Jacki Zehner Lets It Rip As She Exits Women Moving Millions Leadership

Jessica Houssian, Jacki Zehner, and Kathy LeMay, September 2018 Annual Women Moving Millions Summit in Seattle, sponsored by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Wow, what a read. I had to keep stopping at points to walk around the block and get my core energetics realigned. Jacki Zehner literally pours her heart out in this stunning blog post where she shares about her experiences rising to the C-Suite at Goldman Sachs, as well as her intense love for gender equality philanthropy, which has been expressed in over a decade of devotion to growing one of the most important organizations in gender equality philanthropy, Women Moving Millions.

Zehner starts by letting readers know that this writing is more or less automatic — that is, she is going for a Jacki Unfiltered here. What we learn by reading this piece is that Zehner is a complex leader with significant life experiences that inform her activism for women’s rights.

Ever-considerate of others, Jacki warns us that 14 pages have emerged from this attempt to shine a spotlight on her thinking and feeling life. She then goes on to enter into some of the most exciting (and sometimes painful) thoughts and memories. As just an example, check this out:

If there was such a thing as a ‘finance professional Olympics’, becoming a partner at Goldman, especially as a young woman, would represent a gold medal. Of course, I know that there may be someone who reads this and posts in the comments section something along the lines of “die you wall street whore” as they have in the past when I blog freely about Goldman, but so be it. To that potential person I say in advance, “I hope that has helped you feel better about yourself.” […]

Beyond unflinching glimpses like these into Zehner’s mind, the post also delves into many significant life events, including some serious traumas. Her writing is the kind of material that future (or present) movie-makers will want to read in order to gather key scene details for the inevitable biopic of Zehner’s life. For example, here is just one in a bulleted list breaking down the timeline of Zehner’s progression:

  • Finding Women Moving Millions – 2002 to 2009.  As the years from 2002 onward moved forward, I was spending more and more time with philanthropic groups focused on girls and women, and in particular women’s funds. My interest in supporting women’s leadership poured in to my work with various non-profits, and one of the main reasons I loved Women’s Funds so much. I had joined the board of the Women’s Funding Network, and it was there that I got to the know the incredible Chris Grumm. She became, and still is, a role model for me for courageous leadership. She is the one who invited me to consider joining the Women Moving Millions Campaign, as she was a co-founder of it. WMM at the time was a campaign to encourage women to make million dollar commitments to women’s funds. Again, holy shit, I could go on and on and on right here, but I won’t. The need to know piece for the rest of this story is that this moment was transformational for me. Why? Because the act of making that commitment, the moment of stepping onto a stage at the Brooklyn Museum to have a group photo taken by Annie Leibowitz to mark that moment in history where for the first time women of means came together to fund women at the million dollar level, helped me to see clearly what the next stage of my life would be about: helping to unlock the resources of high-net worth women to support other women, and more broadly, gender equality. […]

It’s quite wonderful that Zehner has the clarity to speak about these experiences and mark how these transformations happened for her. By doing so, she is increasing the chances manyfold that other women will get up their courage to do the same.

One other sentence toward the end really popped out at me for how it evoked the shared effort that Women Moving Millions summits are, and how this results in shared experiences that can refuel our courage and make us more powerful. Zehner writes:

The WMM summit 2018 could not have been more incredible
from start to finish. (My next long post will be about it all.) I am in awe of how beautiful the program was (thank you JESS), how perfectly it was executed (the WMM and TES team), how open people were (thank you attendees), how much people shared (thank you speakers), and how everyone trusted that we, WMM, had created a safe place for everyone to be their most vulnerable and by definition, their most powerful.  

I don’t want to overshare or overanalyze here. I just want to thank Jacki Zehner (as I have privately and will now publicly) for her brave years of service to the community through Women Moving Millions. And then point everyone to Jacki’s blog to read the post and let it open your heart and mind.

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#SheThePeople Summit Convenes Powerful Women of Color in San Francisco

#SheThePeople Summit, happening today in San Francisco, is a historic gathering of powerful women of color who are creating social change in the United States.

