Supporting survivors

Philanthropist Lynn Zovighian on working with communities, supporting survivors, relinquishing power, and analysing next-gen giving trends


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A philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and a humanitarian diplomat, Lynn Zovighian wears many hats - and all of them passionately. In this wide-ranging interview for episode three of Shaping Philanthropy, Lynn joins us down the line from Beirut (where the internet connection is not totally stable) to tell us about her personal philanthropic journey and what motivates her work with crisis-affected communities in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Armenia.

Speaking to our host, Anissa Punjani, Lynn stresses the importance of community engagement, outlines why philanthropists need to work collaboratively with the people they are trying to help if they are to succeed, and calls on donors to relinquish their power.

“For next generation philanthropy to thrive, we are going to have to become more intimately not just invested, but also vested in our causes,” she says. “It is going to be essential that we as philanthropists become more intimately connected with the causes, ground up with the people because it is that which is going to enable us to relinquish the power that we hold, and empower the communities to take on their causes by themselves in long-term, sustainable ways.”

Sharing detailed examples of her work with members of the Yezidi community, who were terrorised by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, Lynn makes the case for co-creating programmes, building capacity, and knowing when to exit.

"Do not believe that you can save the world, but believe and know that you can make a difference then focus on your areas of excellence."

Lynn Zovighian

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Lynn has worked closely with the Yezidi community in Iraq, whose most holy temple is found in Lalilsh, pictured here. Photo: Shutterstock

Lynn also digs into the details of Grounded in tradition, looking to the future”, a first-of-its-kind data report exploring next-gen giving trends in the MENA region, produced by Lynn’s Zovighian Partnership (ZP), in partnership with the Pearl Initiative.

One such trend was that when next-gen women are in positions on power in their family businesses and foundations, they are more like to support women and girls. But when men hold those positions, women and girls are not getting funding.

The data also revealed that many next-gen donors are choosing to give independently of their family vehicles. “They are personalising their giving and bringing in an entrepreneurial drive to their giving,” Lynn explains. “This is very different to our more anecdotal and our more traditional understanding of philanthropy in the region.”

As well as highlighting the findings from the report, Lynn makes the case for more support for research initiatives to create “grounded data” that can inform future giving and identify gaps in the philanthropic ecosystem.

In a heartfelt message to philanthropists starting out on their giving journey, Lynn concludes by saying: “Whatever you do, it's going to make a difference… Do not be overwhelmed by the magnanimous nature of the causes that you are serving, because every little help counts. Do not believe that you can save the world, but believe and know that you can make a difference then focus on your areas of excellence.”