11/04/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2015

Philanthropy Gift Guide: Give Hope This Holiday Season

The biggest trick of Halloween this year is that the holidays have already started. Give more than gifts this holiday season: Give impact.

How do we know that our dollar is being used the most effective way and actually invested into the cause? It's hard to know exactly where, or how, charity funds are distributed to those in need. Case in point is Haiti, where so many people are still living in tent camps and struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake. What happened to all of that aid money?

The answer lies in learning more about the dedicated people who are running these charities. The people who give their time to grow their impact. The people who can name names, and have the respect of the private sector, policy makers and the other NGOs who are on the ground.

This short philanthropy gift guide focuses on the organizations aiding countries that are hit the hardest by poverty. There are many worthy organizations to choose from, but these people are the real deal: committed, transparent, and creating real change, head-on. I've met with them, worked with them, and donated my own money to these exceptional foundations. They are small, but impactful.

Tostan: Dignity for all.

Spearheaded as a grassroots movement by Molly Melching in Senegal, Tostan is achieving its goal of ending female genital mutilation (FGM).

I first met Molly when she was speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School. She started as a student in Senegal and knew she had to stay and do something about the problem of FGM. She began teaching classes in her backyard, and this education initiative grew village by village. Molly has said, "It is of course understandable that people are outraged when made aware of some harmful practices which still exist, but I learned in Senegal that aggressiveness does not lead to effectiveness."

Education is the key. The Tostan participants become activists that spread the education through their villages, and the movement is growing exponentially.

Since 1991, over 7,000 communities have taken a pledge against child marriage, 3 million people have sworn against FGM, and over 19,000 women have entered leadership positions in their communities. Communities have been taking a legal stand, and local governments have been outlawing this horrifying practice.

Esther's Aid: We Care, We Train, We Empower.

Esther's Aid was started by Clare Effiong to help New York's needy children, but she didn't stop there. After a trip to Rwanda in 2000, she expanded her organization to protect the children who were gravely affected by the tragedies of the Rwandan Genocide.

I am a proud supporter of Esther's Aid, and just last week the New York Times featured an article about their wonderful impact, the inspiring life story of Justus Uwayesu, who was orphaned and survived in a garbage dump, and how Esther's Aid helped him on his journey through education-- a story that culminates in attending Harvard. But, Justus is one exemplary example of many. He shows the power of investing in the education and potential of children in need so they can have bright futures.

Esther's Aid changes their lives and changes the future of our world.

Last Mile Health: Nobody should die because they live too far from a doctor.

Last Mile Health lives on the front lines, and is a leader in the fight against Ebola in rural Liberia. But, LMH goes beyond just the fight against Ebola, it's a new approach to providing healthcare to those without access, rooted in the belief that lack of healthcare is an issue of inequality. They train healthcare workers within the rural villages that need it most, so they are able to help beyond health crises, and create sustainable impact.

I was with founder Raj Panjabi in Liberia last October, and I saw firsthand how he's revolutionized how to deliver healthcare to these communities. There's a reason why Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appointed Raj as the leader of the fight against Ebola: this man is committed to changing lives. He says, "Let's use this crisis to create long-lasting change--a community health system where every person, even those living in last mile villages, has an equal chance at health and survival."

If you donate directly here, know that your donation gives the gift of good health for thousands of people worldwide.

Born Free Africa

Born Free Africa's goal is clear: end early childhood HIV infection by 2015 through prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). Six hundred and fifty children are infected every day, and 98% of cases are totally preventable with one daily pill.

What's incredible is that they're achieving this goal. Through donation collection and with 100% of proceeds from their clothing collection going straight towards the prevention of HIV transmission, there has already been a 40% decrease of new HIV infections since BFA's inception, and with their powerful team of partnering designers, it seems that their goal is in sight.

This cause is close to my own work because mother to child HIV transmission is something we fight within Same Sky, my jewelry trade initiative in Rwanda. We are proud to say that since the Same SKy Artisans, like Solina and Clementine, are able to work and afford their HIV medicine, their children have been born free of the virus. The cycle of HIV can be broken, and we can all work towards this goal of having an HIV-free generation.


I'm deeply invested in philanthropy, and I stand behind these exceptional organizations and their passionate leaders who live for impact and deserve our support as they work to change the world.

We need to give back and give more this holiday season, but most importantly: Whenever we give, we need to think about where our money is going. In order to donate effectively, with maximum impact, it is our duty to learn about the charity leaders and invest in those that live and breathe their cause.

These are just a few of the organizations that you can support with confidence. For some similar organizations, check out the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Cherie Blair Foundation. Know that your gift is one that will keep giving hope, and have real impact-- long after the holidays are over.

Give smarter. Give to people who are effective.