An amazing array of women are meeting today in San Francisco for the inaugural #SheThePeople Summit, which aims to be the largest gathering of women of color seeking systemic change to our political and social institutions.

The summit is being led by Aimee Allison, President of Democracy in Color, a new organization that wants to see women doing what they are doing this year: breaking records as they run for office.

“[Women of color] are the most progressive block,” Allison told Bust Magazine in a recent interview. From Bust:  “We have the numbers to flip states blue. We are the potential that hasn’t been previously recognized.”

More from Bust:

Democracy in Color is a national political organization motivating what its founder, Steve Philips, coined “the New America Majority”: America’s progressive, multiracial voting block. Their work is comprehensive: stimulating nonvoters, organizing campaigns, lobbying for candidates.

As president of the organization, Allison’s roles are manifold—public speaker, thought leader, writer. She stays busy; she’s the host of the “Democracy in Color” podcast, which Ellen McGirt, editor of Fortune magazine’s raceAhead, called, “The smartest podcast on race I’ve found in ages. Listen and grow.” In 2016, Allison organized and moderated “Women of Color: Uniting the Party, Leading the Country.” It was the first Democratic National Convention highlighting the potential women of color have to change democracy.

Democracy in Color describes their mission as “to win back our country from those who seek to silence our voices.” To do that, the summit is giving women, and their wide-ranging issues, a chance to be heard. The focus is those who Allison describes as politics’ “Hidden Figures”: the organizers, the women campaigning on the street.

She highlights Andrea Mercado, Executive Director of The New Florida Majority. Like many of She the People’s speakers, Mercado is a child of immigrants. She is rarely in the spotlight, but she is a ceaseless force for reform. While living in California, she co-founded the National Domestic Workers Alliance. That alliance propelled the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which passed into seven states’ laws, winning the right to overtime for 2 million people—many of whom are women.

There’s a saying that “when women run, they win.” This summit, a three-year initiative, proves that when even one woman organizes and advocates, reform is possible. It’s an ambitious, unprecedented gathering. Though these are unprecedented times.

A partial list of the speakers at #SheThe People include:

● Aimee Allison, Founder, She the People; President, Democracy in Color

● Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, Washington District 7

● Congressmember Barbara Lee, California District 13

● Rashida Tlaib, Democratic Nominee, Michigan’s 13th Congressional District

● Deb Haaland, Democratic Nominee, New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District

● State Representative Rebecca Rios, Arizona District 27; House Minority Leader

● State Representative Crisanta Duran, Colorado District 5; Speaker of the House

● Sayu Bhojwani, Founder & President, New American Leaders

● Alicia Garza, Principal, Black Futures Lab; Strategy & Partnership Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter

● Dolores Huerta, Founder & President, Dolores Huerta Foundation; Co-Founder, United Farm Workers; Board Member, People For the American Way

● Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder & President, ROC United & ROC Action; Director, Food Labor Research Center, UC Berkeley

● Ai-jen Poo, Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance

● Linda Sarsour, Founder, MPower Change; Board Member, Women’s March

You can tune into the summit by using hashtag #SheThePeople on Twitter. There you will find videos of speakers and can experience the excitement and energy of this historic event.

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Feminists Everywhere: Seattle Hosts WMM and WFN at Same Time

Women Moving Millions is having its annual summit and member day on September 13 at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the same time in Seattle, Women’s Funding Network is convening its membership at The Collective in Seattle. Both groups will come together in the evening at the Gates Foundation.

Both the Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions are in Seattle today, meeting with their members. The Women Moving Millions event is co-hosted by the Gates Foundation, and both groups will be meeting up to discuss their work in the evening at the Gates Foundation.

One might wonder if this is an indicator of the increasing involvement of the Gates Foundation in gender equality philanthropy. And, in fact, the evening will close with a cocktail hour for the Women’s Funding Network hosted by Women Moving Millions at the Gates Foundation, so there will be some time for the three networks to compare notes.

