The Free Black Mamas Fellowship: Bailed-Out Black Moms Organize

(Image credit: public domain)

This year for Mother’s Day, incarcerated mothers and caregivers in 36 U.S. cities had their bails paid through public donations. The Black Mamas Bail Out brings together givers and organizers from across the country to free imprisoned moms who can’t afford bail.

Bailing Out Black Moms and Caregivers

Today and every day, tens of thousands of people are imprisoned in the U.S. because they cannot pay bail. Most of the about 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails are people of color. While they are primarily male, women are now the fastest-growing incarcerated population. And, Black women are imprisoned at a rate double that of white women.

Close to 80% of women in jail are mothers. About 66% of the women who are in jail because they can’t pay bail are mothers of minors. Mothers who are imprisoned are unable to work and to meet financial, familial and other obligations, and some see their children enter foster care. These are all reasons why the Black Mamas Bail Out exists. It’s crowdsourced, community-based philanthropy that brings mothers home for the holiday that bears their name.

Black Mamas Bail Out is a program of the National Bail Out collective (NBO), a “Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.” The mission to bail out Black mothers and caregivers was conceived in 2017 as a joint effort between multiple organizations, including the leading coalitions Color of Change and the Movement for Black Lives. Mary Hooks of the group Southerners on New Ground is credited with the initial idea for this mom-centric bailout.

The Black Mamas Bail Out completed its third round of funding and bailouts in 2019. It has raised close to $2 million and bailed out 308 people. Along with buying parent’s freedom, the project backs women with supportive services such as transportation, sustainable housing, legal aid, food access and child care.

The Free Black Mamas Fellowship

NBO is also now launching the second year of a fellowship for mothers and caregivers who are bailed out. The fellowship gives the mothers a chance to commune, communicate and organize. It “provides an opportunity for Black mamas to devise solutions and cast vision together for the future of their communities,” the group states.

Last year, the paid eight-week fellowship offered “in-person political education and organizing sessions and interactive group webinars” for 20 mothers. It culminated in the women hosting a workshop and sharing their experiences in the closing plenary of the annual FreeHer Conference of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Some of the 2018 fellows went on to lead 2019 bailouts. The six-week 2019 fellowship will consist of two cohorts over the summer and will include the creation of audio, visual and written creative works “that reflect [the women’s] perspective and experiences.”

Some of the guiding questions for the fellowship are: “What’s it like to be a Black mama or caregiver in your community?”

“How can we keep our community out of cages?”

“What do we need to keep our communities safe?”

JeNaé Taylor of #FreeBlackMamasDMV and the Gilda Papoose Collective (NBO affiliates) leads the fellowship activities. She described the program in this way to the HuffPost: “Love shows up in the gaps and is gathering us in this time to bridge the gaps between our mamas and ourselves.”

NBO’s services for mothers extend beyond paying bails because it views bailouts as a crucial but limited aspect of its larger goals.

“We don’t want to have to keep bailing people out until the end of time. We don’t want bails to exist, and we don’t want pretrial detention or jails to exist. We picture ourselves to be abolitionists, so we want a clearing of the prison-industrial complex,” Arissa Hall, NBO project director, said.

A growing number of funders are now backing alternatives to incarceration and cash bail. The New York Women’s Foundation’s Justice Fund is another example of a philanthropic effort to address mass incarceration and its detrimental effects on women, families, girls, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. The seven-year initiative launched in late 2018 and focuses on impacted communities in New York City.

Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions

Dream Big: The Film Funders Who Want Girls to Be Engineers

Two girls in school uniforms cross a bridge in Haiti.
Girls in Haiti take a new bridge to school. (Photo credit: “Dream Big – Haiti Behind the Scenes”)

The number of women in engineering (the crucial E of STEM) has risen in the last few decades, but still lags behind men — only 13% of engineers are women. A new big-screen film called, “Dream Big: Engineering Our World,” seeks to inspire the next generation of diverse female engineers. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), MacGillivray Freeman Films (MFF) and Bechtel Corporation are the key partners driving this initiative.

A Film About Big Dreams

“Dream Big” shares exemplary feats of engineering and the stories of the contemporary engineers who bring them to life, with a focus on women in the field. Towering buildings, underwater robots, solar cars and sustainable city planning are a few of the topics covered.

Mary Jane Dodge, the film’s executive producer and MFF’s director of theater marketing, tells Philanthropy Women that one female engineer featured in the film gave up a high-paying job to lead a nonprofit called Bridges to Prosperity. This organization partners with local communities in low and middle-income countries to build pedestrian bridges, and some of the bridges help kids get to school.

“We put her story in the film along with other stories about women engineers because we hoped it would resonate with young girls and inspire them to go into engineering. And, we were astounded by the results. We received countless letters and emails from girls inspired by the film,” Dodge says. Within one family that contacted them, several sisters expressed a desire to become engineers. “[She] was so excited and energized to continue studying to make that happen,” the mother said of one daughter.

By the end of 2019, a Dream Big DVD will be sent to every public school in America – over 100,000 schools — as well as to many private ones and schools in other countries. It has won several awards, including the Best Film of the Giant Screen Cinema Association, and the lifetime projected attendance of the film is 20 million people. Schools receive educational kits along with the movie, which is now also available on Netflix. The film reports that, at one juncture, 72 percent of children who saw the film said it “inspired them to become engineers.”

Plenty of Room for Growth in STEM Equity

There was a 54% increase in engineering and computer science bachelor’s degrees awarded to women between 2011 and 2016, according to recent research from the Society of Women Engineers.

But out of the freshman class of 2014, about 27% of men intended to major in Engineering, Math, Statistics or Computer Science, while only 8% of women did.

“More women are graduating with degrees in engineering, but the percentage of women in top executive positions hasn’t changed since the 1980s,” Catherine Jereza, a deputy assistant in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, said during a recent IEEE Women in Engineering conference. The conference covered challenges women face in engineering including being unsupported, isolated and undermined, or experiencing impostor syndrome. Women’s mentoring programs and self-advocacy skill development were some of the solutions discussed.

