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Helping Women a Dollar at a Time

UNFPA/Alvaro Serrano

RESTORATIVE: Abraham has helped raise more than $1 million for a U.N. fund.

Lois Abraham looked $34 million in the eye and decided to think small.

Thirty-four million was the amount the federal government slashed in 2001 from its support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides prenatal care, family planning and HIV-prevention programs around the world. Abraham saw the budget cut as an affront to the progress of women and set out to recoup the money—one dollar at a time.

No stranger to challenges, Abraham in 1972 was one of the first women to be hired by a large law firm in Phoenix. She became a pioneer in technology litigation, working with Intel, Sun, Apple and IBM. So it was no surprise that she turned to technology in her campaign to replace the UNFPA funds. She guessed that at least 34 million people in the world would donate a dollar toward women in developing countries if they could be mobilized via the Internet.

Abraham began one August morning in 2001 by contacting 40 of her friends, mostly other women lawyers. “I did not have one person who did not say, ‘I’m in,’” she recalls. They in turn agreed to e-mail their friends asking them to send $1 to a special fund set up by the U.N. As Abraham puts it, geometric progress soon took over, and the fund mushroomed.

Early momentum came from endorsements by columnist Molly Ivins, the Sierra Club and several national women’s organizations. By May 2002, the campaign had raised more than one million dollars.

Abraham traveled to Timor-Leste and Nicaragua to see the UNFPA in action. What she observed—rural hospitals routinely treating patients with no beds, for example—moved her. “I learned things that astonished me about the courage and needs of the people,” she says.

Semi-retired, Abraham splits her time between Taos, N.M., San Francisco and Western Australia, where she and her husband, Richard, ’51, MS ’54, run a winery. She continues to practice law as a mediator and spends several hours a day promoting the UNFPA fund-raising effort.

The running tally on the website,, was at $1,786,564 as of January 6. It got a boost when O, The Oprah Magazine profiled Abraham and co-activist Jane Roberts in the November 2003 issue.

Abraham is optimistic that the money will continue to flow in. “A dollar anyone can do,” she says.


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