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How a Princess and a CEO are Applying The VC Model To Philanthropy

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“It was overwhelming, actually,” recalls Kate Roberts, CEO of the philanthropic initiative the Maverick Collective, of the emotions that flooded in when she gave birth to her daughter in 2011. As a senior vice president at the not-for-profit Population Services International (PSI), she knew the challenges women face all over the world, including gender-based violence and lack of access to contraception. And she knew that despite all the rhetoric about investing in women, just two cents of every development dollar actually goes toward programs for girls.

The following year, Roberts accompanied Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, a longtime HIV/AIDS activist and also a mother of a young daughter, on a visit to a PSI project in New Delhi. The two had met in passing at conferences but grew close as they toured the city’s slums and hospitals, meeting with women affected by HIV and tuberculosis. “We talked a lot about the need to put major resources behind girls and women,” says Roberts. “We got very emotional about it.”

They decided that if the current model for philanthropy wasn’t working to lift girls out of poverty, they needed to create something new, combining Roberts’s development and marketing experience—plus access to PSI’s 9,000 employees across 65 countries—with the crown princess’s international clout and track record of giving voice to those in need. They devised a strategy to enlist women (who were able to invest at least $1 million each) to run innovative pilot programs, though Roberts makes sure to point out that the organization “is not a club for rich women.” The focus on private capital was strategic: Traditional funders typically need to see results before they’ll pour money into something. “Private money is less risk-averse,” says the crown princess. This freedom would allow the collective to gamble on experimental ideas.

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