As we previously covered, discrimination and sexual harassment are persistent issues in STEM fields. “Many American colleges and universities were formed for the express purpose to educate men,” a 2018 study sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine states. And, men continue to fill most of the roles in these fields.

For philanthropists who want to address this persistent power imbalance and unjust cultural phenomenon, funding to close the gender gap is an option. For example, earlier  in 2019, Stacey Nicholas gave a $5 million gift to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Samueli School of Engineering, in support of Women in Engineering at UCLA, a program that works to close the gender gap in engineering majors at the school.

Backing the “Dream Big” film is another example of how funders can creatively address the gender gap. The Bechtel Corporation, the title sponsor of the film and the philanthropic arm of the largest construction and engineering firm in the U.S., has long supported engineering programs in America and abroad. “Dream Big” also received support from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, which was created by the head of the corporation and is in the midst of its final spend down. A full list of supporters is available online. Dodge of MFF says a new fundraising campaign is now underway to produce a “Dream Big” sequel, “so we can continue telling these stories and inspiring more girls and boys to go into engineering and other STEM careers.”

Intersectional STEM Issues and Funding

And, like many (perhaps all) feminist issues, the STEM fields’ gender gap is intersectional. Between 2011 and 2016, 5.6% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering were awarded to women of color. Many American institutions of higher learning were formed to educate white men in particular, and so women of color face compounded barriers and prejudice. People who identify as women and are LGBTQ+, differently abled and/or are part of other oft-marginalized communities can face additional hurdles.

The “Dream Big” team had some of these intersecting issues and diverse audiences in mind. MMF states in “Dream Big” literature that ASCE originally approached them because not enough women and minorities were considering a career in engineering. “ASCE wanted us to change the image of engineering, and at the same time inspire more students, more women and more students with diverse backgrounds to pursue a career” in this field.

Supporting women and boosting diversity in STEM are challenges many big tech funders like Google, Salesforce, Apple and Boeing are attempting to address. Focusing specifically on the intersection of gender and race is one way to tackle multiple issues at once. Black Girls Code is an example of a nonprofit focusing on empowering young women of color in STEM fields, and it has received significant corporate support. If more philanthropies and philanthropists take an intersectional approach to feminist STEM funding, this strategy could potentially have powerful ramifications for diverse women and their communities around the world.

Dalios Critique Capitalism, Give $100 Million to Public Schools

Image: Barbara Dalio reads to kindergarten students in a Connecticut public school. (Image Credit: @DalioEducation on Twitter)

A recent announcement of a gift from Dalio Philanthropies to Connecticut’s public schools brings Barbara Dalio’s work in education into the spotlight. She’s a hands-on philanthropist and the wife of Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the most successful hedge funds in the U.S. The wealth of these Giving Pledge signatories is estimated at more than $18 billion.

As part of a public-private partnership to support disengaged youth in public schools, the Dalios and the state government of Connecticut will each give $100 million toward a new $300 million project. They call on other philanthropists and business leaders to contribute the remaining third during the next five years. The Dalio’s gift is the largest known philanthropic donation to benefit the state of Connecticut to date.

Dalio Philanthropies has given out more than $1.5 billion since it formed in 2003. The private foundation gives in many areas including education, the environment, meditation and mental health, financial inclusion, the arts, and child welfare and capacity building in China. Before this pledge, its K-12 education funding totaled $65 million, according to the CT Post. The new program is largely based on Barbara Dalio’s firsthand research and relationship-building in the Connecticut schools her children attended. It aims to supplement and bolster the educational offerings available to teens in under-resourced public schools.

“Teens who are at the point of choosing between dropping out of high school or making it through and into a job are at a very important juncture in their lives. Their choice will have profound implications for what they and our society will be like,” Dalio tells Philanthropy Women.

A Mother Returns to School

Dalio came to the U.S. from Spain in her 20s. Now in her 70s, she lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with her husband, the richest man in the state. Among other interests, she is an artist and art-lover who previously worked at the Whitney Museum.

Dalio’s four sons attended both public and private schools. When the youngest left home about 10 years ago, she bought an easel to invigorate her painting practice. But, she never used it, she told the Hartford Courant. Instead, she embarked on a personal journey to better understand U.S. public school classrooms by volunteering at an alternative high school. She discovered a love of education and began to apply herself to learning how best to fund in this area.

“I learned really how many needs the kids have, because they had kids with learning differences, kids that have had trauma in their lives, kids with emotional needs,” Dalio said. She added that it’s hard for schools to address these needs, especially when budgets cut back on essential personnel or services like social workers and mental health programs. Along with volunteering, Dalio went on to meet with and learn from diverse stakeholders in K-12 education, including teachers, principals, superintendents, union leaders, social workers and students.

Dalio Education Philanthropy

In concert with Dalio’s efforts, Dalio family philanthropy has supported private, charter and public education initiatives. St. Luke’s School; Teach for America; the charter school system Achievement First, which has schools in Hartford and New Haven; and the Carver Foundation of Norwalk, which provides after-school programs for public school students, have all benefited from Dalio giving. But during the past few years, the couple have shifted their focus from charter schools and education reform toward aiding public schools and helping high schoolers succeed.

“I realized charter schools have their place and are doing great work, but it really doesn’t solve the problem… my heart was not there,” Dalio told the CT Post.

Dalio Philanthropies now focuses its education giving on public schools in several ways, including through a partnership with DonorsChoose and by backing the Connecticut RISE Network, both of which fund teachers. It also aims to help disengaged kids reconnect to school through a program called the Connecticut Opportunity Project, along with the recent $100 million commitment to the public school system.

