When we in South Carolina get national attention, it is usually because some politician has done something stupid, immoral, or illegal – and we are all very embarrassed.

This story is about a group of Upstate women that have done something 100% good, inspiring and important – and we should all be very proud.

It all started with an individual woman and a really simple but powerful idea. Marsha Wallace is a mother of four and a former nurse who lives in Greenville. She read an article about how a group of friends got together and had a pot luck dinner and took the money they saved by not going to a fancy restaurant and used the money to help families in need.

This idea of ‘dining out dollars’ being used to help others appealed to her and a group of her friends and in the Fall of 2002, they started Dining for Women, or DFW, with the proceeds going to projects that benefit girls and women in developing countries.

To say that Marsha’s simple idea ‘caught on’ would be a huge understatement. Soon the group was featured in national media stories by the New York Times, Good Morning America, the Today Show and literally dozens of others.

As their website (DiningForWomen.org) says: “Today, more than 250 chapters and 8,000 people have joined DFW, making a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and girls living in the most extreme poverty in more than 30 countries. To date, DFW has raised over $1.5 million, one potluck at a time!”

In recent years, it has become clear that boosting women and girls is the key to larger success in solving the problems of the developing world. Women and girls are more stable, more committed to community development, and less likely to abandon their families and villages in tough times.

DFW understands that empowering women to find solutions to the problems they face through education, healthcare, and economic development is the ultimate solution to those living in the poorest conditions – many living on less than $1 a day.

Part of the success of DFW lies in its simple and basic appeal. Their five guiding principles are:

  • All women deserve to be self-sufficient
  • Education transforms the giver and the receiver
  • Connections are the engine that power giving
  • Transparency and integrity will mark our work
  • To reach all, we must believe we can

Cynics might argue that $1.5 million raised to date is a mere drop in the bucket and can hardly have an impact – but that misses the point. DFW is not just about providing direct assistance but it is about changing how people give and participate and impact global issues.

Their larger vision is to “create a new paradigm for giving – collective giving on an immense scale while maintaining the intimacy of small groups with a focus on education an engaged giving.”

Like many other new Internet-enabled social action projects, DFW is lean, global, and transparent. Their board of directors has grown far beyond the bounds of Greenville or even South Carolina; it is global. And consistent with the new models of transparency, all of DFW finances are online and each and every program expenditure is listed on their website.

Not only should all South Carolinians be proud, but also we should all participate and join or create our own group. (I’m sure there are ways that men can have an impact and show their support.) There are over 25 existing DFW groups in the state and the website has easy to follow step-by-step instructions for finding, joining or creating a group.

So the next time your cringe in embarrassment at a late night comedian making fun of a Palmetto state politician, think about Marsha Wallace. Remember how one South Carolinian and her friends have changed the world – literally, one pot luck dinner at a time.


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Phil Noble

Phil Noble

Phil Noble is a businessman from Charleston and he currently serves as President of the South Carolina New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Noble is one of the leading experts in the US and internationally on the Internet and politics. Noble is the founder of PoliticsOnline and its affiliated company Phil Noble & Associates, an international public affairs consulting firm. Noble is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns and public affairs projects in 40 states and 30 countries. He has worked to elect the head of state in 15 countries.

  1. Thank you for this. It’s lovely to (finally) see a positive story coming from one of our Southern states. I admire what these women are doing, and will share the idea with the women here in North Alabama!

  2. What an inspiration! Kudos to Marsha Wallace for her kindness, brilliance and tenacity to see this through, and thanks to Phil for sharing.

  3. Dear Mr. Noble, 
    Thank you for writing about Dining for Women. You did a great job highlighting some of the things I think are most important:
    transparency, our vision for creating a new paradigm of giving, and the fact that we are educating our members, changing the way they give and participate,  Ultimately, the educational component of what DFW does is as important as the money we raise. I’m happy that South Carolinians are proud of DFW, and happy that you think our organization was worthy of your time to write about. 

    Marsha Wallace 
    Dining for Women 

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