Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Magic Question

The quotable quote from Tuesday’s 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County is this:

When we lift up women and girls, we lift up entire communities.

I immediately thought of this story shared by Yale professor Zoe Chance, in an NPR interview about her book, Influence is your Superpower.

CHANCE: The magic question is, what would it take? To illustrate, here's a story to show how it works. In Zambia, there's been a sex trafficking conference where Gloria Steinem was there as an expert talking on this issue and giving advice. She goes to a village that's facing that issue. And three young women have been lost to sex traffickers the previous year. Instead of giving them advice, she asks the magic question. She says, what would it take for that to never happen again? They told her an electric fence. An electric fence? They said, when the corn reaches a certain height, the elephants come, and they eat it, and they trample it. We have no food. We have nothing to sell at the market. We have no money to send our kids to school. And these women and their families were desperate. 

So Gloria Steinem goes back home. She raises a few thousand dollars, sends them the money. And the way she tells it, when she comes back a few years later, there's a bumper crop of corn. No women have left the village to sex trafficking since they got the fence. 

The magic question is magic because, first of all, it's respectful. This is a way that you want to be influenced by someone. So even when you teach it to other people and they're using it with you, you ask each other, what would it take? - and - ah, the magic question. But you tell each other it feels good. The magic question is magic because you get creative and surprising answers that you never would have expected. And thirdly, it's magic because when they tell you, here's the roadmap to success, they are implicitly committing to supporting that outcome. 

So the way I hear this story, it's not that the fence magically prevented sex trafficking. It's that the women who had asked for the fence made sure that after they got it, no one was going to leave the village that way.

When we lift up women and girls, we lift up entire communities.

Over the past twenty years, the Women’s Giving Circle has developed a multi-pronged approach to philanthropy in Howard County. They have become incredibly good at meeting crisis needs quickly  through their Emergency Response Network. And I knew they found ways to highlight particular local nonprofits such as Columbia Community Care, Grassroots, and the Community Action Council through special appeals. Did you know that this year they were involved in the Horizon Foundation/United Way Changemaker Challenge?

This is only a small amount of what they do each year in our community.

I hadn’t known until the other evening that they have built up an endowment of 1.3 million dollars to make sure that their mission will continue in the future. For a small, local nonprofit, that’s impressive.

I’ll also throw in here my own experience with WGC. I’ve never had much discretionary income. I didn’t see myself as a philanthropist. The issues I cared most about seemed insurmountable when I considered how little I had to give. But personal connections I had with members of the Women’s Giving Circle sparked my interest. And then, that magic question presented itself to me: what would it take for you to get involved here?

It turns out that I needed to be convinced that, even if all I had was ten or twenty dollars to spare, that it would be enough. That I could do some good. 

According to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy:

Giving circles, which tripled in the United States from 2007-2017, help introduce new and increasingly diverse donors into the world of philanthropy.

And, from Philanthropy Together:

Giving circles bring many more — and widely representative — everyday donors to the table to create equitable communities.

Women in Howard County lifting up women and girls in Howard County. The ripples of giving lift up the entire community. Big or small, each contribution moves their mission forward.


Keep an eye out for information about the newest initiative of WGC: The Big Give, a hands-on opportunity to learn about grant-making opportunities for women and girls.

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