“I am delighted to see that the Dalio family is putting money into public schools, not charter schools. That’s where 90 percent of the children are,” Diane Ravitch says of the Dalio’s recent gift. Ravitch is an education author, historian and professor and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

The new $300 million multisector partnership for Connecticut’s public schools centers on supplemental programming and personalized support for academically disengaged teens in under-resourced communities.

“In Connecticut, 22 percent of high school students have either already dropped out of high school or at-risk of dropping out,” Dalio says. Mentoring, individualized interventions, tutoring, summer school catch-up sessions, wrap-around programming, youth development and placement assistance in upwardly mobile jobs are some of the new program’s foci.

“I know that we can cost-effectively help [these teens] make the right choice to have better outcomes for themselves and for our community,” Dalio says.

“Teachers are saints” who are “starving for resources,” Ray Dalio told CNBC. In the same interview, he and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont also point out that helping struggling students will save the state money in the long run, and that Connecticut needs these young people to fill empty jobs.

The new $300 million plan will also support local entrepreneurs through programs like microfinance, a strategy Dalio Philanthropies has also carried out in the past. Economic inequality and the income gap, which are significant and growing issues in Connecticut, are established concerns for the Dalios.

The couple have come out as strong critics of American capitalism as a whole, particularly in regard to how it doesn’t work for a vast majority of the population. “I believe that all good things taken to an extreme can be self-destructive, and that everything must evolve or die. This is now true for capitalism,” Ray Dalio recently wrote. In the same blog, he adds, “To me, the most intolerable situation is how our system fails to take good care of so many of our children.”

The new investment to help struggling teens in public schools ties together the Dalio’s social beliefs with Barbara’s personal exploration of and love for local education. And by addressing the needs of public schools, Barbara and Ray are helping to support systems-level change, a strategy often employed by feminist philanthropy.

Philanthropy Based on Personal Connections

The Dalios plan to drive the initiative with teachers’ ideas, as opposed to taking a top-heavy approach that ignores the diverse voices and daily needs on the ground. Working “with local stakeholders to ensure that community voice and input shape programming design and help advance positive outcomes as quickly and sustainably as possible,” is a stated goal. Listening to and connecting with teachers and grantees in-person and through brainstorming sessions remains a core practice for Dalio.

“Barbara Dalio has been doing this at schools across the state for many, many years — working with the teachers, getting their best ideas, and helping to fund them, so they can act on their ideas,” Lamont said.

Erin Benham, president of Meriden’s teachers’ union and a member of the State Board of Education, is one of the many educators who have gotten to know Dalio through her philanthropy. Benham described working with Dalio in this way: “It sounds like it’s too good to be true, but [Dalio] is truly a partner. She sits with us, listens to us. She laughs. She loves being with students, and she loves being with teachers.”

Power Up! Women Collective Givers Meet In Washington, 2020

Image: Catalist members Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Laura Midgley, Colleen Willoughby, Jenny Berg, Paula Liang, Virginia Mills, Susan Benford and Hali Lee (Photo credit: Catalist)

Big news for giving circle members and fans: The Catalist 2020 National Conference will be held from Feb. 23 to the 25 in Seattle, Washington. Catalist is a network and umbrella organization for women’s collective-giving grantmaking organizations. The conference will be hosted at the Motif Hotel by the Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF), a Catalist member organization that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The WaWF is a fitting host for the 2020 conference, because it was launched by Catalist founding board member Colleen Willoughby in 1995. And, in 2009, Willoughby brought together collective giving leaders from across the U.S., spurring the creation of the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), now Catalist.

Catalist defines collective giving grantmaking as “a rapidly growing grassroots philanthropic movement that empowers women to join together, invest their financial resources and strengthen their communities.” Groups that carry out this type of philanthropy, AKA giving circles, are often women-led and women-centric, though many serve and welcome other groups of people.

“While some Catalist affiliates do count men among their membership or have a special ally type of category, our goal is to support the creation, development and expansion of the women’s collective giving movement,” Paula Liang, who will be Catalist chair for the years 2020-2022, tells Philanthropy Women. Liang is a member of the Women’s Giving Alliance in Jacksonville and Impact100 in Palm Beach County.

Catalist has 67 affiliates in the U.S. and Australia, and a membership of more than 17,000 women. It aims to connect, educate and inspire women philanthropists and foster informed collective grantmaking through webinars, conferences, online forums and one-on-one mentoring. Member organizations pay $200 a year to support Catalist programming.

Catalist has been organizing national conferences since 2011, and the 2018 conference in Philadelphia sold out for the first time. The theme for the upcoming Catalist conference is, “PowerUP!: The Spark that Ignites Change.” Catalist “intends to create a space and environment for all who identify as women to bring their authentic and full selves to learn and build new relationships.” Tricia Raikes, co-founder of the Raikes Foundation and WaWF member, will be the keynote speaker.

The conference has three stated goals: to inform, to influence and to be inclusive. Expected conference learning and experiential takeaways span topics like inclusive movement building; starting or revving up inclusion work within various aspects, relationships and structures of an organization; and personal growth as a philanthropist, “so you are inspired, informed and equipped to lead change in your community.”

Why is inclusion important to this movement and organization at this juncture?

Laura Midgley, 2020 conference co-chair and WaWF member, says “as women realize our power through collective giving and informed grantmaking, we have woken up to the need to emphasize equity; to elevate voices that are misunderstood, not heard and often not considered until some current event elevates them.” She adds Catalist members “can only improve our mindset and grantmaking if we constantly include diverse points of view.”

A 2016 study estimated giving circles have granted up to $1.29 billion in total since their inception. These collective giving groups engage tens of thousands of people and dole out tens of millions annually. Catalist affiliates have awarded more than $125 million in grants since 1995. Liang explains some of the benefits of this style of giving for women:

Certainly, friendships are formed, and the sisterhood is a wonderful side benefit but, primarily, a member’s view of philanthropy is completely transformed by being part of a larger process… when we pool our dollars, our knowledge, our contacts and our skills, the grants that result are more informed, more influential and more impactful.

