How One Feminist Scholar is Putting Corporate Philanthropy On Notice

The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development is by Kathryn Moeller.

So much of what I worry about with corporate philanthropy is just how much it is used to grease the pill, so to speak, of the public swallowing all the damage that corporations do in the world. Corporate philanthropy asks us to believe, for example, that Nike cares about gender equality, even as much of its subjugation of labor in developing countries puts added pressure on women as both workers and providers, with very little given in wages in return.

Such is the subject of Kathryn Moeller’s book, The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development, which makes the case that even feminism can be co-opted by corporations and turned into a tool for shifting more of society’s burdens onto women and girls without addressing the structural factors that produce poverty.

The book makes a convincing argument that many corporations are not coming at gender equality in their philanthropy with a genuine interest in changing the circumstances for women. It also shows how much corporations continue to apply pressure to women’s lives, sometimes by demanding that they don’t have children so that they can put work first on their life agenda, or convincing women to take loans and enter into small business, even though they lack the supports and the know-how to ensure that the business has the best chance of success.

I would recommend that anyone interested in women’s empowerment read Moeller’s book, to recognize that the agenda for women’s equality can be seriously skewed by corporate interests.

While we continue to highlight and encourage corporate giving for women and girls here at Philanthropy Women, Moeller’s book helped me develop a more critical eye for where the corporate pressure for profits might be bleeding into the corporate do-goodism.

Similarly, in a recent issue of the New Yorker, Moeller has an essay called The Ghost Statistic that Haunts Women’s Empowerment. With this essay, Moeller brings much of her argument from the book into a more succinct narrative. She questions how one particular statistic came to be: the statistic that says that when women have control of money, they give 90% of it to their children and community. According to the essay, the reliability of this statistic is non-existent, which begs the question of how much we need to do in order for the data on women to become more detailed, validated, and replicated, in order to prove its value.

But Moeller also makes another valuable point. Even if the statistic is true, is that necessarily the recipe for a robust global economy? If women tend to give much of what they  have away, how will they accumulate the capital necessary to sustain and grow business ventures? And will they end up in situations where they are simply the conduit for money that goes into the hands of more powerful and controlling entities in their families and communities?

Moeller’s book is provocative and in league with other sharp critiques of philanthropy circulating these days including Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth. It’s a must-read for feminist philanthropists who want to take an approach to their work that will truly transform lives and avoids replicating, or further empowering, subjugating corporate systems.

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Nation Institute Rebrands as Type Media, Invites Donor Support

Type Media Center, formerly the Nation Institute, is women-led and majority women-owned, and invites women donors to fuel their growth.

“When the Nation Institute was founded more than 50 years ago, we were a modest organization affiliated with the Nation Magazine — but that name no longer reflects the breadth and impact of what we do today,” said Taya Kitman, Executive Director and CEO of Type Media Center, regarding the rebranding of the organization.

Type Media Center, the rebrand of the 52-year old Nation Institute, will be dedicated to “world-class independent journalism and publishing”and will be a nonprofit media company with two major programs rebranded as Type Investigations and Bold Type Books.

Type Media Center aims to produce “groundbreaking investigative journalism and award-winning nonfiction,” adding to the public discourse on social change in America.  According to a press release announcing the rebrand, Type Media Center is both women-led and majority women-staffed, and will focus its journalism on “elevating voices in media that too often go unheard.”

“We are committed to diversifying publishing and journalism because we see representation as essential to uncovering hidden truths. As a women-led organization working to diversify these fields from writers to editors, we see gender equity as vital to our mission of holding the powerful to account,” said Kitman.

In particular, Kitman is looking for progressive women philanthropists to support the rebrand and help build a corps of women writers who will continue to expose hidden problems for women and address issues of discrimination.  “Could the wave of #MeToo reporting have happened without so many women reporters and editors taking the lead?” added Kitman.  “Supporting Type Media Center helps to ensure representation is realized in fields that have the potential to change the public debate.”

Type Media Center disburses over $1 million every year in support for both  established and up-and-coming journalists and authors. With awards, fellowships, and reporting contracts, more than 100 journalists from diverse backgrounds receive support for their work.

