Dining for Women: Potluck Philanthropy

By the simple act of sharing a meal, Dining for Women members fund grassroots organizations that empower women and girls worldwide, and promotes gender equity.

By Stacia Friedman

 

Dining for Women charitable project in Guatemala

Fourteen members of Dining for Women took a trip to Guatemala and connected with its culture, and the work that Dining for Women is supporting there. Read more about their trip here.
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No one who sees me scooting about town in my 2002 Saturn suspects I am a philanthropist. But last month, I helped fund scholarships for twenty young women in Malawi to complete their final year of nursing school. Next month, my contributions might provide HIV screenings, prenatal care or help stop human trafficking.

No, I am not an heiress, nor did I invent an app that went viral. Based in Philadelphia, I am a new member of Dining for Women, a grassroots nonprofit which uses monthly potluck dinners to empower the lives of women and girls in the developing world.

Here’s how it works. Every month, a dozen or so women gather in a private home. After schmoozing over homemade casseroles, salads and slices of cheesecake, we hear a report on the beneficiary of the month’s charitable project. Dining for Women members don’t whip out checkbooks like socialites and write six-figure donations. Instead, each month, members anonymously donate online an amount equal to the cost of dining out, $15-$35. There is no minimum donation required. If this sounds like fuzzy math, keep in mind that there are over 400 chapters of Dining for Women participating in potluck philanthropy across the country. With a total of over 8,000 members, these small donations add up. The money goes to carefully vetted projects in partnership with UNICEF and the Peace Corps. Recipients must be able to demonstrate the direct impact of the project and demonstrate methods and ability to monitor and evaluate the project.

Dining for Women charitable project in India

One of Dining for Women’s projects expands the services of three resource centers in Calcutta, providing women with job training, employment, counseling, and education. It also provides services for their children. Read more here.
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I first learned about the organization from Betsy Teutsch, author of 100 under $100, a book about empowering global women. Teutsch explained that she had no idea what Dining for Women was about when she was first invited to a chapter meeting as a guest speaker.

“I was thoroughly blown away,” said Teutsch, “Their level of knowledge and passion about global women’s issues came as a complete surprise. Their questions reflected their deep immersion in the challenges of girls and women in the developing world. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to join a chapter, but there were none in my community.”

In 2011, Teutsch pitched the idea to members of her food co-op. “The response was immense, far exceeding anything I have ever organized. We wound up launching three chapters, each fairly stable after seven years. We have raised more than $160,000. Dining for Women is the largest giving circle in the world, and I love being part of it!”

Teutsch’s enthusiasm was infectious. I asked her advice on which of the three chapters in my neighborhood I should join. “What kind of food do you like?” she asked. One group was vegetarian, one wasn’t and a third had a reputation for being “foodies.” Glutton that I am, I went with the foodies. I wasn’t disappointed. The homemade carrot cake was monumental.

To keep potluck dinners exciting, Dining for Women offers recipes from the many parts of the world they support: Kenyan Beef Stew, Afghani Flatbread, El Salvador Pupusas, Peruvian Chicken, etc. Each recipe comes with a history of the dish, nutritional information, easy-to-follow instructions, and mouth-watering photos.

Dining for Women charitable project in Afghanistan

Razia’s Ray of Hope, a Dining for Women project in the rural district of Deh’Subz, Afghanistan, improves the lives of young women and girls through community-based education. Read more here.
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Dining for Women was co-founded around a kitchen table in 2003 by Marsha Wallace and Barbara Wallace in Greenville, SC. They started by inviting friends, passing a hat, and raising $750 for Women for Women International, a nonprofit that provides women with resources to move from poverty to self-sufficiency via job training programs in countries ravaged by war. Since then, Dining for Women has grown into a multinational organization and has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America and the Today Show.

Dining for Women members have opportunities to see where their money goes by participating in annual travel programs. In 2019, they’re hosting trips to Kenya, Bhutan, and Peru. In each destination, they will come face-to-face with women and girls who have benefited from their educational and vocational programs.

While larger charitable organizations can raise millions overnight with star-studded telethons, they have high overhead and often cannot respond to the needs of women and girls located in remote, rural parts of the world where $50,000 can make a profound difference. By contrast, Dining for Women has minimal overhead, so the money goes further in more ways than one.

Why focus on empowering women and girls rather than men and boys? Because poverty is sexist. Women are the majority of the world’s extreme poor and illiterate, and face the greater risk of disease and poor health. According to UNESCO, when girls are educated, they marry later, have fewer children and earn higher wages. Here’s an eye opener: Countries that are more equitable for women are less likely to become involved in violent conflicts. So maybe the best way to bring peace to the world’s long-simmering trouble spots is to improve the health and education of its women…one potluck dinner at a time.

Anyone, anywhere can start a Dining for Women group. For more information, visit DiningForWomen.org. To see a gallery of photos documenting past and current projects, go to Dining for Women on Flicker.

Dining for Women charitable project in Rural Niger

This Dining for Women project in rural Niger has dramatically improved education for girls which can help delay early marriage and childbearing. Read more here.
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Stacia Friedman is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes for regional and national publications.

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