Why Men Got Picked Over Women in a Blind Review of Science Grants

A new study finds men use broad language in grant proposals that leads them to win more science funding. (Images credit: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Bureau of Economic Research)

A recent study of a science grant application process at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found male applicants received higher scores than women, even in a blind review. At the foundation’s request, a team from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed this imbalance and reported that factors like scientific discipline and position, publication record, and grant history were not factors — the main difference was in the language used in proposal titles and descriptions. According to their working paper, men were found to use more words described as “broad,” while women chose more words labelled “narrow.” The broader word choices were preferred, especially by male reviewers. But, as in most research relating to complex issues of sex, bias and language, the story is more nuanced.

The Use of Common and Broad Words by Gender in Grant Proposals

The researchers examined 6,794 two-page proposals submitted by U.S.-based researchers between 2008 and 2017 to the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program, which gives out grants of between $100,000 and $1 million in the field of global health. Kuheli Dutt, who works in academic affairs and diversity at Columbia University, pointed out to Nature that the trend of men using broader terms might align with other research that finds men more likely to overstate their performance. As we recently covered in the world of dance, men are also sometimes more likely to self-advocate in professional situations. These trends can be tied to cultural gender norms — beliefs about how men and women should behave.

Within the exploration of the language differences between men and women, researchers used specific interpretations of broad and narrow language. Broad words were those used commonly across many topic areas, while narrow words were used frequently only within specific content areas, such as HIV or malaria. This frequency-of-use system led to some results that might be surprising. For example, “bacteria” was counted as broad, while “community” was marked narrow.

Within this analysis, men employed more broad, or more common, words and received more grants. But these language choices did not lead them to have greater success after the awards were given. When women secured grants, they generally outperformed men in terms of post-funding publication and future funding.

Julian Kolev, assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business and lead author, said he and his team “would be hesitant to recommend that women adopt this language… The narrower and more technical language is probably the right way to think about and evaluate science.”

As more tools that automatically analyze text become available, linguistic and cultural research is on the rise. Recent studies have turned up somewhat divergent results — an earlier paper in 2019 found grant abstracts that are longer, contain fewer common words and “are written with more verbal certainty” received more National Science Foundation funding.

Potential Bias in the Review Process

Kolev thinks organizations should spend more time looking into potential reviewer biases. He suggests reviewers could be trained to be more aware of and less influenced by communication style differences. Also, he said, “We consistently show that female reviewers’ scores do not favor proposals from male applicants in the way that male reviewers’ scores do, so increasing the number of female reviewers is one potential way to mitigate the effects we find.”

The Gates Foundation uses a “champion-based” review process for these awards, in which applications are more likely to be chosen if they’re given a single high review. According to Science Magazine, the reviewers are from “a variety of disciplines and perspectives” and have “less-specialized expertise” when compared to an organization such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Professor of Economics at the University of Kansas Donna Ginther, who studies disparities in NIH grant funding, said Gates reviewers might, therefore, be “susceptible to grantsmanship like claims, like ‘I’m going to cure cancer’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to understand how this molecule interacts with a cell.”

Ginther hopes this type of linguistic analyses will be used to study other facets of diversity in science (racial disparities are present in NIH funding). And, given that subcultures, socioeconomic experience, age, gender identity (as opposed to biological sex) and many other factors can affect our language choices, there is plenty of territory left to explore. This case certainly raises some interesting questions about foundation grant review processes.

In a written statement, the Gates Foundation said it is “committed to ensuring gender equality” and “carefully reviewing the results of this study—as well as our own internal data—as part of our ongoing commitment to learning and evolving as an organization.”

The Butterfly Effect: Tracking the Growth of Women’s Funds

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute released a new report today, detailing the landscape of women’s funding in the U.S. (Image credit: Women’s Philanthropy Institute)

Today, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy released a new report called, “Women’s Foundations and Funds: a Landscape Study.” It presents a range of updated data and new insights into a major branch of women’s philanthropy — one that has grown significantly over the last few decades. It follows up on a report of a similar nature in 2009 that focused on organizations within the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), but this newer study widened its scope beyond that particular philanthropic community. Elizabeth M. Gillespie, doctoral candidate at the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, authored the report, and it was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

While women’s philanthropy can take many forms, this study focuses on “women’s grantmaking organizations that exclusively give to women” and that meet certain criteria, including being based in the U.S. and having a primary function of grantmaking (though many participate in other civic activities). A database of 209 such women’s foundation and funds was created, with data drawn from public sources like the organizations’ websites and tax forms. Also, 26 organizational leaders were interviewed.

Key Findings on Women’s Foundations and Funds

The study found most women’s foundations and funds are relatively new, with 71 percent established between 1990 and 2010. Most (92 percent) are publicly funded. These groups are widespread through the U.S. — found in 44 states and D.C.

A total of 63 percent of women’s foundations and funds are members of larger community foundations or other organizations, and the study notes that asset data for these groups “are largely unavailable.” As for the assets of the independent women’s foundations and funds, they ranged from less than $1,000 to more than $500 million in 2016.

Annual grant totals for women’s foundations and funds vary widely too, from a few thousand up to almost $130 million. About 44 percent of the organizations give out less than $100,000 in grants each year, and 40 percent distribute between $100,000 and $1 million.

The more than 100 members of the WFN granted about $410 million to women and girls in 2015, and there are dozens of women’s foundations and funds giving outside of this network.

Local Focus, Gender Lens and Popular Causes

About half of the groups in the study articulate overarching grant-making philosophies, which are diverse. The study finds “gender lens philanthropy—addressing the specific concerns of women and girls—is the most prevalent” philosophy. While target populations can be hard to categorize, and many groups chose more than one, “women and girls (general)” were identified as a priority for 52 percent of the groups.