An interesting piece of history predates Type Media Center’s role in historical social change. When the Nation Institute was established in 1966,  it hosted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first public address opposing the Vietnam War. “The very notion of truth and facts are under assault,” continued Kitman. “The ability to dig deep, take risks, and enable talented journalists to reveal powerful truths is needed more than ever.”

Type Media Center’s publishing imprint, Bold Type Books, will continue publishing journalism and nonfiction by women and people of color. “We’re anticipating an inspiring first year for the Bold Type Books imprint,” said Katy O’Donnell, Senior Editor. “From Reniqua Allen’s It Was All a Dream and Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin’s How We Fight White Supremacy, out this winter, to next fall’s Fantasy Island, by Ed Morales, we’re continuing to publish courageous, deeply-researched nonfiction works in 2019.”

In the Type Investigations newsroom, the Ida B. Wells Fellowship will help to support investigative reporting and diverse journalism talent cultivation. “We’re excited to unleash more bold investigative journalism as part of Type Media Center,” said Esther Kaplan, Editor in Chief at Type Investigations. “This name foregrounds what we do: rigorous, game-changing, truth-seeking reporting that sparks real change. We’ll be launching major projects in the coming months including a Frontline documentary, a Gimlet podcast, and a feature story in the Washington Post Magazine, and we look forward to establishing partnerships with an even wider range of news organizations.”

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Gender Lens Experts: Check Out this Women and Money Summit

Leaders in gender lens grantmaking and gender lens investing are convening in Austin, Texas on September 16 to 17, 2019.

For the past several years, there has been a growing synergy between gender lens investing and gender lens grantmaking.  The latest example: an upcoming gathering in Austin, Texas, that will explore ways to get more women “in the game” of both investing and donating for gender equality.

Leaders in gender lens advocacy, Tuti Scott and Tracy Gray, are facilitating this convening in Austin, Texas from September 16-17, in order to figure out what it will take to get more women aligned with donating, investing, and taking action for gender equality in all segments of society.

Women & Money: Making Money Moves that Matter is bringing together women leaders to engage in strategic talks about how to accelerate progress for gender equality across finance and investing as well as social policy.

More from the event’s web page:

We are convening bold, unapologetic leaders who want to move beyond information sharing in the gender lens investing space to put new knowledge and tools to good use. Together, we are sparking new conversations, listening to each other deeply, and getting to work so that women can activate their capital as impact investors and social justice givers.

If you are curious about investing with a gender lens and/or have questions about how this brings about social, political, and economic change, join us! If you already know which new money moves you want to make personally or in your organization, but want a stronger community of leaders and financial advisors to help guide your actions, join us!

Among the leaders on the Advisory Committee for this event are several women frequently discussed here at Philanthropy Women including Andrea Pactor of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Donna Hall of the Women Donors Network, Suzanne Biegel of Impact Alpha, and Cynthia Nimmo of the Women’s Funding Network.

Learn more about the gathering and register here. 

Cheyenna Weber: Creating a Solidarity Economy Giving Project

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

Editor’s Note: Fascinating things are going on in the realm of giving circles and community giving projects. We are pleased to share this piece by Cheyenna Layne Weber, one of the founders of Solidarity Economy Giving Project in New York City, which aims to bring together donors in new ways. 

From Cheyenna Layne Weber:

There are more than 2,000 solidarity economy organizations in New York City, most of them founded and maintained by women. These democratic, member-led groups take different legal forms, but hold certain values in common—social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, mutualism, and cooperation. They include low-income credit unions; cooperatives providing food, affordable housing, and childcare; cooperatives of farmers and workers; community gardens and land trusts; and community-supported agriculture. Together, these form a solidarity economy based on meeting material needs rather than making profits. (Explore these models in this short video.)

