Olivarius’ commitment to women and girls drives her philanthropic practice as well as her legal career. She advocates for “Gender Lens” philanthropy, based on the radical but simple insight that investing in women and girls is not just the right thing to do, but gets powerful practical results.
Women Moving Millions (WMM) is an organization of women and men who have each committed $1 million or more to charities that advance women and girls. Its goal is to direct substantial sums to programs seeking to improve opportunities for women and girls, which now attract only 6% of foundation funding worldwide – with half of that going to breast cancer research. Olivarius has been a member since 2012 and served on the board for three years. According to research done by WMM, women currently control around $13.2 trillion in wealth in North America alone; if just 1.5% of it was given away every year, $200 billion would be mobilized. Olivarius believes that the resources are there – they just need to be marshalled creatively. She spoke to an international conference about Gender Lens investing and philanthropy to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Iceland, in 2017.
“Gender Based Investing is about more than where we put our money. A lens allows us to see the world differently. Looking through a gender lens helps investors gain new perspectives, highlight poorly understood inequalities, uncover new opportunities, identify blockages in the system, and find value where none was found before.” -- Dr. Ann Olivarius
Olivarius is the founder and Chair of the Rhodes Project, a British research institute and public charity that conducts pathbreaking research on high-achieving women. She has overseen several research teams that have collected, through multiple surveys and thousands of hours of interviews, extensive data on more than one thousand women Rhodes Scholars. This project is one of the largest-ever scholarly investigations of how gender shapes successful women’s professional careers, life choices, accomplishment, failures, and struggles. The Rhodes Project also analyses the gender gap in leadership in government, business, law, medicine, the academy, and non-profits. The stories of some of the participants are shared in an in-depth online profile series. In addition, Olivarius made a presentation to the Rhodes Trust in 2011 recommending expansion of the Scholarship to emerging world powers such as China and eventually selecting a female Warden, which tracks what the Trust has done.
Olivarius advised Nelson Mandela on ways to abolish honor killings, child marriage, female genital cutting, human trafficking, and female illiteracy. She also advised him about the possibility of establishing a group of senior world leaders to promote progressive values and peace, which saw fruition in The Elders, which Mandela founded in 2008. In 2003, he introduced Olivarius to a meeting of Rhodes Scholars in Cape Town describing her as “a lawyer who has advised me well and who has courageously advanced the cause of justice, and improved life opportunities, for hundreds of millions of women, blacks and disadvantaged, worldwide.”
In 2000, Olivarius successfully lobbied the Secretary of the US Navy to change its enlistment rules, so that non-US citizens would be permitted to join the Navy, and thereby become eligible for American citizenship, if they were fluent in English and had received education in the US. The “Mills Policy” – which allowed many hundreds of immigrants to serve in the US military and thereby gain American citizenship – was named after Olivarius’ pro bono client.
From 2008-2013, Olivarius was Trustee of Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity. While on the board, she was responsible for negotiating the establishment of a brain bank at Oxford, which became a crucial international research asset after Harvard’s brain bank was struck by power failures that caused the loss of more than half of its specimens. She has been a Trustee of GenerationNext!, a UK charity which seeks to utilize the energy and resources of young people to help alleviate the most common consequences of enduring poverty, and has made a significant contribution to the Kay Mason Foundation in South Africa. Olivarius was also on the board of openDemocracy UK and openDemocracy USA, an international digital commons. In London, she is a member of She Impacts!, a group of women seeking to learn from each other in giving more effectively.
Legal work is Olivarius’ primary philanthropic vehicle. Her law firm, McAllister Olivarius, has represented many people who can’t pay normal legal fees - victims of discrimination, “revenge porn,” harassment and sexual assault. Its sister firm founded by Olivarius in 2011, AO Advocates, works to protect survivors of child sexual abuse, some of whom are not able to afford lawyers. Olivarius and her colleagues also invest time and brainpower into devising new approaches to serious problems that the legal system handles poorly. For example, they were active in seeking passage of the 2015 “revenge porn” law in the UK, which made this form of online abuse a criminal offence warranting up to two years in prison, and are looking to devise other innovative legal remedies as more people find themselves suffering harm via the internet.
Olivarius is also advising pro bono the 1752 Group, a pioneering group of female academics who want to devise nationwide systems for fighting sexual harassment at universities.
Representing clients of course requires Olivarius to focus on the specifics of individual cases. But getting justice one case at a time is important; and in conjunction with her efforts to change the law, and to give to causes that focus on women and girls, she hopes to leave the world a better place, for women and for men.