Most of the women’s foundations and funds prioritize grants for local community organizations, and many identify as changemakers and empowerment facilitators in their communities. Having an impact was mentioned by 53 percent of the organizations. Along with “wanting to positively impact the lives of women and girls…  impact meaning there is a chance for a greater ripple effect that benefits the broader community, as well,” the report states. One Northeast foundation or fund interviewee said, “If you think about the butterfly effect, if you think about women rising up, somebody has to be behind them to support them, to give them that power.”

While these groups typically provide funding in multiple areas, education received the most funding (63 percent). “Interviews for this study reveal this is due, in part, to the view that education serves as a precursor to women’s advancement—particularly their economic advancement,” a report summary states. Economic empowerment, security and self-sufficiency (as one category), and health were also popular issues; they were identified as priorities by more than half of the funders.

Basic needs, such as housing, child care and transportation received 26 percent. As the NYWF recently reported, these needs must be met in order for women to be healthy and to succeed at school and work. The intersectionality of women’s issues was brought up by many of the interviewees.

Programming and project grants are “overwhelmingly” the most commonly awarded grants of women’s foundations and funds. Along with grantmaking, 64 percent of these organizations also engage in other activities to fulfill their missions, such as providing other resources, running events, research, programming, partnerships and collaborations, advocacy, education, scholarships, and hosting giving circles or donor-advised funds (while some giving circles were included in the database if they met certain criteria, groups that identify primarily as giving circles were not a main focus for this research).

Other Target Populations and a Call for Equity

Other subsets of the population were also identified as priorities by these funding groups. Women and children, low-income women, women and girls of color, Jewish women and girls, and LGBTQI women and girls were identified as priorities by between seven and 15 percent of the groups. Girls and women who are young, immigrants, refugees, single mothers, incarcerated, in rural areas, and those who have disabilities were noted as priorities less often — by either 1 or 2 percent of funding organizations.

A Midwestern foundation/ fund director said the women’s funding movement needs “to put an increased focus on racial equity in our work.”

I think when we talk about feminism, a lot of people still think of feminism as white women’s issues and issues that mainly impact the well-being of white women… We’re really committed to this being an inclusive movement and that there is leadership space, and voice and representation that’s largely evenly weighted to women of color, in order to advance gender equity…

One of this study’s research questions was, “What is the demographic makeup of donors to, and members of, these organizations?” The report’s demographics section shares the gender makeup of donors (mostly women), whether funds were private or public, or were “special interest,” such as Jewish women’s funds. Why were key demographics, such as race and age, not included?

The WPI Research Team tells Philanthropy Women this landscape scan did not “focus on developing an in-depth profile of donors… in the interest of including data points in a variety of other areas” which included “organizational characteristics and funding approaches.” Also, they point out that while interviews were carried out, much of the data came from online public sources, which did not include donor details. The researchers added that a second phase of this study will take place later in 2019, which will include more interviews and “provide a deeper, more nuanced answer to many of the questions posed.” WPI also explored issues of race and gender in philanthropy a few months before this landscape study was released, in a report called, “Women Give 2019: Gender and Giving Across Communities of Color.”

As for, “Women’s Foundations and Funds: a Landscape Study,” the summary concludes women’s foundations and funds “award millions of dollars in grants each year and contribute critical resources to raising awareness on the status of and issues facing women.”

When Black Women Direct: Queen Latifah Gets Women of Color Behind the Camera

Queen Latifah in sunglasses
Queen Latifah in 2008 (credit: Affiliate Summit on Flickr, CC 2.0)

Minority directors are underrepresented in film at a degree of three to one, while women are underrepresented at a rate of seven to one, according to UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report. There is clearly room for progress here in terms of equality, especially for women who are black or of another minority identity. Rapper, singer, actress, label president, author, real estate developer and entrepreneur Queen Latifah is out to shift the scales; she recently teamed up with Tribeca Studios and Marc Pritchard, Procter and Gamble’s chief brand officer, to launch the Queen Collective (TQC). TQC has a goal of “accelerating gender and racial equality behind the camera.” Two inaugural documentaries backed by TQC premiered in April 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival, and they are now streaming on HULU.

The Queen Collective’s First Films

“I would be remiss if I did not reach back and help black women get where I am today,” Latifah told The Root. In conjunction with the TV and film production company Latifah co-launched in 1995, Flavor Unit, TQC provided two black women with financing, production support, mentorship and distribution opportunities for their content. The first films are Ballet After Dark, directed by B. Monét, and If There Is Light, directed by Haley Elizabeth Anderson.

Ballet After Dark tells the story of a woman who survives a traumatic experience and goes on to help others do the same through therapeutic dance. If There Is Light chronicles a teenager’s experience as her mother works to move their family out of the shelter system.

“We are often painted as victims and never seen as victors, and I wanted my piece to change that narrative,” Monét said of Ballet After Dark. Jakena Blackmon, the mother in If There Is Light, said, “You never know who you might touch with your story.”

“When you watch these two films, you will be moved to action,” Latifah said. “I felt emotionally moved, inspired, and I felt grateful to have the permission to look into someone else’s life through their films and to appreciate someone else’s position, and it motivated me to want to do more.” At the film festival, she shared she is already starting to see the ripple or “halo” effect of QTC, in the women who now approach her to learn more about directing. And she hopes diverse female directors will practice more equitable hiring throughout the industry, saying, “My hope is that we create more female directors that end up giving jobs to more diverse crews and get their foot in the door and start to get recognized and hired for their work.”

Queen Latifah’s Philanthropy

Queen Latifah has been breaking ground for black women in entertainment for decades, from her first album, All Hail to the Queen, which sold more than a million copies in 1989, to the single “U.N.I.T.Y” that earned her first Grammy in 1995, to Jungle Fever, to Living Single, to Beauty Shop, to Bessie, to Girls Trip, to Star and beyond. She also supports creative pursuits through her philanthropy, by backing groups like the Save The Music Foundation and Jazz House Kids.

