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Women have historically played a strong role in philanthropy through volunteering but are exploring new ways to fulfil the desire for involvement and change.

The rising financial wealth and empowerment of women is expanding the scope of traditional female-led philanthropy.

It is women that tend to drive philanthropic decisions in their households, donating to areas they have a personal connection with and to organisations that create an impact, according to a recent report into women and philanthropy.

Cecile Phyllis Connor was one of Australia’s first female philanthropic trailblazers: a smart investor who gave during her lifetime and ensured her charitable legacy would live on through her foundation, the Phyllis Connor Memorial Trust. 

After completing her college education in the 1920s, she began her career at the State Electricity Commission, before enlisting in the army as a driver during World War II. She later become involved in intelligence-gathering for the military secret service.

She ensured her generosity would continue by leaving directions to establish a perpetual charitable trust through in her will – The Phyllis Connor Memorial Trust.

The generations of women that followed have only expanded their involvement in philanthropy. 

Rosemary Mangiamele, an artist and philanthropist, set up The Cuming Bequest in 2006 to honour her uncle who left her money in his will.

“When I first started, I funded organisations that myself or my family had a personal experience with, for example the Gawler Cancer Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association,” she says. “These are organisations that are working toward some important outcomes for illnesses that have affected my family.”

Her philanthropic journey has expanded to include other organisations that connect with her values, such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). Her support was prompted by hearing first-hand stories after she led an art class for asylum seekers.

Professor Nadia Badawi AM – an internationally recognised neonatologist with extensive experience in the field of cerebral palsy and newborn brain conditions – founded the Keogh-Badawi Gift with her husband in 2008. It is a sub-fund of the Equity Trustees Charitable Foundation and focuses on health and education. 

“I can see how the results of having access to education for our parents has sent out waves of empowerment and change, influencing and enabling the people whose lives they touched,” she says. “The effects have been enormous and continues to have an effect today and into the future.”

The School for Life Foundation, which provides educational opportunities for Ugandan children, was one of the Keogh-Badawi Gift’s beneficiaries. It reflects her focus on educating young girls given the best predictor of a child’s health outcomes is the mother’s educational status.

“My work as a paediatrician has taught me that health and education are intertwined and inseparable.”

She has seen first-hand the impact that donors have made to improve health outcomes in her work at the Grace Centre for Newborn Care at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and as chair of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation.

“I am all too aware that without the commitment of our donors, and the extra services and research, which only their input makes possible, we would not have seen the great strides forward that have been achieved”.

A rising number of charitable organisations are also applying a gender-lens to their support. 

The Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation supports medical research into diseases along with the alleviation of hardship of the aged and the sick. It also plays a role in fighting society’s inherent gender bias by ensuring its two Viertel Fellowships are split equally between men and women. 

Its Clinical Investigator Awards support new clinical investigators to establish their research programs in the difficult transition from doctoral and post-doctoral training posts to their first clinical position in an academic environment, while the Senior Medical Research Fellowship bridges the gap between post-doctoral studies and career research positions.