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Women as agents of societal change

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Arlene Ugbaja

Arlene Ugbaja

Arlene Ugbaja

“Our task isn’t easy. We don’t have parties, we don’t have a constitution, we don’t have political organizations, we don’t have an effective civil society. We have to create a completely new state and we have to do it in the middle of a war and revolution.” – Mahmoud Bousalloum, graduate student and political organizer in Libya.

I was reminded of the importance and benefit of having an engaged civil society in the United States – especially one that that promotes the women’s movement – when a Libyan political organizer said recently in the New York Times, “[they] don’t have an effective civil society” on which to rebuild his country.

As we celebrate women’s history month this March, I am most grateful for the civil engagement of women in the field of philanthropy in this great state of North Carolina, and for their continuing efforts to work to strengthen our state one community at a time.

The power of women as givers in North Carolina is amazing.

Women as givers in this state are powerful because our giving is diverse, has longevity and combines time, talent and treasure for greater impact.

Our power as givers is demonstrated through both individual and collective action throughout urban and rural areas of the state, and across ethnicity, socioeconomic status and generations.

Women are no strangers to philanthropy – our record of accomplishment can be traced through historical and current examples, of which there are many.

The record shows that we are masterful at giving, we do it well and we are positively transforming and improving our communities.

Women and giving in history

An historical example of collective giving is seen in a statewide women’s organization, which continues to be engaged.

One needs only to examine the history of the N.C. Federation of Women’s Clubs to prove the point that the women of this state have been civically engaged for years.

As early as 1902, The North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs worked for social improvement and against injustice.

At its 1919 conference in Hendersonville, the group announced a $5,000 cash endowment with the interest being used for federation business.

This type of collective action at the turn of the century is a testament to women’s concern about the welfare of our state and communities, and to the importance of contributing time, talent and treasure.

The Federation continues to operate local chapters throughout the state.

Women and giving today

One current example of collective giving exists in the southeastern part of the state.

The Women’s Giving Circle of Fayetteville is a multiracial group that encourages women’s participation in philanthropy across generations.

Its emphasis is on providing grants for basic services such as food, clothing and shelter for women and children throughout Cumberland County.

Members produce a scorecard that provides data on the status of women and children in the county. The scorecard helps to inform their grantmaking.

It is this type of collective action that allows women to be actively engaged in addressing issues in their county.

This example of civic engagement represents a growing trend in women’s involvement in civil society in the United States. Several giving circles exist in the state.

The common thread woven in these two examples is selflessness when it comes to working, being involved and improving our state and the lives of women.

There are many issues still facing women today, such as access to healthcare, equal political representation, economic sufficiency, violence against women, etc.

Philanthropy can be used as a powerful individual and collective tool for informed and strategic action to address these issues and bring about positive change.

I invite you to pursue new and different ways to become engaged on an individual and collective basis.

Our state needs women engaged in the civic life of our communities through giving, and I believe our state is better because of our engagement.

History shows that women’s giving – whether funding scholarships, initiating community projects, or many other philanthropic acts – is essential to our society.


Arlene Ugbaja is program coordinator for NCGives, a statewide organization that celebrates and strengthens the giving of time, talent and treasure in North Carolina, particularly among women, young people and communities of color.

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