Women, girls, youth and teens are some of her main foci, and she has funded the Foundation For the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN); Girl Up; the Common Ground Foundation, which serves urban youth; School on Wheels; and the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which works to “improve the life and health of kids and families around the world.”

LGBTQ groups for youth and adults, and AIDS/HIV and other health initiatives have also benefited from her giving, including The Trevor Project for gay and questioning teenagers and 46664, Nelson Mandela’s campaign to help raise Global AIDS/HIV awareness. Her donations range from several thousand dollars to more than $100,000.

Latifah credits her mother as a key source of inspiration and support. Sadly, her mother died in 2018 from a heart condition. Latifah is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

Childhood cancer is another cause Latifah supports; in 2018, she joined Carnival Cruise Lines in raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The project and celebration included a grand display of the children’s art and Latifah participating in a lip sync battle with Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl champion Jake Elliott. This initiative raised $100,000 for St. Jude’s.

Along with Latifah’s Queen Collective, a few other groups that support black women and women of color in film and entertainment include the Black Women Film Network, African-American Women in Cinema, Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), and the New York Women in Film & Television’s Immigrant Stories program.

Latifah on the Power of Black Wealth

While passionate about supporting black talent in entertainment, Latifah also believes in the financial power and sway of communities of color in the U.S.

“[We] have a lot of buying power, and we don’t have to do business with companies that don’t support people of color,” Latifah said while discussing TQC.

The UCLA report provides evidence of her point within the film industry: minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 films in 2016. It also states, based on data such as ratings, ticket sales and social media engagement, “Consistent with the findings of earlier reports in this series, new evidence from 2015-16 suggests that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content.” This finding aligns with the fact that the U.S. will soon become a majority-minority nation.

We Are Unstoppable: Giving Circles Organize Into a Movement

Marcia Quinones, member of East Bay Latina Giving Circle. (Photo credit: Latino Community Foundation)

Giving circles bring people together to practice collective philanthropy. In the same spirit, representatives of giving circles and giving circle networks across the U.S. are now convening to build power. In April 2019, 82 members of dozens of giving circles in the U.S. met for two days in Seattle, Washington, to share stories, hopes and plans for building a stronger giving circle movement. Women are playing a leading role in these efforts.

Giving Circles Grow and Set Goals

Giving circles allow friends, neighbors, families and people with religious, civil, cultural and other connections to learn about issues of shared concern and decide where to donate their money. They are usually created by women and/or members of ethnic minority, LGBTQ or other marginalized groups — those who typically hold a lesser share of power and money in the U.S. — though many open their doors to anyone with common values. Women make up most of their members.

These philanthropic clubs are often housed at community foundations and tend to address local needs, but some do focus on national or international causes. Along with direct grantmaking, giving circles are known to serve as a springboard for members to become more civically engaged in their local communities.

A 2016 study found giving circles had tripled in number since 2007, rising to 1,500. The researchers estimated the giving circles in their database had granted up to $1.29 billion in total since their inception. Giving circles engage tens of thousands of people and dole out tens of millions annually.

Giving circle representatives at the April 2019 convening. (Photo credit: Gates Archive / Bruce Tom)

“Giving circles are a major part of the future of American philanthropy… people are coming together, pooling their money, networks, and expertise, and investing in the change they want to make in the world,” Marsha Morgan, chair of the Community Investment Network (a network of African-American circles) said in a statement.

The Community Investment Network and four other giving circle networks are in the midst of a yearlong “co-design process” for the entire movement, tied into the April event for the broader giving circle community. The other four leading networks are Amplifier, which centers on Jewish values; the Asian Women Giving Circle; Catalist (formerly the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network); and the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), which is home to the largest Latino giving circle network in the U.S.

“There is a rich history of generosity and collective action in our diverse communities. We are learning to look to each other for investments, and that’s powerful,” LCF CEO, Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, tells Philanthropy Women.

Following the recent gathering, the leaders released a shared vision with five general goals. They are, in short, to increase public awareness of giving circles, develop more trainings and resources on democratizing philanthropy, create an incubator program for new and developing circles, support new tech that can connect circles with each other and grantees, and begin hosting more regional and national convenings.

Giving Circles as Vehicles for Feminist Philanthropy

Starting in 2018, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led the support for this giving circle collaborative design process and event, along with 19 other funders including institutional philanthropies, giving circles, networks and members. Given that most giving circles are primarily made up of women, this support aligns with the Gates foundation’s, and particularly Melinda Gates’, increased focus on women’s needs and gender equity in the last few years, both in the U.S and abroad. Melinda Gates’ recently published book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, explores these issues through a personal lens, with a special focus on the importance of women’s health and education in low and middle-income countries.

Fittingly, many women-centric giving circles took part in the spring event, including For Her: A Black Women Giving Movement for Black Girls, the Women’s Catalytic Fund, Dining for Women, the Inspired Women Paying It Forward Network and others.

At LCF, one of the five leaders of this movement, the majority of staff members are women, as are most of the more than 500 members of its 21 giving circles. Marcia Quinones of the East Bay Latina Giving Circle, which is part of LCF, tells us how and why giving circles work for women:

Since the beginning of time, women have come together in circles to make magic, support our communities and heal one another. Giving circles are our modern day solution to the challenges all women are experiencing today in our communities — isolation, a feeling of helplessness, and a lack of opportunity to lead and voice our own visions. When we come together, we are unstoppable.

Helping Women Dancers Take the Lead in Choreography

Choreographer Penny Saunders (center left) with DDP founder and president, Liza Yntema (center right, with her arm around Saunders), with the cast of Saunders’ piece, “Testimony” at Grand Rapids Ballet, (Photo credit: Liza Yntema)

While women fill most of the shoes in ballet, leadership positions are still dominated by men, especially in choreography and artistic direction roles. A nonprofit called the Dance Data Project (DDP) aims to help more women in dance keep up to date with choreographic opportunities and ascend the ballet leadership ladder. With this goal in mind, in April 2019, DDP released a report on contemporary opportunities in choreography, along with monthly spreadsheets and calendar reminders of global deadlines. Earlier in 2019, it also published research on salary by gender for leaders in ballet, finding notable imbalances in favor of men, especially in artistic direction.