The focus of the Women’s Funding Network meeting is Women+Power. The program includes an overview of the day from Tuti Scott, Founder and President of Imagine Philanthropy, and includes panels on diversity, equality, and inclusion, as well as an evening cocktail reception hosted by Women Moving Millions at The Atrium, at the Gates Foundation. Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, will also be presenting on a panel with Melanie Brown, Senior Program Officer for U.S. Policy and Advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Cat Martin, Vice President of Global Philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase. The full program is here. 

At the same time that all this was going on, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company, Pivotal Ventures, announced the formation of the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, which will aim to increase gender diversity in STEM occupations. In response to a survey produced by Pivotal Ventures, showing the poor representation of women, particularly women of color in STEM, a coalition of companies will now devote $12 million in funding to address the problem. More on that here. 

We at Philanthropy Women look forward to learning what these two powerful women’s funding networks come away with from these Seattle meetings. We’re hopeful that more of the Gates Foundation’s resources can be redirected to gender equality causes, since there is a strong need for this kind of movement-building. If a more substantial amount of philanthropy focused on feminist strategies, movements for justice, inclusion, and systems change would have more fuel than ever, and we might start to see how women’s leadership can guide us toward a more sustainable planet.

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Happy Day for RI Progressives as Women Prevail in Primary Polls

Moira Jayne Walsh, Incumbent Democratic candidate for Rhode Island State Legislature, District 3, Providence, prevailed yesterday in a contentious primary race in which the Rhode Island Speaker, Nick Mattiello (considered one of the most powerful people in Rhode Island politics) pulled out all the stops to try to take her down.

It felt great to fall asleep last night to the sound of rain, and even better to wake up this morning to the news that many women progressives prevailed in the primary elections for this year in Rhode Island. Nearest and dearest to me is the win for Lammis J. Vargas for Ward One City Council in Cranston. Beyond that, Moira Jayne Walsh, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Bridget Valverde all prevailed, despite not being nominated by the Democratic party here in Rhode Island, which tends to be heavily pro-life and pro-gun.

We wrote about these candidates here on Philanthropy Women earlier in the campaign season, when it was announced that they would not be receiving the Rhode Island Democratic party’s endorsements. Since Rhode Island is a heavily Democratic state, the endorsements from the Democratic party can go a long way to bringing in key blocks of voters. But this year, it appears that the Democratic endorsements did little to improve the chances of candidates that were seriously deficient. Further, the publicity that Nicholas Mattiello received yesterday (it was reported that Mattiello assigned State House workers to hold signs for Moira Jayne Walsh’s opponent) will go a long way to help voters decide whether they want to keep him in his seat in the next election.

Marcia Ranglin-Vassell prevailed handily over her opponent, Holly Coolman, a pro-life Democrat endorsed by the Democratic party in Rhode Island. Despite being an incumbent and a fierce progressive, Ranglin-Vassell was not endorsed by the Rhode Island Democratic party.

We’re talking about these wins here on Philanthropy Women because there appears to be renewed efforts among gender equality philanthropy donors to recognize the political process as a key area of focus. More organizations, both 501(c)3 and 501(c)4, are being founded to help support women candidates in the process of getting elected. Organizations like Higher Heights and Emerge America are helping to diversify the pool of women who are willing to take the risk of running for office in the United States.

Congratulations to all the women who are willing to dedicate their time to service in public office. You are an inspiration to many of us, and we look forward to seeing how you will reshape America for the better!

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Interview with The Woman Project: “Reproductive Freedom is Essential”

The Woman Project, a new 501(c)4 in Rhode Island, is working to pass statewide legislation for reproductive freedom.

One of the wonderful things about publishing on feminist philanthropy is getting to meet the folks on the ground in feminism, the people who are growing the movements that need to happen to make our communities more safe, secure, and inclusive.

