THE BLOG

Leveraging the Power of the Purse for Good

12/10/2013 02:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2014

In this season of shopping, spending and celebrating, I find myself trying to assess my holiday priorities in the midst of all the madness. I am the grandmother to eight grandchildren, four of whom are teenagers. Just like many kids in the U.S., their lives are filled with the festivity and fun surrounding the holiday season, including dreaming about the many presents that await them. But when my husband and I began to think about our grandchildren's wish lists this year, we decided to think outside of the shiny wrapped gift box and do something different.

As the CEO of EngenderHealth, every day I see just how far our dollars go when we invest in women and girls so that they can make choices that transform their lives, and I want to impart that impact to my grandchildren. If they have a greater understanding of social good at a young age, it's more likely to carry over into their adult lives. Across the board, young people of all ages are harnessing their passion for helping others by taking action. The latest Millennial Impact Report tells us that an overwhelming majority (70%) of young people in their 20s and 30s prioritize contributing to the social good. And while my grandchildren are slightly younger than Millennials, it's really never too early to start.

So this year, my husband and I called a family meeting and put $10,000 on the dining room table. We told the kids, "This money is yours, but it comes with some guidelines. The lump sum will go to charities of your choosing. Your contribution this holiday will be to help improve the lives of others. And your job is to determine where you want to contribute your money." As we glanced around at the table, we were relieved to see their wide eyes looking back at us, filled with excitement. Names of organizations were shouted out and ideas began to flow. At age 7, our youngest grandchild had just one question -- would this mean they weren't getting any other presents? It was a sweet and genuine response, and we couldn't help but laugh. Yes, the point was that rather than receiving more new toys, their gifts this year would hold greater meaning.

As they began to strategize and research where their gifts should go, they came up with a plan that divided the money between a local animal rescue organization and housing for families that face unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. The holiday season can sometimes be filled with excess, but this year my family was gluttonous in their generosity, and I have never been more proud. Taking into account an entire generation's growing optimism about their ability to bring about positive change, their passion reminds us that it's not enough to care about ourselves; we also need to care about each other. And the sooner we start, the sooner we can change things for the better--one dollar at a time.