DDP’s overarching goal is to raise gender equality awareness in ballet through research, advocacy and other programs. It also serves as a resource for other “artists of merit,” including photographers, lighting and costume professionals, set designers, and composers. DDP founder and president, Liza Yntema, is also a personal sponsor of the American Ballet Theatre’s project to support female choreographers called Women’s Movement and a similar initiative from the Boston Ballet called ChoreograpHER.

DDP’s new calendar of opportunities includes ballet choreographic scholarships, fellowships and competitions, which it explains are training pipelines for lucrative choreographer and artistic director positions. As part of its related research efforts, DDP conducted a listening tour of ballet companies in the U.S.

“We heard from ballet company artistic directors and senior staff that women just don’t apply in the same numbers as men, often because they are unaware of what is out there. They do not have the network that men enjoy,” Yntema said in a statement. The directors also said men tend to be more forward and self-promotional during the application process.

“This is a discouraging phenomenon not unique to ballet,” the recent DDP report states. The authors point out that while men will often apply for jobs in which they meet only 60 percent of the listed qualifications, women tend to only apply if they meet 100 percent — a stat also referenced in Lean In, a well-known self-help book advising women how to achieve their ambitions. Along with making new choreography opportunities more accessible, DDP is planning to run confidence-building seminars for women that include application tips and support.

DDP also quotes Alyssa Rapp, a CEO and Stanford business lecturer, who encourages women to “embrace the ‘feminists’ within, support ourselves, support each other, leap versus lean and play to win.” Leaping is a fitting metaphor for the realm of ballet, and DDP aims to help more women dancers make their next career move with gusto. It will be carefully monitoring the results of its efforts and how many women succeed in their applications.

“If we find a continuing trend of awarding the lion’s share of resources to male applicants, DDP will call out the committees making the final determinations,” the report states. Clearly, equity has to be addressed and supported by all players involved and from all sides of the table.

If women in dance, or any field, need support in self-promotion, it makes sense that women must also be encouraged to shine and be ambitious from an early age. Research has shown that strict cultural gender norms about how girls and boys should act can influence and limit the life experiences and well-being of people of any gender, along with trans or gender nonconforming individuals.

“Traditional femininity is understood as a combination of the ‘the three D’s:’ being Deferential, Desirable and Dependent,” Riki Wilchins writes in her recently released book, Gender Norms and Intersectionality: Connecting Race, Class and Gender. Wilchins is an iconic transgender rights activist and gender researcher. She runs a nonprofit called TrueChild that seeks to support youth by “helping funders and nonprofits challenge rigid gender norms.” The “three D’s” align with a persistent norm that girls should not be as ambitious or independent as boys, which clearly accompanies many into adulthood.

Wilchins has also observed that young men often receive the message that ballet dancing is not appropriately masculine. Perhaps if these types of limiting gender norms shift or loosen, future generations of ballet (and society) will be more diverse and equitable at all levels.

Joy-Centric Movement Building: NoVo Partners With Consortium to Empower Southern Black Girls

Movement Builder LaTosha Brown is leading a new consortium of organizations in the Southeastern U.S. dedicated to empowering women and girls of color. (photo credit: TruthSpeaks Consulting Facebook photo)

Despite the myriad challenges that young Black women face in the U.S. South, only 5.4 percent of all foundation funding in this region is focused on women and girls, and less than 1 percent on Black women and girls. To address this imbalance and empower southern Black females, LaTosha Brown of TruthSpeaks Consulting is coordinating a new initiative called the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium (the Consortium), with support from the NoVo Foundation (NoVo). Brown has a clear, creative vision for this work, which she plans to orient around listening to Black girls and “Black joy.”

NoVo’s Partnership With Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium

In the fall of 2018, NoVo, one of the largest private foundations advocating for gender equality, announced a partnership with the Consortium, which is a collective of funders, activists, and community leaders. Along with regional grantmaking, the Consortium will coordinate efforts and support opportunities to provide spaces for healing, political education, and capacity building for movements centered on and led by Black females of diverse ages.

Brown, who has a background in philanthropic advisory and social-impact philanthropy, recently spoke with Philanthropy Women to discuss one of the main challenges of advancing this work in a region that has been “deeply, deeply under-invested in.” She sees a “delicate dance and balancing act” ahead as they work to address historical barriers of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism while also creating new programs and avenues of support for Black girls.

“I think part of the challenge is being able to build and tear down at the same time,” says Brown. “To tear down those barriers that have had a disproportionate impact on Black girls, while, at the same time, building a new vision and creating a new framework.”

NoVo’s decision to team up with the Consortium marks the beginning of a new and essential stage in the foundation’s seven-year, $90 million commitment to strengthen its work with women of color in the U.S. — the biggest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the structural inequities facing this population. In accord with the foundation’s core strategies of valuing the experiences of and empowering those most impacted by social injustice, the Consortium is coordinated by Black women in philanthropy, activism, and work with girls who, like Brown, have robust experience movement-building in the Southeast.

Women of color, having once been girls of color, are uniquely suited to steer this undertaking. Girls of color themselves will be included in the development of the evolving consortium, as they were in its selection by NoVo. After announcing the new giving strategy in 2016, NoVo spent a year conducting listening sessions with girls of color, movement leaders, and organizers, many in the South, Southeast, and Midwest, along with urban centers where it has established partners. Jennifer and Peter Buffett, NoVo co-presidents and board chairs, also conducted a similar listening process internationally when developing the focus for their foundation more than a decade ago. After the recent listening tour, NoVo requested national proposals for resourcing the movement for girls of color in the Southeast, and with the help of an advisory committee experienced in these fields, chose the Consortium as its core partner.