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

Women form solidarity economy organizations as creative solutions to systemic oppression faced in workplaces, families, housing, food systems, and financial institutions. Latinx women in Staten Island formed worker co-operatives that operate cleaning or childcare businesses while providing living wages and control over working conditions. Bangladeshi women in East New York grow food for their families in a community garden they control. In the Bronx in the 1980s, low-income women formed affordable housing co-operatives , which endure despite rising real estate values. Around that time, women of the Lower East Side formed a low-income credit union that not only continues to serve the immigrant community but has expanded to Harlem and Staten Island. In all five boroughs, no matter the race or ethnicity of the community, women are building a solidarity economy.

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

So why have you never heard of it? The erasure of women’s labor in the home has been well-documented, and a similar dynamic emerges for women’s labor in communities and workplaces. This is especially true when the labor is not designed to add value for shareholders of a corporation, but rather benefits the community members who control and make use of the services of a solidarity economy organization. Many innovative women are also overlooked because they do not fit patriarchy’s conception of the entrepreneur: white, male, affluent, able-bodied, straight, and Christian. Thus, dominant institutions like government, philanthropy, and the private sector have little understanding of the incredible entrepreneurial role women often take up, and until recently had expressed little interest in learning more. This is beginning to change as cities like New York and philanthropists such as Robin Hood Foundation have begun investing in worker co-operatives to ameliorate poverty.

But it is not enough. Solidarity economy organizations often lack funding, especially those run by and serving women who are of color, immigrants,  low-income, disabled, queer and/or trans. While a few co-op loan funds and investors offer capital (such as The Working World or Cooperative Fund of New England), it is almost impossible for these women to find micro-grants to cover costs like training and technical assistance, crowdfunding matches, emergency support, or event sponsorships. Of the available grants, arduous application processes, requiring professional grant-writing or prior relationships to power (such as alumni networks), exclude women working within solidarity economy organizations.

To meet this gap young philanthropists and organizers created the Solidarity Economy Giving Project (SEGP). A program of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC),a democratic membership organization for NYC-based, solidarity economy enterprises, the Giving Project is the only solidarity economy grantmaking effort in the United States controlled by grassroots leaders. The Project includes a multi-racial, multi-gender, and intergenerational Giving Circle whose members each give a minimum $2,000 gift annually and jointly host a fundraising party. Giving Circle members lead the program, which includes learning from local solidarity economy leaders about their work; developing an analysis of racialized capitalism; building skills  to improve social justice philanthropy; and plenty of time to enjoy being with others dedicated to redistributing their wealth to address capitalism’s harmful impacts. Members also encourage each other to do more than just move money — to also become advocates and participants in the solidarity economy. Organizers initially hoped to raise $15,000 in the pilot year and ultimately raised $50,000. Now midway through year two, the Project has raised $61,000 in total.

Grassroots leaders designed the grantmaking process, which includes a very brief  application and a reduced reporting structure. The grantmaking committee is comprised of the elected members of CEANYC’s Board of Directors. SEGP donors do not participate in fund disbursement, and grantees are not burdened by site visits or extensive interviews with funders. Instead, donors trust the solidarity economy community to distribute these funds. This transfer of control flies in the face of traditional philanthropy, where a donor’s name is often affixed to a gift, and breaks with the  convention of foundation-based Giving Projects where full-time staff support participants in grantmaking decisions.

The impact of the Giving Project has been profound, even in its first full year of grantmaking in 2018. Grants included support for:

  • Nine women (seven women of color) to attend cooperative leadership trainings;
  • An affordable housing co-op in Brooklyn to prepare a vacant unit for a new family;
  • Manhattan community gardens to provide programs for low-income Latinx children;
  • Expanded staffing and ownership opportunities at catering and food processing worker co-ops led by people of color; and
  • Crowdfunding matches for a healthcare co-operative and a new food co-op that both serve Brooklyn communities of color.

The SEGP is something that like-minded donors could do in any city, and it is sorely needed. (Check out the solidarity economy in your area!) Whereas most funding is piecemeal,such as support for community gardens by health funders or credit unions by Community Reinvestment Act funds— we need resources to unify these disparate models  in a single solidarity economy vision.