I’m happy to share an interview I recently did with The Woman Project, a new 501(c)4 organization that started in South County, Rhode Island, and is looking to build the statewide movement to protect reproductive freedom. The Woman Project currently has the General Assembly in its crosshairs and is pushing to pass a bill that would codify protection of Roe V. Wade into state law.

Here’s a snippet of the interview I recently did with TWP:

1. We are curious about who you are and what kind of work that you do; would you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a clinical social worker by day and a feminist philanthropy publisher by night. I believe in the power of women to change the world and try to work toward that end professionally. As a therapist, I specialize in treatment for trauma, particularly for sexual assault. I also specialize a number of other issues including emotional issues related to financial problems and helping foster and adoptive families. I feel it is incumbent upon me to continuously update my toolbox as a change-work practitioner. Most recently, I became certified in hypnotherapy, to help refine my skills in communicating more fully with my clients in order to guide them toward wellness.

2. TWP has been working to pass a bill that codifies Roe V Wade into RI state law. We are interested in the ways that Reproductive Freedom impacts your life and the work that you do?

It is essential to the practice of health care at every level that reproductive freedom is maintained. As a therapist, I am perhaps more aware of this essential nature of reproductive health care because I am privy to the difficult decisions that women and men make regarding reproduction. I see it as part of my job to ensure that we have all options available reproductively.

3. When you think about your community what is something you would like them to know about Reproductive Freedom in RI? Why?

Planned Parenthood does an admirable job of continuing to be a resource for people in Rhode Island who need help with reproductive health care. There are also more options available for women reproductively and they need to be aware of all the options. We need to maintain the current levels of access to reproductive services for all women.

4. What are the best ways in your opinion to educate people about this issue?

I think we need to ask people to look at their own lives and notice the times that reproductive freedom played a critical role in ensuring the safety and well-being of themselves or others. When we are honest about how life works, we know that reproductive freedom is a necessity.

Read the rest here.

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FTW Ayanna! The Future of Political Leadership Just Got a Little Brighter

 

FTW Ayanna! The Future of Political Leadership Just Got a Little Brighter

Last night, history was made when Ayanna Pressley won the primary over a 10-term incumbent in Mass. District 7. Now, women like Marcia Ranglin-Vassell will face primary opponents in Rhode Island and will need help prevailing next week.

Exuberant emails from organizations like Higher Heights for America PAC say a lot about what an exciting win progressive democrats had yesterday in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District. History took a decided turn for progressives as Ayanna Pressley prevailed in a primary over a 10-term incumbent, and will not face a Republican opponent, so has taken the seat in Congress.

How did this happen? Kimberley Peeler-Allen of Higher Heights shared about one important strategy that may have led to this win:

Over 100 members volunteered to send texts to voters in Ayanna’s district over Labor Day weekend and IT MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Our members talked about the race on social media and shared our endorsement with your network and IT MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Our members contributed to Ayanna’s campaign and contributed to Higher Heights for America PAC to support her candidacy and IT MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Higher Heights’ Peeler-Allen recently participated in a Women’s Funding Network panel that discussed the need to support women candidates this fall, particularly women of color. The progressive PAC has a growing roster of candidates they are supporting for a win this November, including:

Jahana Hayes (CT-5)
Ilhan Omar (MN-5)
Lauren Underwood (IL-14)
Lucy McBath (GA-6)
Linda Coleman (NC-2)
DD Adams (NC-5)
Stephany Rose Spaulding (CO-5)

I have heard from many progressive women donors say that they are watching the elections closely this fall because there is no better way to push for systemic change than to become part of the system. Contributing to Higher Heights for America now is one way to ensure more political wins this election cycle.

Another progressive woman candidate facing a primary on the state level is Marcia Ranglin-Vassell. Despite being a Democratic progressive champion in the Rhode Island statehouse, Democratic leaders endorsed Ranglin-Vassell’s opponent. Next week, on Wednesday, September 12, Rhode Island voters will go to the polls for primary races.

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Untapped Power: U.S. Must Hire More Young Women of Color

Members of the Young Women’s Cabinet in Minnesota, along with Women’s Foundation of Minnesota CEO Lee Roper-Batker and Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton.

