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The Philanthropists

They don’t necessarily come from money. They don’t have famous last names. They aren’t fixtures on the gala circuit. They’re just fabulously innovative, hardworking, and hungry for change. And boy, are they getting things done. Eleven women who exemplify the power—economic and otherwise—of social entrepreneurship, Bay Area style.

Leila Janah, 30, founder and CEO of Samasource.

Alison Carlson, 56, cofounder of the Passport Foundation and founder and president of the Forsythia Foundation.

Carla Javits, 57, president of REDF (aka the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund).

Xochi Birch, 40, angel investor for the nonprofit charity: water.

Kat Taylor, 54, cofounder and board member of Oakland-based One PacificCoast Foundation.

Gretchen Sandler, 45, vice chair of the board of directors at the Women’s Foundation of California.

Sarah Wigglesworth, 43, board member of Full Circle Fund and cofounder of its Global Economic Opportunity Circle.

Donna P. Hall, 64, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network.

Sharon Su, 34, member of the board of directors of the One Percent Foundation.

Mona Motwani, 35, cofounder of

Michelle Cale, 44, board member of the Women’s Foundation of California.

Sharon Su, 34, member of the board of directors of the One Percent Foundation.
The big idea: Makes doing good by doing well a no-brainer for millennials, who pledge at least 1 percent of their annual income to the foundation, which distributes the money to socially conscious nonprofits voted on by donors.
Bio: The Hong Kong native started in finance and now manages strategic partnerships for Yahoo.
Aha moment(s): While she had always volunteered her time, she wanted her efforts to feel more proactive and directed. Her work at One Percent has included developing the ground rules for deciding what nonprofits to fund.
The San Francisco difference: “Technology is such a part of our everyday lives—it’s a natural progression to figure out how to incorporate it with giving.”
Next up: The foundation will soon launch a new digital platform that will let anyone, anywhere, start and manage a giving circle.

Mona Motwani, 35, cofounder of
The big idea: Crowdsources donations and pro bono services to support grassroots women’s organizations locally and around the world.
Bio: UC Hastings–trained lawyer who specializes in social-justice work.
Aha moment(s): A TV news story led Motwani and friends to band together to raise a few thousand dollars for Rwandan genocide survivors, igniting her ambition and providing an unexpected proof of concept.
The San Francisco difference: More than just donating or volunteering, people here aim to do “grassroots venture philanthropy,” Motwani says. In SparkSF’s case, that translates into 5,000-plus members (more than half of them men) who’ve donated more than $1 million in funds and “social capital” (including website development and accounting and legal services) to 93 fledgling organizations since 2004. Says Motwani, “You don’t have to have a trust fund to create real change.”
Next up: Working with Spark’s fledgling New York chapter to get it off the ground.

Michelle Cale, 44, board member of the Women’s Foundation of California.
The big idea: See Sandler.
Bio: The first of her English working-class family to attend college, Cale worked on legal aid and family law policy at the UK Ministry of Justice; after moving to the Bay Area in 2001, she was assistant director of Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
Aha moment(s): When her husband sold his startup in 2008, she no longer needed to work and shifted to education-focused philanthropy instead. “Oxford allowed me to step out of the social environment I grew up in. I want other young people to have that transformational opportunity.”
The San Francisco difference: The collaborative model so popular here is great for newbies, Cale says. “You need people who know the scene and won’t mind you asking stupid questions. Through groups like WFC, I learned how to do research, what to look for, and how to get the most impact for what I give.”
On the side: Reading Partners (an Oakland–based literacy program); Breakthrough Silicon Valley (prepares lower-income kids for college).


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of San Francisco. 

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