like to grow – to try and find out those women who professionally are engaged in other areas where we don’t reach and see where their heart’s calling is when it comes to women’s human rights, women’s health and women’s education.

Read our 2010 interview with previous Global Fund for Women President and CEO Kavita Ramdas, as well as last week’s 3 Questions for U.N. Special Representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is an award-winning journalist based in New York City. Her coverage on politics, social justice issues, development and climate change has appeared in a variety of international news outlets, including The Guardian, Slate and The Atlantic. She has reported from the U.N. Headquarters, in addition to nine countries outside of the U.S. Amy received her master of arts degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in May 2014. Last year she completed a yearlong fellowship on the oil industry and climate change and co-published her findings with a team in the Los Angeles Times.