Over the past five years, the global health nonprofit Population Services International has piloted a novel strategy aimed at getting high-net-worth women donors more involved in the projects they support. Co-chaired by Melinda Gates and the crown princess of Norway, and supported by a $5 million Gates Foundation grant, the experiment—a team of select women donors known as the “Maverick Collective”—has been wildly successful. Members pledge at least $1 million in contributions (which includes a 15 percent overhead fee), but the bigger investments are substantial time and, often, specialized talents, resources, or expertise relevant to PSI projects. Stasia Obremskey, a Maverick donor experienced in management consulting, is helping to create a market for injectable contraceptives in Mozambique; Kathryn Vizas, a former corporate lawyer and the daughter of an oncologist, has spent three years supporting the expansion of low-cost cervical cancer screenings in India.
PSI ensures that Maverick women are well-matched to their projects by letting them choose from several pilot efforts identified as high-potential but too small to attract major grantmakers’ and governments’ support. Current initiatives include building a health clinic in Nicaragua, improving access to midwives in Senegal, and reducing gender-based violence in India. Supported by seven full-time PSI staff, Maverick members help design and implement their projects, often making frequent site visits. They also speak about their work at forums that range from the Women Moving Millions conference to the United Nations. (PSI trains members to do media interviews and write opinion pieces.)
Maverick was the brainchild of Kate Roberts, a PSI executive whose desire to expand global advocacy around women and girls led her to approach Bill and Melinda Gates in 2011. The project carried some risks—many nonprofits would balk at taking donors along to witness their struggles and failures—but the Maverick team has proved eager to work through mistakes alongside PSI. Nor has firsthand experience inhibited their generosity: so far, the collective has pledged nearly $20 million to fund global projects targeting women and girls.
PSI intends to add 10 new Maverick donors this year, and may expand its membership beyond women (several men have expressed interest). Read more in this week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy and on PSI’s website.