Editor’s Note: As we end another Labor Day weekend, it’s a pleasure for me to share this editorial from women leaders in Minnesota, who are reminding us that young women, and particularly young women of color, are a huge untapped resource in our economy. The need for employers to hire more young women of color is not isolated to Minnesota — it is an issue that is being addressed by a national collaborative of women’s foundations working to ensure that young women of color can prosper economically and live safe, healthy lives. This editorial is c0-authored by Jennifer Alstad (Founder & CEO, bswing), Debra Fitzpatrick (Co-director, Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, University of Minnesota), and Lee Roper-Batker (President & CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota)

Young women offer an amazing talent base, and our economy needs them. Like most states, Minnesota faces a significant labor market gap, and businesses here and around the country are feeling it. By 2020, our regional economic development group, Greater MSP, projects that Minnesota’s 16-county metro area will face a shortage of 120,000 workers to keep pace with projected gross domestic product (GDP). Another 112,500 workers will be needed to keep up with GDP in Greater Minnesota.  

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce encourages businesses to cast a broader net and look for hidden talent pools. Across the world, economies are looking to the underemployment of women as a key untapped resource necessary for economic growth. Seventeen percent, or 50,000, of our state’s young women, ages 23-30, are not participating in the paid labor force. Young women report that opportunities, access, and support are limited, particularly for young women of color. The statistics bear this out, and in Minnesota we’re working to change this. 

One public-private partnership working to address this issue is the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, a seven-year, $9 million initiative centered on growing the leadership and economic power of young women of color. Co-Led by Governor Mark Dayton, this innovative cross-sector partnership aims to change the institutions and systems that have prevented equal access to opportunity due to gender, race, place, ability, or sexuality, and ensure that all young women can thrive.

When we study the research on how to help both help young women and businesses thrive, we find that there is a large labor supply of young women, particularly young women of color, who are needed in all skill-levels in the workforce. We need 34,800 workers in high-skill jobs, many of which include STEM occupations. In Minnesota, among STEM workers aged 23 to 25, 80% are men. Young women make up only 20% of the STEM workforce, with less than 1% comprised of women of color and young women with disabilities. Our research shows that race and gender stereotypes lead to fewer STEM opportunities for young women of color. Along with caregiving demands and lack of knowledge about opportunities, many young women are kept from entering this workforce pool. We need fresh ideas and innovative approaches to create new possibilities for young women and our state. 

Build the Pipeline, Invest in Support

In Moorhead, Minnesota, software engineer Betty Gronneberg launched uCodeGirl to bridge the gender gap in technology so that young girls can confidently pursue STEM jobs. She makes technology accessible, relevant, and fun for girls ages 12-18. She’s building the pipeline, and it’s working. Take the story of Mary, a middle school girl who was anxious when she arrived at UCodeGirl’s summer tech camp for girls. We know from studies that girls’ attraction to STEM activities decreases in middle school as they react to social pressures, lack of role models, and gender stereotypes. At camp, Mary met other girls curious about STEM and worked with them to design and code t-shirts that light up as they sense the beating of their hearts. After this, Mary was hooked on STEM. She returned to UCodeGirl to participate in a national STEM design competition by brainstorming and prototyping an app that will help to alleviate stress in teenagers. Today, as she works toward a career in technology, Mary continues to develop her skills with the help of a female STEM mentor she’s been paired with through uCodeGirl.

Both Dunwoody College of Technology and Saint Paul College are working to increase women’s representation in STEM fields, but success will not be achieved without new approaches to helping students overcome obstacles. With help from philanthropy, they have created innovative cohort-based programs with targeted recruitment, job and education readiness, mentoring, and customized wraparound services including childcare, eldercare, transportation assistance, and financial literacy.

