By: Jackie Rotman
Spark’s mission is two-fold. We aim to increase the overall investment in women’s organizations around the world, and we aim to increase the number of young people who give to women’s causes now and plan to continue in the long-term.
Spark started with 7 women in 2004, and has grown to a network of over 11,000 women and men around the world, with two focal chapters in San Francisco and New York. The Spark community has raised more than $1.5 million to improve the lives of women and girls globally, and provided grants and pro bono services to close to 150 grassroots organizations.
For the young professionals who join Spark, their donation is often their first charitable gift of that size, and their first time being involved and invested in their giving. From voting on grantees, to being a part of Spark’s learning community including speaker and film series, to providing pro bono services to grantees, members are able to see the power and impact of their time, money, and skills individually and as a community.
As a result of Spark’s “seed” investments in grassroots women’s organizations, our grantees have opened schools, shelters, legal aid clinics, water wells, and more. Often with Spark as their first institutional funder, Spark grantees have gone on to receive endorsements in the form of grants and awards from established institutions like EU Development Fund, Ford Foundation and The World Bank. We call it The Spark Effect.
One of our favorite grantee stories is from 2010, when Spark members voted to support an innovative girls scholarship and mentoring program in Nairobi called Akili Dada. Spark was its first institutional funder. We got to work immediately – making a grant, providing technical assistance, and raising awareness about the incredible work Akili Dada was doing to foster the next generation of women leaders. Shortly into our partnership, Akili Dada received a grant from Global Fund for Women and the coveted UN Marketplace of Ideas Award for innovation in education.
The money and awareness we helped raise were essential for Akili Dada’s future, but the organization’s immediate need was an accounting system. A Spark member named Shaw, a 33 year-old businessman in San Francisco, stepped up. Over the next several months, Shaw and Akili Dada’s staff built an accounting system. Akili Dada realized it was worth spending more money now on building systems that would serve the organization in the future, as Akili Dada grew from a grassroots effort with a shoe-string budget to an established organization with fiscally-responsible practices. When Spark first started working with Akili Dada, the program served 8 girls annually. By 2012, they were serving 61. 100% of their scholars graduated from high school and received full scholarships to college. When the founder of Akili Dada called to thank Spark, she attributed our partnership with bolstering her confidence, credibility and momentum.
Spark is honored to impact grassroots organizations through many similar stories of our members supporting women to improve their communities locally and internationally.