The Hildegard Fund and Economic Justice grantmaking of New York Women’s Foundation and the new Solidarity Economy Initiative funders collaborative in Massachusetts are promising steps by funders in support of  a united solidarity economy rests on the power and potential of women’s leadership. Key to such efforts is acknowledging that this  work must be self-directed from the grassroots, and that resources must flow to under-resourced, dedicated innovators, not to well-connected charismatic white men or existing grantees who happen upon co-ops as a good idea they want to adopt.

A solidarity economy that meets all of our needs and welcomes all of our contributions is possible. The Solidarity Economy Giving Project is a small step in that direction.

We welcome any opportunity to support others who want to implement a similar program. Reach us at any time via organize@gocoopnyc.com.

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How to be a Courageous Philanthropist

Paula Hodges is founder of Anchor Strategies and was the founding Executive Director of New Hampshire Progress Alliance, New England’s first pooled investment fund for incubating durable, permanent progressive infrastructure.

Admittedly, I am not a philanthropist. But managing the money of philanthropists for progressive social change has given me a unique appreciation for the essential role of people and organizations that connect philanthropy and political strategy.

I’ve spent most of my career as that staff person expected to change the world $1,000 at a time, one issue at a time.  In roles such as manager of young organizers, volunteer coordinator, lobbyist to fickle legislators, major gifts director, and Executive Director, I have worked to change political decision-making systems, often while holding up woefully under-staffed legislative and advocacy initiatives. As a single person Public Affairs or Program Director, I sometimes served in the role of five people, and was seen as a savior if I could project-manage a couple coalitions on the side – you know, for the good of the cause.

This is the plight of nonprofits that attempt advocacy with small staffs and fledgling budgets. We have magical unicorns among us, but we burn them out and don’t recognize the real opportunity and economic costs for these staff. We fund the sexy here-and-now social reform initiatives, but forget the critical connective tissue organizing that brings nonprofits together around one long-term plan. We short-change the outreach and engagement positions who partner in real ways to build political and community change that our charitable and direct service provider groups require to carry out their work.  We cut short the operatives who know how to respond to and build power in spite of the political volatility and public narrative shifts.

But it doesn’t have to remain that way. Women philanthropists are demonstrating their systems change muscle and some are looking to build out connective tissue among women’s and girls issues. Because women understand that communication, collaboration and shared strategy is essential to effective movement building, women philanthropists are  uniquely positioned to invest in this work.

So what does this connective tissue look like? It is a matrix of nonprofits designed to develop digital, narrative and community pipelines for leadership and action. We call it infrastructure. These nonprofits are legally and structurally set up to carry the message and deploy civic engagement tactics so that elected bodies move toward public policy changes.

“Social Welfare” or 501(c)4 nonprofits are an overlooked tool for moving the public narrative and elected leaders. Although sometimes scorned as  “dark money,” particularly since Citizens United, 501(c)4s  are a critical part of the larger investment strategy to achieve social change.  If your passion is environmental justice or reducing maternal mortality rates- it IS political. The same state lawmakers that are blocking attempts to codify Roe V. Wade are the ones working to deter voting rights and further cripple structural democracy as we know it.

Women and girls issues do not exist in a silo. They exist inside a complex struggle for power among partisans  – some of whom govern and some of whom are paid to work against women’s and girls causes. Service providers must be funded to provide their services, and social welfare organizations must be funded to build political power for women and girls. It is a moral and ethical imperative of the modern political era.

So here are my recommendations for how to be courageous:

  1. Be a bold board member. Discuss how your 501(c)3 charity can partner with other nonprofits doing voter registration and mobilization programs. Ask your executive directors what 501(c)4 and infrastructure organizations help them the most and explore opening a connected 501(c)4 to allow your organization to be a stronger advocate for your core mission work.
  2. Identify if there is an infrastructure donor alliance in your state or community. These are often 501(c)4 and 501(c)3 hybrid affinity groups that  invest in long term, connective tissue strategies that bring single issue groups together around shared community organizing goals and a shared set of message, civic engagement and even litigation goals.
  3. Endow entire staff roles and teams to focus on civic engagement partnerships. Make it acceptable for charitable nonprofits to have a seat at voter and community mobilization tables.
  4. Reconsider your mix of giving. If you give $1 million a year to 501(c)3 causes, consider tithing 10% to 501(c)4s that are providing the teams and tactics to respond to deep societal and political crises (like government shut downs, as one recent example).
  5. Educate your philanthropist friends. Help them understand that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Have tough conversations about diversifying how you invest in the charitable and social welfare sectors.

