On Thursday, March 25th, the Philanthropy Women team welcomed attendees and honorees alike to the first Feminist Giving IRL Top Tier Awards Ceremony. Celebrating the exceptional leadership of the interviewees from the past year, this year’s FGIRL Top Tier winners are Elizabeth Yntema (Dance Data Project®), Dr. Tessie San Martin (Plan International USA), and Sara Monteabaro (MIT Solve).
The FGIRL series started two years ago, inspired by Gloria Steinem’s idea that “people should be linked, not ranked.”
“I wanted to be able to show a huge collection of diverse women,” said Editor-in-Chief Kiersten Marek. “All of the women we’re celebrating today, I see as the solution to breaking the silence and sharing that truth.”
Elizabeth Yntema on Gender Equity in Dance
Yntema describes a “glass cliff syndrome” in the dance world, where women are “pushed into” leadership because no one else is willing to step up. Her “Aha!” moment comes from sitting in a ballet theater and realizing 70% of the audience was female, as well as 70% of the donors to the program–however, female choreographers were missing from the industry.
“I’m Scottish and Dutch and tend to get really mad when people say, ‘Go over there, sit down, write a check, look pretty, and don’t leave your lane,'” she said. Yntema set out to build out a database of female founders, choreographers, and leaders within the dance industry–what would eventually become the Dance Data Project®.
When asked “Why ballet?” Yntema identifies two main reasons this is her target area: Ballet is “where the money is in dance,” and the lack of female representation is something Yntema feels like she can fix.
She stressed that she wants to make an impact in climate change, gender violence, and any number of social justice issues, but knows that she can enact real change in this industry.
“Once people realize that this art form, which is occupied by women at every level, is populated with unfunded and underfunded women, there will be real change,” Yntema said. This turned out to be an overestimation, and her efforts have now switched to advocacy and education programs to bolster women in the dance industry.
Women’s Entrepreneurship, Dance, and Community
Kiersten shared her experiences seeing a woman’s dance studio as her first example of a female entrepreneur. Yntema expanded on this by explaining the history of dance, much of which aligns with the history of women’s empowerment.
The modern dance economy grew out of school programs devoted to dance, most of which were run by women.
“But as we’re doing this program, we’re realizing that much of women’s history is being erased,” said Yntema, describing the ways male choreographers’ names tend to be publicized more than their female counterparts — or replace them completely. “We’ve started looking back through history and started bringing back those stories.”
Yntema also brought up the decline of media today: As media outlets start to go under, often the first coverage areas to be cut are the arts, and within those sectors, dance goes first.
“I’m trying to reopen and explode the story,” she said. “We’re not performing arts, and we’re not just data — we sit at this weird intersection, and people don’t know what to do with us.”
Dr. Tessie San Martin on International Work with Women and Girls
Dr. San Martin began by exploring the mission and history of Plan International USA, an organization devoted to gender equality and girls’ rights around the world. She described Plan’s work in tackling gender norms and dismantling the societal standards that put women and girls at a disadvantage.
San Martin identified COVID-19 and the resulting economic issues as “twin crises” affecting the world today. “By and large, women and girls are the most affected by this,” she said, offering the example of school closures. The closures represented a terrible blow to girls’ education efforts, but now that schools are reopening, this issue is not going away.
“The proportion of girls who go back to school now that they’re reopening is much lower than the proportion of boys,” she said.
At the same time, extreme poverty issues are leading to an increase in child marriages and other social trends that result from economic emergency. San Martin also expressed the need to support women and girls now, because they are typically the leaders in grassroots organizations that fight for social, climate, and justice causes around the world.
How Feminist Giving Supports Programs with Transformative Impact
“If we want to be sincere about putting young girls at the center of how we program, organizations like mine need to be prepared to listen,” she said. “We need to be willing and able to transform ourselves.”
San Martin joked about organizations that “have all the answers already,” saying that there is only so much we can do to help women and girls unless we actually listen to what they need and allow them to be part of the process.
She described the need for diverse leadership as “essential” to creating effective programming, citing benchmark data from an outside investigator who compared Plan International USA’s developmental programs to similar programming from other organizations.
“We rated very high in our programming, but our operations were not aligned with our mission,” she said. This has resulted in a “transformative journey” for the organization, looking for new ways to improve their internal diversity and mission-based work, as well as reach out to donors who can help fulfill Plan’s mission.
San Martin also explained that most donors do not “ask enough questions” about their grantees’ operations: she implored that donors become “more engaged in questioning and enquiring about how their grantees operate, and every aspect of those operations,” she said. “It’s urgent we do this because we need fresh thinking, new thinking. The crises we are facing are simply unprecedented.”
“This is a journey,” she said. “I don’t want to imply that we have this all figured out, because we don’t — we have a long way to go.”
Sara Monteabaro on Technology, Innovation, and Strategy
Monteabaro is the Director of Strategic and Partner Programs at MIT Solve, created to “bridge the innovation gap that exists around the world.” This competition-style grantmaking series offers funding to innovative solutions submitted through annual Challenges. Winners of these Challenges receive significant funding for tech-based and community-based solutions.
“We use our marketplace to deploy capital and funding to these innovators, and couple that support with capacity-building and technical assistance in order to help them scale their impact,” Monteabaro explained. “That’s a critical combination of services to deploy to social entrepreneurs.”
52% of MIT Solve’s current entrepreneurs are women-led or women-focused opportunities. “At Solve, we believe that in order to solve the world’s most pressing challenges, we need more diverse innovation. We’re looking for solutions that are specifically designed for and by the communities most affected by these challenges.”
Echoing Dr. San Martin, Monteabaro encouraged donors and facilitators to guarantee community members are “at the table” during the creation of programs designed to benefit their communities.
MIT Solve, COVID-19, and Female Entrepreneurs as the Key to Post-Pandemic Recovery
As we pass the one year anniversary of global pandemic lockdowns, Monteabaro identifies this moment as “an opportunity to take stock” of current programming and mission-based work.
“Women entrepreneurs are one of the most critical components of recovery from this pandemic,” she said. “We need more female social entrepreneurs in this recovery.”
The “she-cession” that has disproportionately impacted women during the pandemic is carrying similar impacts for female entrepreneurs during post-COVID recovery. Less than 5% of venture capital deals and 2% of all capital in entrepreneurship investment goes to female founders.
“That is truly unbelievable when you look at the returns in performance of women founders compared to male counterparts.” By more than 10%, women-led organizations outperform male-led organizations in profit and success metrics.
“This data is telling us to invest in women entrepreneurs,” she said. “Whether you are a funder, a woman entrepreneur yourself, or part of [that] ecosystem, there is a role for us in supporting each other, in building a community of practice, and in building a stronger family to be able to support each other as we navigate this time of change in the world. We need to support our women entrepreneurs in being part of the solution.”
Closing Thoughts: Feminist Giving is Funding for the Future
In closing remarks, Yntema encouraged women to “push back” against the traditional funding models that favor white, older men. She also pointed out giving specific attention to the ways that nonprofits treat their staff members.
“Get a bunch of people together and ask those questions,” she said. “There is safety in numbers. Share ideas, share collaboration, but never be afraid to say, ‘Wait a minute, where’s this money actually going?'”
“I want to thank you all for your spirit and your devotion to this work,” said Kiersten, closing the event. “We’ll keep up the fight and keep up the spirit!”
Watch the full video here:
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