Local women look to South Africa

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Addressing the needs of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children throughout the world is the focus of an initiative launched by a group of Charlotte women who aim initially to enlist women in making donations to two international groups working in South Africa.

Known as Mothering Across Continents, the effort kicks off officially May 7 with events at ImaginOn and the Levine Museum of the New South featuring broadcaster Cokie Roberts.

The founding co-chairs see the initiative as an opportunity to engage women in collective giving that can serve as a model for New South philanthropy that takes on critical global issues and initially reflects civic-sector collaboration in South Africa.

“The kinds of projects we’re funding through this initiative mirror the collaborative ‘philanthropy-without-borders’ approach of non-governmental organizations in South Africa,” says Lyndall Hare, a founder and co-chair of Mothering Across Continents and director of the Lifetime Learning Institute at Central Piedmont Community College.

A native of South Africa and political exile, Hare founded the new initiative with Patricia Shafer, president of consulting and research firm Compel Ltd.

Last spring, after returning from Uganda on a mission with the HIV/AIDS Leadership Council of Connecticut-based Save the Children, Shafer met Hare, who serves on the board of directors of the Boston-based South Africa Development Fund.

Both women say many women want to make a difference in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children, but may not know how to get involved.

“Women have a new level of economic power,” Shafer says. “But where people talk about women’s buying power, we’re focusing on women’s giving power.”

Collaboration, both among women and charities, is critical to the effort, she says.

Mothering Across Continents, which has landed Wachovia as its founding sponsor, will divide funds it raises this year among three projects in South Africa supported by Save the Children and the South Africa Development Fund.

Instead of competing with one another, Hare says, the two groups are “looking at ways to collaborate on funding opportunities.”

Shafer says Mothering Across Continents builds on the Charlotte metro region’s active community of South Africans or individuals with a connection to the country.

Last year, for example, the Embassy of South Africa, the Arts & Science Council and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation organized the South by South Africa initiative that focused on parallels between the U.S. civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

To help achieve its ambition of becoming a world-class city, Shafer says, Charlotte should be taking on world issues and projecting itself as a global citizen.

“HIV/AIDS is the defining global health issue of our times,” she says. “Why not begin to demonstrate our care and compassion around the issue?”

Shafer and Hare, who with three other women with ties to South Africa serve on the organizing committee for Mothering Across Continents, will be speaking and distributing information to local civic groups and religious congregations.

And women outside the region, including a group of mothers in South Africa, already are getting involved in the effort.

“When women become a collective force in philanthropy,” Shafer says, “what a difference you can make.”

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