Paula Hodges is founder of Anchor Strategies, which works with individual donors and organizational funders to re-think their philanthropic giving by layering on political and advocacy funding and joining state based progressive infrastructure donor alliances. She was the founding Executive Director of New Hampshire Progress Alliance, New England’s first pooled investment fund for incubating durable, permanent progressive infrastructure.

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Jean Case Explores Fearlessness in Business and Philanthropy

Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, and author of Be Fearless: Five Principles for a Lifetime of Breakthrough and Purpose.

Recently I interviewed Jean Case for Inside Philanthropy and learned about how her early years as a survivor of hardship helped her prepare for a lifetime of success in business and philanthropy. We  also discussed how to maintain a fearless attitude in both business and philanthropy, so that you don’t become afraid of all the risks, hassles and pitfalls that drive a lot of people to drop out of pursuing plans in both spheres.

Toward the end of the interview, I asked Case about her perception of women in philanthropy and how their influence is shifting the landscape:

Another part of our culture where Case sees growing fearlessness is in women’s influence on money, both in philanthropy and in the private sector. “It goes way beyond philanthropy and into investing,” said Case.

Case sees a different culture being fostered both in business and philanthropy, in which “women care very deeply about supporting other women,” and are willing to back each other’s work with financial as well as other forms of support. “Our work [at the Case Foundation] in the inclusive entrepreneurship realm is all about that.”

But she was clear that the gender gap still needs to be remedied in order to achieve the diversity needed for a healthier economy. “We need all the players on the field, and today, we don’t have them.”

“Women and millennials are looking at social justice issues and seeing how we can do things differently,” said Case. In the business sector, she recognized that corporations are paying more attention than ever to the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for gender equality to be part of the equation for a healthy global economy.

Read the full interview here. 

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Cognizant Gives $4.1 Million Technology Ed Funding for Women and Girls

The Cognizant U.S. Foundation has announced $4.1 million in grant funding for the National Center for Women & Information Technology. (PRNewsfoto/Cognizant)

Whenever corporate funders part with millions for gender equality initiatives, this is good news for feminist philanthropy. Recently, Cognizant U.S. Foundation announced that it has made a $4.1 million grant to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).  The grant will fund both digital skills education programs and an awareness campaign aimed at increasing interest in tech careers for women of all ages.

Cognizant U.S. Foundation is a nonprofit focused on supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and skills initiatives for U.S. workers and students. NCWIT is a non-profit community comprised of more than 1,100 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations across the U.S. With this new award, NCWIT will establish coding skills camps for women and girls, and provide training for school counselors in communities underserved communities. With an initial focus on the Southern United States, NCWIT will launch programs in areas where it can provide corporate internships.

An estimated 2,243 women and girls are expected to participate in these new programs by the end of 2019. By 2021, the fully established programs anticipate influencing career opportunities for more than 13,000 individuals.

Lucy Sanders, CEO and co-founder of NCWIT, expressed appreciation for the support of Cognizant U.S. Foundation. “As of 2017, women held only 26 percent of professional computing occupations in the United States,” said Sanders. “We are honored to have the Cognizant U.S. Foundation support NCWIT’s mission of increasing the meaningful participation of women in computing. With their award, we are more equipped to extend our reach and create sustained change at the local level.”

“We recognize diversity overall as a crucial competitive advantage in business today.  Just as vital to the health and competitiveness of our nation’s businesses is ensuring that American workers of all orientations are prepared to capitalize on career opportunities in the digital economy.   The work being done through NCWIT is having a meaningful impact on the way women view potential careers in the technology industry, and their preparedness, and we are proud to be supporting NCWIT in advancing their mission,” said DK Sinha, President, Cognizant U.S. Foundation.

