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Philanthropy is the love of humanity

19 July 2021

7 minute read

Atalanti Moquette is interviewed by Elsa Floret

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Atalanti Moquette
Founder and Vice President, Giving Women

Atalanti Moquette is the Founder and Vice President of Giving Women, a network of women involved in philanthropy who pool their time, knowledge, professional experience, financial resources and ideas to be more effective givers. It also provides non-monetary support to women and girls.

Moquette has been involved in philanthropy ever since she graduated from Kings College London and the University of Toronto. She began at the grassroots level, running a life skills programme in a shelter for women who had suffered domestic violence.

Over the years, her work has ranged from fundraising to strategy development. As a philanthropist and volunteer, Moquette has held positions on many boards. She was a Vice President on the board of The International School of Geneva for four years and a member of the executive board of the Fondation Philanthropique Orthodoxe.

She’s a founding member of both the Geneva Committee of Human Rights Watch and of GenevaWISE, an association that gives bursaries to young graduates from developing countries to help them undertake internships in Geneva. She’s also been appointed to the board of the International Baccalaureate Organization.

Empowering women to empower women

At Giving Women, you decided to give capacity and to undertake well-researched projects rather than give money. What inspired you to set up Giving Women?

When I was approached to set up an organisation for women to help women, I embarked on a fact-finding mission. Do women give differently? Why do we need to create an organisation for female philanthropists, and why should it support only girls and women?

My research showed me that yes, women do indeed give differently. In average, we found that:

  • Women want hands-on involvement in the causes they give to
  • Women like working together
  • Women are more generous financially
  • Women feel that giving money alone is not enough.

It also showed there was a pressing need to support projects directed at girls and women. This is because:

  • 50% of the world’s poor are women
  • Girls and women are overall more vulnerable than males, with less access to nutritious food, healthcare and financial services and worse land rights
  • Girls and women are the last to recover from crisis situations
  • Fewer girls go to school than boys
  • Social norms, a lack of education, and worse access to economic autonomy cause girls and women to be victims of gender-based violence.

And the list goes on.

What’s more, and most shockingly, only eight to ten per cent of philanthropic funding goes to programmes directed at girls and women.

Taking all this into account, it was clear to me that we needed to create an organisation that facilitated women on their philanthropic journey and supported women’s empowerment projects.

My dream is to show by example that every contribution in kind or of money can make a difference. When I first started Giving Women I believed in the power of one, that each and every one of us can make a difference in someone’s life, but now I believe in the magic of many. My dream is that the whole of humanity can work together to help create a healthy planet in which everyone can reach their full potential, live in dignity, and have choices.

If we love and feel compassion for humanity, we are philanthropists

Your track record shows a long involvement in the field of philanthropy. What drives your philanthropic activities?

Many people today believe that to be a philanthropist you need to be among the super-wealthy. In my view, however, anybody can be a philanthropist. It’s not only about money. It’s about compassion and a desire to make the world a better place for everyone. The original meaning of the Greek word philanthropy is the love of humanity.

To what extent has your family influenced the way you envisage philanthropy?

Having had a privileged upbringing, I was inspired by my family to embrace two fundamental values. First, that privilege does not entitle you, but rather means you have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate. Second, to respect everyone – no matter who they are, how much they have, or what they do. These values inform all of my philanthropic activities.

This compassion was present in my home as I grew up and it’s part of who I am. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

In your view, what holds people back from being philanthropists?

Many people feel that their actions cannot make a difference, that their contribution is so small that there is no point in trying. Others are concerned that they don’t have the money to be a philanthropist, failing to recognise that there are other ways to give. Often there are so many causes, it’s difficult to know where to offer one’s support. Some of the women who have joined Giving Women have expressed their concern that they have nothing to offer.

How could you encourage people who are unsure to become philanthropists or to support philanthropic projects?

Giving Women’s activities show that there are many ways to give and that every one of us can be a philanthropist.

By providing access to carefully chosen projects and some training and bringing together a group of diverse but like-minded women to leverage their life experience, their professional experience, and their passion to improve the lives of vulnerable girls and women, we have helped to strengthen and make more sustainable over 40 projects over the past ten years.

When asked what the necessary criteria are to become part of Giving Women, we answer that there are only two: that you’re a woman, and that you have the desire to join our community and improve the lives of vulnerable girls and women.

The future of giving

What is your vision for the post COVID-19 world?

The pandemic has enabled Giving Women to grow and reach more people. It’s enabled us to create platforms for founders of programmes, project leaders and grassroots organisations to be part of conversations with large NGOs, UN organisations, the private sector and society at large. COVID-19 has taught us that through technology we can overcome geographic barriers and collaborate in a way we have not been able to before. Everyone is equal behind their screen.

Hierarchies are flattened, and each stakeholder’s contribution is valued. It has shown the power of bringing all stakeholders together to find solutions.

For systemic change to happen, everyone needs to be at the table.

Do you think COVID-19 has had a big impact on philanthropy?

The pandemic has shifted the approach taken by funders, who have traditionally controlled the way their philanthropic donations are used. The global lockdowns created some major crises, such as extreme poverty, hunger, and gender-based violence in some of the most vulnerable communities, so grantor foundations loosened their restrictions and quickly responded to the immediate needs of their beneficiaries by supporting on-the-ground organisations.

I hope that the shift in the imbalance of power between grantor and grantee will last, along with the recognition that both parties are equal partners in finding lasting and sustainable solutions in the post-pandemic world.

With its wealth, democratic culture and entrepreneurial spirit, is it Switzerland’s moral duty to set an example to the rest of the world?

Indeed. Switzerland’s a leader in this respect, with over 13,000 charitable foundations registered here. Some of the most important NGOs that are based in Switzerland are large UN organisations. What’s more, Switzerland has led the way in creating different ways that development projects can be fully or partly financially sustainable by investing in social enterprises. This has helped to grow the social impact investing sector.

For Giving Women, the access to so many professionals involved in philanthropy in Switzerland has enabled us to continue to learn how to make our projects more impactful, sustainable and robust.

After studying art, you started your career at Sotheby’s. How has art played a role in your philanthropic journey?

Passion, curiosity, and sharing are the drivers of what I do. My passion for art started as a child. I was one of those nerdy children who loved going to museums. I could spend hours looking at paintings, and was often abandoned by my sisters, who would end up in a café waiting for me.

Philanthropy was a strong presence in my childhood, so it wasn’t something that suddenly appeared out of nowhere when I founded Giving Women. Taking care of others, empathy, compassion and generosity were values with which our childhood was imbued.

 Although my love of art did not have a direct influence on my philanthropic journey, both are passions that have persisted throughout my life and drive me to constantly learn and take action.

One of the past Chairwomen of Giving Women emphasises your vision and leadership, which remain at the organisation’s core 12 years after you founded it. How would you define your personal vision and leadership style?

Giving Women is an inclusive organisation in which any woman who wants to improve the lives of girls and women in need is welcome. I hope that my enthusiasm, commitment, openness and compassion have played an important role in shaping the culture of Giving Women.

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In Switzerland

We wanted to celebrate our 35 years in Switzerland by publishing a collection of interesting stories from some of our clients and partners with whom we work.