“Our goal is to create the conditions for change by advancing the work of the real experts in this movement: girls and young women of color and the advocates working with them,” Peter Buffett said of the new undertaking.

The strategy of zeroing in on young women of color aligns with NoVo’s missions of promoting adolescent girls’ rights in the U.S. and Global South and ending violence against girls and women. And, the Consortium’s mission can be seen as part of NoVo’s work to advance social and emotional learning and local community engagement. The new undertaking and partnership also recognizes the historically proven abilities of females of color to solve societal problems; the foundation lists notable activists Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hammer as inspirations.

In a similar vein, Brown says that in girls’ communities, there is “a lineage of women that feed into each other,” which is key to the Consortium. She describes its efforts as multigenerational, wherein girls’ mothers, aunts, and grandmothers are “very much a part of this work.”

NoVo Executive Director Pamela Shifman tells us, “We know that girls and women of color are powerful agents in addressing the systemic and structural racism, sexism and other forms of oppression facing communities.” Shifman also noted that the leadership of women and girls of color “has been largely overlooked by philanthropy and is long overdue.”

The Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium is also supported by the Appalachian Community Fund (ACF), the Fund for Southern Communities (FSC), and the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF). The BBCF, led by President Felecia Lucky, carries out grantmaking in Alabama‘s “Black Belt,” an area named for its rich soil that stretches across the middle of the state from Mississippi to near the Georgia line.

The foundation’s mission is to infuse this region with resources “that make a lasting impact,” with the guiding “idea that those living and working in the Black Belt best [know] the area’s challenges and opportunities.” The emphasis on trusting community members as change-makers resonates with both NoVo’s and the Consortiums’ goals, as does the BBCF’s statement that it values “the strengths of pluralistic communities where economic, racial, and social justice are practiced in a spirit of trust and sincerity.”

FSC’s work also lines up nicely with the Consortium’s plans.

“In a nutshell, FSC’s mission is to support organizations working to create just and sustainable communities through grant-making,” Executive Director Alice Jenkins says. She thinks the vision of the Consortium “perfectly and directly aligns” with this mission, pointing out that FSC and the Consortium also both seek to support “nontraditional and startup groups working to advance the work initiated by Black girls and women.”

Likewise, Margo Miller, executive director of ACF, sees the partnership with NoVo and the Consortium “as a real opportunity to lift up and bring much-needed resources and attention to rural areas like the Appalachian region in support of the creativity and power of Black girls in the South.”

The Consortium’s First Steps 

During the next year, the Consortium’s leadership team will create a strategic work plan. It will partners with girls and their adult supporters in the field, design an infrastructure to manage grantmaking and additional capacities, and bolster related social movements.

Brown says listening will continue to be a core principle of the Consortium’s work. “The one thing that I often hear more than anything else from young people, and particularly young people of color, is that they do not feel listened to,” says Brown. “We will make sure Black girls are centered in the decision-making process from the start.”

Brown also wants the Consortium’s work to help Black youth question and decide what they think power actually is and what it means to them. “Creating and embracing the opportunity for Black girls to really be able to seek and define power for themselves is transformation,” says Brown.

Brown’s Philosophy of Change: Listening, Joy, Power, and Freedom

Black girls and women experience many obstacles and disparities. For example, from the start of their lives, girls of color are more likely to face poverty, child sexual abuse, public harassment, school suspension, and dating violence than their white peers.

Brown acknowledges that these types of stats can drive engagement, and “as a grown-up Black girl,” she knows that for many of these young people, their “orientation of being comes from a place of pain.” But, she is quick to point out that the Consortium will be initiated from a place of Black joy, and of “creating spaces to lift up and celebrate the beauty, diversity, innovation, and creativity of Black girls.”

Brown envisions joy as the driver for the healing that is part of the Consortium’s mission. “Joy [is] a vehicle to open up spaces for healing, spaces to build relationships, to break down protection mechanisms — these barriers that we have to our connection,” says Brown. “We’ve seen how that works; how a little bit of joy can just create a whole bunch of trust and space for people to communicate and to open up. And so the healing is not framed by victimization but within the frame of survivorship and the concept of joy.”

While working to build an infrastructure for regional grantmaking and movement building, this joy-centric consortium-in-the-making will provide resources to locally-based organizations, including those outside of traditional nonprofits. Brown says these may include networks and organizations carrying out intersectional and cultural work. She foresees that fields like music and art will be harnessed as powerful points of connection, expression, and empowerment for Black girls. She has a background in music herself and has always found freedom of expression to be a strong root for selfhood.

“I really believe that being encouraged by my family to use my creativity and my imagination gave me faith that the world didn’t give me,” she says of her own youth. She shares that while her school experiences were often filled with stifling expectations of how Black girls should behave, her family supported her curious, questioning, and free-spirited nature.

“My family was traditional about children respecting adults, but they created space for who I was as a very independent person,” she says, recalling being allowed to climb a tree in her patent leather shoes as a memorable example.

Drawing on her own life wisdom, Brown is embarking on a new journey with the NoVo Foundation and the Consortium’s other partners and participants, who seek to broaden Black girls’ support structures along with their realms of possibility and autonomy.  “An element of liberation for me as a child, and even as a woman, was when others created space for me to be my whole audacious self,” she says. “Being able to express myself outside of the norm gave me a sense of agency for my own life. I would like to create embracing spaces where young Black girls can demonstrate agency over their own lives and have the freedom to express themselves.”


How Novo Is Spreading Radical Hope in Africa and Beyond

Behind a Law Scholar’s Push for More Funding for Women and Girls of Color

New ED and Board Chair of Women Moving Millions Bring Financial and Legislative Power

Why NoVo is Funding Young Women’s Freedom in California