Cognizant U.S. also recently gave Civic Hall a $2 million grant in order to support “new digital skills training program for New York City non-profit agencies and residents.” More about that here. 

As support for gender equality continues to grow in corporate philanthropy, foundations like Cognizant U.S. are serving as models for others in the tech industry on how to deploy funding to ensure that women’s presence in the industry continues to grow. More corporations focusing on gender equality initiatives in tech will help to address the wide gender disparity in the sector.

Learn More:

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Progressive Investors Decry Digital Breaches of Facebook, Google

The companies listed above have all been issued the Investor Statement on Corporate Accountability for Digital Rights from the Investor Alliance for Human Rights. This Alliance wants Google, Facebook, and other tech companies to know that they will withdraw their investments if these companies do not take action to address human and digital rights abuses.

A powerful coalition of investors is taking action to steer the tech industry toward better practices that protect human rights in the digital age.

This coalition contains some familiar names in the socially responsible investing field such as Pax World Funds and Cornerstone Capital Group, but the largest number of signatories are Sisters of various religious orders: Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and this is only a few of the religious funds signing on to this statement. 

The 49 investors have issued a detailed statement calling for the protection of users’ digital rights in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica breaches and other reports of tech companies abusing the privacy rights of users. The statement emphasizes the “growing financial and reputational risks” that companies like Microsoft, Twitter, and Yandex face because of their negligent handling of user data and related human rights abuses.

This group of investors represents $700 billion in assets and is led by the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, a nonprofit network comprised of  institutional investors including public and union pension funds, asset managers and faith-based investors.  Led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights aims to use its clout as a coalition of global funds to influence the tech sector toward better governance.

The statement issued to 22 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies, specifically urges the named companies to use a tool called the Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) Corporate Accountability Index in order to improve their behavior related to privacy and freedom of expression.

“ICT companies have a key role to play in realizing human rights and achieving the vision laid out by the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda,” said Paloma Muñoz Quick, Program Director for the Investor Alliance for Human Rights. “Yet, without the necessary oversight structures in place, these same companies may cause or contribute to a wide range of human rights abuses affecting billions of people worldwide. The RDR Index provides critical guidance to companies to improve human rights performance and our investor members rely heavily on its data to inform our engagement strategies.”

Facebook ranked poorly in the index for issues of privacy and freedom of expression, and “disclos[ed] less about policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy than most of its U.S. peers.” Microsoft ranked lowest of all for improvement of performance. 

Beginning in 2015, the RDR Index has produced 3 editions of its evaluation and ranking of many of the world’s most powerful internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies. In 2018, the RDR Index found that many tech companies disclose little or no information about how they are protecting user privacy and freedom of expression.

“While more than half of the companies evaluated for the 2018 Index made some meaningful improvements, most still fell short of disclosing basic information to users about the design, management, and governance of the digital platforms and services that affect human rights,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, director of RDR. “Companies don’t disclose enough about how user information is handled, including what is collected or shared, by and with whom. Nor do they adequately inform the public about how content and information flows are policed and shaped through their platforms and services.” 

This news is particularly relevant for women in philanthropy who want to do more to ensure that digital rights are protected for all. Protections of human and digital rights are foundational to the feminist philanthropy agenda, and play a significant role in movements to reduce violence against women and ensure that women have freedom to organize politically and seek access to medical services with their privacy protected. In addition, the loss of the election for Hillary Clinton, a progressive woman candidate who would have been the first woman leader of America, appears to have been influenced by the digital breaches of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In 2018 alone, massive data breaches affected hundreds of millions of users worldwide. For women in particular, data breaches may increase their risk of identity theft, harassment, or loss of medical privacy. Data breaches can also contribute to targeting women for discrimination. In addition, women globally still suffer from the “digital divide” and may lack access and experience with technology in order to recover from or address security breaches they experience.

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New Voices Foundation Buys Walker Estate to Create School

A new learning institute for women of color will be made out of Madam C.J. Walker’s estate in Irving, New York. (Photo credit: David Bohl/Historic New England/Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

A new learning institute for women of color will be created out of the former estate of Madam C.J. Walker, as the New Voices Foundation announced last week that it will purchase the site and repurpose it for women of color entrepreneurship.