Tish, a young LGBTQ woman in Dunwoody’s Electrical Design & Maintenance program, became homeless and lost her medical insurance after her first semester. Instead of discontinuing her education, Dunwoody intervened with a Women in Technical Careers scholarship that covered the first-year tuition gap, helped her find affordable housing, enroll in the state’s health insurance program, and get a job as a student worker on campus. Dunwoody connected Tish with a mentor from her industry who helped her apply for jobs and increased her network in her industry. Through these connections, she was able to secure a job at a local company where she now earns $25.50 an hour and loves her job. Programs that support unconventional students with wraparound services are necessary to increase the ranks of women in STEM and other nontraditional careers.

Tech Needs Women, Women Need Training

Opportunities for our young women can also be found in medium-skill jobs. Underrepresentation is dramatically evident in two-year technical programs. Take this example: the percentage of women who complete two-year technical programs in Minnesota. For construction, it’s 3%; mechanical, 5%; and precision production, it’s 5.3%. Women remain significantly underrepresented, making up less than 10% of the field in high-growth jobs such as welders, mechanics, carpenters, construction, and production.

Sectors across the state agree: we need a change. In order to fill these jobs tomorrow, investments are being made today in training for nontraditional careers with support from government agencies, foundations, and the state’s Women in High Wage, High Demand, Nontraditional Jobs Competitive Grant Program. We see young women of color benefiting from state support to train women for middle-skill jobs in construction, trucking, and the trades in our technical schools. This is a great start, and to build women’s representation in nontraditional sectors, businesses, government, and philanthropies must work together in building the pipeline and accessibility as we invest in skills, with an emphasis on young women of color.

The bulk of available jobs are in lower-skill occupations, including personal care attendants, retail, and food preparation. Young women, especially women of color, already bring their talents disproportionately to lower-skill jobs. If we want to continue to fill these jobs, we must make them more attractive, sustainable, and family-supporting, and create more opportunities for advancement to middle-skill positions.

Business needs to be a big part of the solution for engaging the talents of young women in the labor force. Our research, Impacts of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota on the State’s Labor Market, recommends investing in a diverse and supportive workforce and culture: broadening recruitment for paid summer internships to include community or technical colleges, building mentorship networks for new hires, and reducing unconscious biases in HR practices. The Blueprint for Action also recommends ensuring young women of color have opportunities and pathways to high-skill, high-wage careers and jobs, increasing participation in STEM fields and technical careers and increasing opportunities and pay for women in traditionally female-dominated jobs.

As philanthropies, corporations and government seek solutions to workforce shortages, we know that young women of color are an untapped solution. Our future prosperity is interwoven, and it’s time we listen and invest now in what young women need. We call on our country to recognize young women of color as critical to our economic growth and competitiveness, and important contributors to a high quality of life. 

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Giving For Good: Your Daily Round-Up of Feminist Philanthropy News

As a service to our subscribers, Philanthropy Women sifts through and aggregates the best feminist philanthropy stories of the day, Monday through Friday.

When you become a Premium Access subscriber, you are able to view these daily round-ups, which include links to articles from over 150 foundations, women’s funds, and gender equality research and strategy sources.

We comb through the news of large foundations like Gates, Rockefeller, and Ford, and also stay on top of state-based women’s funds and national feminist foundations.

We hope you enjoy this service and consider subscribing to Philanthropy Women so you can get your feminist philanthropy news blast every day. To subscribe to Philanthropy Women, visit our Subscribe Page.

Continue reading “Giving For Good: Your Daily Round-Up of Feminist Philanthropy News”

Fighting for Democracy: Building Local Pro-Choice Campaigns for Legislative Wins

The Woman Project, a new 501(c)4 in Rhode Island, is working to pass statewide legislation for reproductive freedom.

In the wake of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, reproductive freedom appears to be more threatened than ever. So what’s a pro-choice advocate to do?

One thing that some feminist activists are doing is incorporating their art into their activism. And in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the nation, these art-activists are pushing hard for the state to codify abortion rights so that the service will remain in place in the state even if the federal courts overturn Roe v. Wade.

These art-activists call themselves The Woman Project (TWP), and starting in 2017 as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization, they are angling to make sure that women’s rights are protected at the state level, starting with access to reproductive services.

