You are a philanthropist: Mary Connolly’s insight and advice for making a difference

Our Head of Philanthropy shares her expertise.

It simply isn’t right to hold back half of the world. Plus, if you empower women to be successful in their own lives and in their communities, they will spread that success more widely around their region and across their networks. The question is, why wouldn't you support that?

Mary Connolly, Head of Philanthropy, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

The Foundation’s Head of Philanthropy, Mary Connolly, is an expert on relationship and community building. In order to drive forward our Ready for Business strategy, which will see us reach one million women with our work, Mary is convening a new community of philanthropists around the globe who share our passion for women’s economic justice. Here, Mary shares her insight on the power of community and what philanthropy means to her.  

What made you want to join the Foundation?  

This week, UN Women and UNDP launched a new report showing that across the world fewer than 1% of women and girls live in a country with high women’s empowerment and gender parity. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s work – empowering women in low and middle income countries to start, sustain and grow successful businesses, and building fair and inclusive business environments – is absolutely vital and urgent. 

In the last seven to eight years of my work as a fundraiser I’ve been working primarily with groups of women donors and on initiatives that support women. I’ve found it very fulfilling because every woman involved in these causes is so engaged. They don’t just want to give money; they want to be involved in creating change and making a difference. I love building relationships with them and seeing where those relationships lead.  

Mary Connolly, Head of Philanthropy

What elements of our new strategy are most exciting to you in your role as Head of Philanthropy?  

For me, it’s the sheer scale and unapologetic ambition of the Ready for Business strategy that is most exciting to me. We reached our previous strategy’s goal of supporting 100,000 women and now we’re setting out to do even more. Partners, donors and supporters of all kinds are a critical part of it.   

I love hearing the way our Founder, Cherie Blair, speaks about it. When she meets people, her message is always that we can’t do this on our own, we need to build an entire society of people who are committed to gender equality and putting women’s empowerment right at the top of the agenda. Because it’s better for everyone that way. It’s not just about women, it’s about how it benefits the world and the people that live in it. She has a way of making everyone feel that they can make a difference, and it’s true. We all can make a difference. 

We all can make a difference.

Absolutely, I can’t agree more. And speaking of our supporters, I’m so excited that we can finally start sharing about the new fundraising community that launches this week. Can you tell me a bit about what it is and why it’s important for our mission?  

The Accelerate Board is a group of people who believe in the mission of the Foundation and  in our aspiration to build an equal society and establish more resilient and inclusive local economies around the world.     

They are a group of people who are committed to helping the Foundation achieve its aims, but not just financially. They’re supporting us by opening up networks, by advocating, by being ambassadors, by generously giving their time, energy, and contacts.   

Our colleagues, Hayley Matthews and Elizabeth Wells, have just returned from Kenya where they met up with one of our Board members, Serah Katusia, Serah has just completely blown our socks off with what she’s achieved for the Foundation. She’s been working to raise awareness of the Foundation’s work and helping us to make new connections in Kenya and beyond, particularly among members of the business community who share our commitment to women’s economic empowerment. She even hosted a breakfast for us that brought senior business leaders together to see how we could collaborate to support women-led businesses 

It’s those things, those moments, those actions that really make all the difference and really illustrate what the members of our community can do for us.  

Serah Mwikali Katusya, Global Campaign Board Member for Africa
Serah Katusia, member of our Accelerate Board

I love that. What will the Board aim to accomplish?   

The overarching aim of the Board, which is also quite ambitious, is to help raise £1.5 million per year for the Foundation in unrestricted funding. It’s no small task.   

That income will underpin everything the Foundation does, and will give us the space and the resources to invest in our team, to invest in and expand our programmes, and to deliver our target of reaching one million women. It will also help us to build strategic partnerships, which is important, because without them we’re never going to achieve our goal.   

That’s so true. Very well said. And so much is changing in the world right now socially and economically. Would you say there is a changing landscape for philanthropy?  

I feel that people are talking a lot more about philanthropy these days. It’s definitely present in public discourse. People are more aware of it, partly I think because of high profile people sharing their philanthropy online. Lots and lots of successful people want to be regarded as philanthropists right now. When you scroll through LinkedIn, there are so many people who define themselves as that. No matter the reasoning for people giving to charity, whether it’s altruistic or for status, I think the outcome of it is what matters.   

There’s never been a more interesting time to be in philanthropy. I think that the mission of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women appeals to a lot of people. For many people, definitely for me, it’s a bit of a no brainer. It simply isn’t right to hold back half of the world. Plus, if you empower women to be successful in their own lives and in their communities, they will spread that success more widely around their region and across their networks. The question is, why wouldn’t you support that? 

Yes! Absolutely. I’m loving chatting to you about this. You’ve got so much interesting insight and I definitely agree. I feel like with gender equality, people are coming around to it more and really getting into it more. I think it’s a cool time to be working in that space.  

And do you think that there is a massive difference between generations and different demographics when it comes to philanthropy?   

Oh, totally. Well, I think we’re on the cusp of something. I think younger people are far more values driven than maybe my generation and older. So down the road, as younger people get more disposable income, I think there’s going to be a huge explosion of values driven philanthropy, as opposed to people who just like to have their names on buildings. I think all of that is about to change.   

I think we're on the cusp of something... I think there's going to be a huge explosion of values driven philanthropy.

That’s so interesting because I always hear people speak so negatively about younger generations. And then my final question is, what is your message to philanthropists or to aspiring philanthropists?  

I think anybody who is interested in what we’re trying to achieve and who wants to get involved should just find a way to get involved. It doesn’t need to start with a six-figure gift. I think philanthropy can start with just opening up your home or your business or providing your services to support our fundraising events. It takes so many different forms.  

Philanthropy is a frame of mind. It’s a sense of spirit. It’s a values proposition. Philanthropists want to make a difference in whatever way that they can, and that is in a hundred different ways. Mentoring, for example, is a form of philanthropy. You’re giving your time, your energy, your spirit to someone else. It’s such a wide term and it’s so all-encompassing of  small acts of generosity and openness. I think that’s what philanthropy is.   

For anybody who wants to get involved in the Foundation, there is always an opportunity to do so. You can start by making a donation right now to kick off our Ready for Business strategy, or get in touch with us to see where we can go. Let’s see if we can change the world one woman at a time.  

What a fantastic note to end on. Thank you so much Mary.