INSPIRE: Debbie Monaco and Ruth Bates, Dining for Women

By Jamie Jenson


Debbie Monaco first heard about Dining for Women, a “global giving circle that funds grassroots projects working in developing countries to fight gender inequality,” in January 2011, after her sister-in-law attended one of their events in Skaneateles.

Debbie helped to get the Syracuse chapter of Dining for Women off the ground in January 2011. “I spent a couple months with the Skaneateles chapter leader, and then we decided to launch one in the Syracuse area,” she said. Since then, the chapter has grown, with members coming to events from Liverpool, Manlius, and Camillus.

Debbie said the organization, which now has 451 chapters nationwide, provides grants to organizations that uplift women and girls in developing nations. An organization that applies for funding from Dining for Women must go through a rigorous vetting process. Once an organization has been selected for a grant, they must send videos in order for Dining for Women members to see how their grant has helped. For many of these organizations, which have ranged from programs in India that are providing technology for girls’ schools to foundations that cover the cost of fistula surgeries to new mothers in Africa and Asia, the grant money is life-changing. When Debbie realized what the goals of Dining for Women were, she knew she had to be a part of it.

“This appeals to me,” Debbie said, “because I believe strongly in supporting philanthropy where you live but over and above that, the power of the U.S. dollar internationally is so much greater. I have daughters, and I’ve always been attuned to women’s issues.”

Deb is now co-leader of the Syracuse chapter with Ruth Bates, who has been a member of the Syracuse chapter from the very beginning.

“I love this organization,” Ruth said. “I was an engineer back in the 1970s, and my daughter is getting her PhD in bioengineering, and I want every woman to be able to have the opportunity to do what they’re passionate about.”

The chapters are able to organize their events in a way that works best for their members. For the Syracuse chapter, Ruth said, once-a-month potluck dinners have been the most successful.

“The original concept of the meeting was that you would get together with your friends and you would donate whatever you would have spent going out to dinner with your friends…We usually have dinner, watch the videos and talk about the program, and then there’s a long discussion about what the program is,” she said.

While a member will usually volunteer to host one of the meetings at her home, Debbie and Ruth said this is not a requirement of being a member. Members are free to bring any dish, and some women will even make a dish that is popular in the grant-winner’s country. The date and time of the meeting is normally selected by the member who is hosting.

Debbie said that the main goal of the organization is obviously to raise awareness of international organizations in need of funding, but there is an added benefit to becoming a member.

“We’ve managed to find like-minded women, and even though the point of this organization locally or nationally is not social, that is certainly been a side benefit of it. I, myself, feel like I have met women that I would have never met otherwise. People will bring people, so it really reaches out.”

Since its inception in 2011, the Syracuse chapter of Dining for Women has raised $70,000 for organizations around the world, and Debbie and Ruth are hoping the Syracuse chapter will continue to grow and find new members or even inspire other women in the area to start their own Dining for Women chapter.

“There’s no requirement to have a large chapter. The model really what you want it to be,” Ruth said.

Anyone who is interested in joining the Syracuse chapter or starting her own chapter can email Ruth and Debbie at [email protected].