The manifesto for TWP begins by appreciating art and creativity, and recognizes the necessity of both inclusion, justice, and environmental work in building a better world. The groups is also doing a bang-up job of collaborating with other activists networks in the state to make sure that the issue of reproductive freedom is on the table legislatively in the upcoming session. The group is working one of the most important tenets of feminist philanthropy — networking — to bring together groups including Planned Parenthood, Emerge RI, Adoption Inequality RI, the Unitarian Universalist Community in RI, Indivisible RI, the Cranston Action Network, the Women’s March Huddles, and RI NOW.

Rhode Island as the Testing Ground for Protecting Reproductive Freedom State by State

Rhode Island is an interesting state. Born on the principle of religious freedom, it continues to be known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. At the same time, the General Assembly is largely populated by Catholic men, who still adhere to the pro-life tenets of their religion and appear to be particularly influenced by the state’s Bishop, an outspoken (some might say even bullying) religious leader who considers LGBTQ people to be immoral and abortion to be a sin.

At the same time, much has been said about Rhode Island’s capacity to serve as a kind of “laboratory state.” With its small-scale legislation and population (1.06 million), Rhode Island is a place where it is possible to test out new theories and approaches to problems. Currently, the state is being hailed for its groundbreaking strategy for treating opioid addiction.

The same kind of breakthrough might be discovered by using Rhode Island to test out strategies for defending reproductive rights. Rhode Island could serve as a kind of “beta” for passing state legislation that protects reproductive services and, if successful (and it’s still a big if) this model could be scaled up and used in larger states.

The Woman Project is gathering signatures for an ad which will appear in The Providence Journal on September 30.

This is where The Woman Project (TWP) comes into the equation. Along with advocating for women’s rights, TWP builds on Rhode Island’s reputation as an artsy state in the approach it uses to take activism to the streets. Currently, TWP is adding signers to a petition that will be published in The Providence Journal on September 30th, which will implore legislators to pass the Reproductive Healthcare Act introduced last year. The letter already has a significant number of signers and is still taking more up until September 14th.

With 63 percent of Rhode Islanders supporting safe, legal abortion, organizations like TWP are providing a vital service by calling on our legislators to represent the majority of the voters. “We brought together a community of people who are moving forward with supporting access to reproductive health care for all Rhode Islanders a priority, who are in support of this legislation and [are] going to do everything to get it passed next year,” said Jocelyn Foye, an artist and one of the founding members of TWP.

I asked Foye about what unique challenges and opportunities Rhode Island presents to the movement for reproductive freedom. “Other states have passed somewhat similar legislation  Delaware, Illinois, Oregon and Massachusetts,” said Foye. “So this really builds on that momentum.  I think what is different about Rhode Island than these states is that we have Gender Assembly leadership that is right-to-life endorsed, we do not have a NARAL branch, and Emily’s list isn’t active here. Without some of the national forces at play in other states, we have to get creative to get our message out, to be heard and work towards change. That is what is cool about how small Rhode Island is.”

As local activists creating new social policy, The Woman Projects definitely means business. In 2017, the group convinced their own local town Council in South Kingstown to pass a resolution in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act. Now they are seeking support to go statewide. Foye described how, among other strategies, the group might be launching a series of videos to increase support for passage of the Reproductive Healthcare Act this fall.

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Butterflies with Voices is one of the inaugural grantees of the newly formed Women’s Giving Circle serving Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills, Connecticut. This photo depicts staff members from Butterflies with Voices helping Women’s Giving Circle members learn about their project at a circle meeting. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut Community Foundation.)

While women’s giving circles are a growing phenomenon in the United States, we thought it would be interesting to touch down in the real world with a giving circle that has newly arrived on the scene: Waterbury, Connecticut’s Inaugural Women’s Giving Circle. 

