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Featured Leader: Alicia Curtis on grants propelling progress in inclusivity and economic empowerment

4 min read

In the pursuit of equality, the collaborative philanthropic giving circle, 100 Women, remains steadfast in bringing women’s voices to the forefront of philanthropic conversations.  

What began as a plan to gather 100 women has blossomed into a dynamic community across Australia, uniting 350 women and men annually.  

As we delve into the heart of this transformative movement, Third Sector News sat down with co-founder Alicia Curtis to discuss the grants propelling progress in inclusivity, economic empowerment, and financial stability. 

1. How have the 100 Women grants positively influenced the lives of women in terms of education, career advancement, or entrepreneurship?  

Supporting the education and advancement of women and girls is a huge priority for our 100 Women members. In Australia our members have helped to improve high school attendance by funding a performing arts program in remote Western Australia run by national charity – Girls From Oz.  Prospects for girls in Halls Creek can be poor with less than 14% finishing school to year 11. Girls from Oz addressed this by engaging  Aboriginal girls in school and community life through drama and singing classes while also exposing participants to a range of training, education and leadership opportunities.   

We also support women’s career advancement with grants like the Dress For Success Western Australia “Resume Revival” program. This charity recognised many of their clients struggled to write their resumes that didn’t demonstrate their skills and experience very well. The funding allowed them to establish this program and expand their services to clients of other community groups and Corrective Services, ensuring that some of the most marginalised women in our community were able to access bespoke job-readiness support.   

2. How are grants being utilised to bridge the gender gap in technology and innovation, ensuring that women have equal opportunities in these fields?   

Creating economic empowerment for women is a core component of what we do at 100 Women. So far, we have funded 9 projects around the world that focus on innovation and entrepreneurship which provide financial independence for women who are facing extreme disadvantage.   

A great example is the grant awarded to Human and Hope, a program in Cambodia dedicated to empowering women and breaking the cycle of poverty. Through this initiative, women received training in sewing, leading many to access microfinance loans and launch successful sewing businesses. It covered not only sewing skills but also small business skills, life skills, healthcare, sustainable farming, domestic violence prevention, and their rights in marriage.   

Following the grant, Human and Hope reported significant outcomes for the women involved.  Participants attained a stable income from sewing, and supporting their families, with over 90% also earning additional income from their businesses.  

3. How are women from diverse backgrounds, including those with intersecting identities, being included and prioritised in grant programs?  

This is so important to 100 Women!  Our grants program is inclusive of initiatives that support women from diverse backgrounds and intersecting identities.  In 2021, we provided initial funding to Children by Choice, to provide easy English resources on sexual and reproductive health for women with intellectual and learning disabilities. These resources aimed to enhance their comprehension of concepts such as consent, reproductive coercion and abuse, contraceptive options, and pregnancy choices. Today, their website receives over 500,000 visits a year, and their resources have been a roaring success, reaching far more women than first anticipated.  This is just one example of the incredible work supported by our grants working with women from diverse backgrounds.   

4. What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders based on your professional journey?  

I always encourage aspiring leaders to develop their self-awareness, empathy and purpose. These are becoming recognised more and more, as core components of leadership.   

Self-awareness is understanding yourself: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and how they influence your actions and interactions with others.  It’s reflecting on what your unique strengths are and how you can be of service to your broader community and world.   

Understanding how our inner world – our thoughts and emotions – can drive and impact our outer world is also critical for leaders. When we can recognise this in ourselves, it helps us to be able to recognise this in others.  Empathy is a wonderful tool to harness.   

Finally, purpose is powerful. So many people feel lost, overwhelmed or stressed because they are disconnected from their purpose.  Remember, your purpose is not out there to be found, it’s weaving the story of who you are into a compelling long term aspiration.  

5. What support systems have played a significant role in your professional growth?  

In my 20’s I remember a mentor of mine sharing that we can’t get all the support and nurturing we need from just one person. It’s important to cultivate a community around you and invest in all types of relationships – intimate relationships, family relationships, work relationships, mentors and friendships.  

If we cultivate a space where leaders can practise being brave together, we support each other to grow and be our best selves. Find those around you who want to grow, who want to be better and share the journey to inspire each other to courageous leadership. 

I am so lucky to have many strong and influential women in my life. These amazing women are my mum, my grandma, two sisters, mentors who I grew up with such as Catrina Aniere, the many incredible women I have worked with such as Dr Nicky Howe, and, of course, to the many women who have shaped and continue to shape 100 Women, such as our Board Chair, Virginia Miltrup.   

6. Is there anything you would like to add or highlight?  

This International Women’s Day marks the launch of our 10-Year Impact Report, a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the positive impact our grants have had on women and girls facing disadvantage around the world.   

In a decade, 100 Women has flourished, growing to 350 members across Australia and raising over $1.2 million. Through 39 grants, we’ve supported sustainable initiatives benefiting 37,100 women and girls globally. Remarkably, 85% of these projects still exist today, which is a great testament to their lasting impact and growth.    

Yet, despite our achievements, still only 12% of Australian philanthropic grants target women and girls. With 122 applications in our last grant round alone, the demand for funding in this sphere is evident and escalating.  So we always welcome new members right across Australia, to join and champion the causes of 100 Women.  

We also love working with collaborative partners to support the critical and growing need for funding in this space.  For us, it’s important to keep shining a light on the need for giving with a gendered lens. 

Related: Opinion: Rising Above Complex Trauma this International Women’s Day

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.


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