Madam C. J. Walker was the founder of a hair care empire and a noted philanthropists of the early twentieth century, and is considered the first African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. A daughter of a slave who once worked as a laundress for less than a dollar a day, Madam C. J. Walker became a civil society champion for organizations like the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, located in Irving, New York, about 30 miles from New York City, was sold to the New Voices Foundation for an undisclosed amount. The nonprofit foundation is part of the New Voices Fund, which seeks to invest $100 million in women of color entrepreneurship.

Great-great-granddaughter to Walker, A’Lelia Bundles, said in a statement: “No one at the time believed that a Black woman could afford such a place. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate Villa Lewaro’s 100th anniversary than the vision of the New Voices Foundation and the Dennis family for this historic treasure as a place to inspire today’s entrepreneurs, tomorrow’s leaders and our entire community.”

The Dennis Family, including Liberian-born entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, facilitated the recent acquisition, and will spearhead the effort to revitalize and repurpose the property. Dennis is also the founder of New Voices Foundation. In 2013, the Dennis family acquired the Madam C.J. Walker brand with the intention of continuing her legacy of “creating a space of empowerment for Blacks,” according to a press release announcing the acquisition.

“We are excited to announce that the vision for future use of the property is as a learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations,” Dennis said, in the statement.

“This includes utilizing Villa Lewaro as both a physical and virtual destination where women of color entrepreneurs will come for curriculum-based learning and other resources aimed at helping them build, grow and expand their businesses. When people think of entrepreneurship services for women of color, we want them to think of the New Voices Foundation and Villa Lewaro.”

Walker’s 28,000 square foot property was designed and completed in 1918 by the first licensed Black architect in New York state, Vertner Tandy. Walker was known for hosting large social gatherings at her home with Harlem Renaissance figures such as Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Langston Hughes.

Entrepreneurship support as a way to grow gender equality is a relatively new and growing approach in feminist philanthropy, and focuses on women becoming empowered to own and run their own enterprises. Efforts such as this one from the New Voices Foundation will provided needed physical space and educational bandwidth for women-owned businesses, particularly those started by women of color. Other partners in the project include Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Madam Walker Family Archives, and Historic New England.

A historic photo of Villa Lewaro (Photo credit: A’Lelia Bundles/Madam WalkerFamily Archives/Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

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How this Collaboration Helps Women Deliver Babies More Safely

Ariadne Labs, a “joint health system innovation center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health” is launching a new collaboration in 2019 to help more women access guidance in the birth and parenting process. (Image courtesy of Ariadne Labs Facebook page.)

A health care foundation, a nonprofit initiative, and a for-profit health information company are collaborating to get tools, data, and a clinically-validated health information into the hands of pregnant women across the country. Launching in the first half of 2019, Ovia Health will be collaborating with the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs and the California Health Care Foundation in order to help more women and families navigate pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Recently Ovia Health announced the new collaboration, which aims to add to the 11 million women and families that the company reports have already used their services. Ovia Health reports that its “enterprise solution for employers and health plans” has a measurable impact on clinical outcomes, reducing maternity costs and providing highly personal and clinically-informed guidance.

One of the main missions of Ovia Health is to help pregnant women avoid unnecessary cesarean section (c-section) operations if they are able to safely deliver the child vaginally. “While a c-section can be critical and even lifesaving in certain circumstances, many women are unaware that it is major surgery that comes with serious health risks and should only be performed when absolutely necessary,” said Stephanie Teleki, PhD, MPH, Director of Learning and Impact at the California Health Care Foundation. “With Ovia Health making these materials available via its platform, millions of moms will be able to make more informed decisions about their pregnancy and childbirth.”

As women’s health intersects with technological advancement, women donors can play an important role by supporting research and initiatives that improve communication with women as patients. These improvements for pregnant women and families can potentially reduce unnecessary surgeries and improve the birth experiences of women everywhere.

More information about the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs is here. 

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