This new giving circle formed in 2017 and is housed at the Connecticut Community Foundation, a foundation serving 21 towns in the Waterbury/Litchfield area. For its first year of grantmaking, it gave out $34,000 in grants to seven community groups working to empower women and girls.

“It’s a thrill to award the first grants from the Women’s Giving Circle—made possible by the generosity of nearly 90 women in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills!” said Kathy Bower of Southbury, chair of the Women’s Giving Circle, in a recent press release on the grants. “We are energized and activated, and are driven to make lives better for women and girls and uplift local communities in the process. Our hearts and doors are open to welcoming more people into the Women’s Giving Circle and building on the momentum—and impact—of our first year.”

Women’s giving circles, new and growing ones like the Waterbury Women’s Giving Circle, and more established ones like Dining for Women, are bringing more women into the first-hand practice of grantmaking. This new giving circle in Connecticut requires an annual contribution of at least $500, and entitles you to participate in activities and events, and also to cast your vote at the annual meeting to determine how the circle’s funds will be given out in grants. You can join with the $500 on your own, or bring together friends to share in the $500 fee. Either way, the $500 membership means you will have one vote in the grantmaking process.

How This New Giving Circle Fits into the Connecticut Philanthropy Landscape

According to a report in HartfordBusiness.com, Connecticut saw a decline in the number of foundations and individuals making charitable donations and grants in 2015. Despite this, however, giving for the year increased by 11% (about $500 million) that year. The bulk of 2015 increase reportedly came from bequests, which increased from $90 million to $330 million that year. In 2014, giving declined by 3.2%.

Like in many states, Connecticut philanthropy professionals are concerned that the Trump Tax (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) will deter giving, since it takes away the itemized deduction from those who formerly met the threshold at $12,000. By moving the threshold for taking the charitable deduction up to $24,000 per household, many philanthropy analysts are predicting that the loss of itemization could reduce the tax income subsidy for giving by 33% and shave off millions, if not billions, of philanthropy dollars in the process.

Despite uncertainty in giving trends, for women in the Waterbury and Litchfield communities, the desire to give collectively has turned into a significant amount of grantmaking at the grassroots. These grants are going to funding-starved community efforts to help women and girls develop into healthy members of society.

Check out the grantees to see how these giving circle dollars will enhance the lives of women and girls in greater Waterbury and Litchfield:

Butterflies with Voices was awarded $4,000 to support mentoring and leadership skills and personal empowerment workshops and activities for girls in Waterbury.

Naugatuck Valley Community College Foundation in Waterbury was awarded $10,000 to enhance the college experience and improve retention leading to graduation for a select group of women who, despite overwhelming challenges, demonstrate resilience and tenacity in furthering their education.

Pratt Nature Center in New Milford was awarded $1,980 to empower girls and women through nature based activities.

Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury was awarded $1,250 to support a 22-week small group prevention and treatment self-esteem enhancement program for girls 8-18 years-old. They will build life skills, connect to resources and develop positive relationships with peers and adults. A second grant for $3,250 was awarded to Safe Haven to support crisis services for survivors of sexual assault, including providing women and girls with opportunities to attend alternative therapy programs (yoga, salt caves and music and art).

Save Girls on F.Y.E.R. in Waterbury was awarded $4,000 to support the social-emotional and physical health of Waterbury Public School students via afterschool programs.

Waterbury Youth Services was awarded a $7,357 grant to support an afterschool club for 14 high school girls based on the nationally acclaimed Girls Who Code program. Girls will learn computer software coding in a fun and supportive environment.

Woodbury Public Library earned a $2,000 grant to help girls in grades 6-12 learn to code in a safe and supportive environment of peers and role models and learn to see themselves as computer scientists. The program is also based on the national Girls Who Code model.

FYI: I feel a personal affinity with Waterbury, since it was the city that my mother grew up in and a place where I have happy memories from my own childhood, going to visit my grandparents there. Congratulations to the new Women’s Giving Circle, and here’s to many years of growth.

To learn more about the Women’s Giving Circle at Connecticut Community Foundation, visit www.conncf.org/womens-giving.

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