When I first had the idea for Rockflower almost eleven years ago, I could not have imagined how difficult it would be or how long it would take for people to respond to my idea. I kept being told it was too vague, too woolly, too grand a concept, not specific enough, not focused enough, too geographically large … the list went on. I knew that if I couldn’t yet articulate exactly what my vision was for this venture philanthropy fund focused on girls and women, then I had to just keep chipping away until it became clear to everyone else. I have done just that - and we are getting closer!
I kept expecting that the huge amounts of money that I knew to be out there from my experience with the financial community during The Darfur Project would come flooding in to invest in women and girls. But it was more of a trickle than a flood. I had set my sights on a half a billion dollar fund, a ridiculous notion to many, but I knew it was possible then and still is today. It would require double the amount of determination and innovation to make this work.
After all isn’t that exactly what the definition of “venture” is – to go boldly where others fear to tread. What I discovered was that when you focus your attention on the thing that you hold most dear, and for me that was my four children, the solution appears in exactly the same place as the apparent problem.
Like so many of the women I have met in the countries I have worked and visited, I had to look at what I had to work with, what was in my toolbox? I had four teenagers, an inbuilt tech-savvy group of people who could widen the network and the appeal of Rockflower. I stopped focusing on the people who could write a hundred thousand dollar check and began to focus on those for whom twenty dollars was all they had to give. It was a turning point. We created the Youth Advisory Board and the Global Ambassador Program. We have learned a lot from the art of crowdfunding.
This year we received on average 25 applications a week from locally led, grassroots community-based organizations and social entrepreneurs, from all over the world, showing both the extraordinary need for this type of fund and the determination of individuals to find a way out of their situations. Since 2016 we have raised over $250,000 which has enabled us to invest in 32 projects, impacting over 10,000 lives. We are an entirely pro-bono team of strategists, investors, lawyers, accountants and a distinguished Advisory Team of experts in their field, with one part time assistant.
I still have that plan and that vision for the half a billion dollar fund, and I keep it close at hand for just the right moment in the future when it will become a reality, but for the time being we continue to work on what is right in front of us and determine exactly how, today, not tomorrow, we can help those women and girls that need it most.
Thank you for caring!
Update November 2018
The inspiration for ROCKFLOWER began at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, in a working session entitled “Filling the Financing Gap”. I listened as the panel discussed the need to create more high risk, long term investment funds to enable previously untapped resources to flow into areas where success could be measured not just by a return on investment but by changes in livelihoods. As Founder of The Darfur Project I was focused on delivering immediate lifesaving aid to the devastating humanitarian crisis of Darfur. However it soon became clear that a more long term solution to solving some of the world's most pressing problems and therefore, further crises such as Darfur, was to find a way to effectively invest in women and girls.
I set about talking to experts in the fields of social investment, economic empowerment, disaster relief, governance, education and health. I wanted to know exactly how to produce real and lasting impact in addressing the root causes of the myriad of issues facing development and aid. One solution kept appearing over and over again and that was to find a way to put the money directly into the hands of the women, to give them an opportunity to access their integrity and in doing so move millions into a new investment class, investing in themselves.
Women in the developing world overcome the most impossible odds and yet somehow still find the grit and inner resolve needed to get things done. Many times this is because as mothers and providers they discover innovative and adaptable solutions necessary to protect, educate and care for their children. Having spent the last seven years on my own personal journey of restoring my four children to a place of safety and security, I am now more aware than ever that a new economic paradigm is needed based on the logic of mothering. To love, nurture and respect but most especially to share - ideas, knowledge, best practices and resources.
The name ROCKFLOWER embodies the idea that women and girls are both the Rock and the Flower, and that true strength is found in gentleness. In combining both - a steadfast, bold and resolute path will emerge. The purple flower in the accompanying photograph grew from a rock in my garden in Pound Ridge, New York. It became a sign for me, to continue to keep the vision alive, to understand that Rockflower was to be the gardener, working to support large and small root systems. It was essential to continue to water the seeds of the idea, regardless that it would take years for the shoots to appear. Faith is an understanding that you must always continue to water, despite seeing no outward evidence of any results.
Thanks to all of those who stayed with the vision of ROCKFLOWER and waited patiently for the fruit to appear. Co-operation and collaboration are the principles we are founded upon. ROCKFLOWER is a trusted independent vehicle for transformation – from impossible to possible. We intend to seek out those with a skill for innovation and adaptation, and reward those who combine risk with accountability, finding ways to measure success without getting lost in red tape. We will share our failures as well as our successes and be humble in our approach to recognizing what works and what does not but most importantly understanding WHY it works.
ROCKFLOWER: radical idealism, practically realized.
Written July 2014