“We know Minnesotans have many shared values, including equality and opportunity,” says Lee Roper-Batker, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. But getting those shared values to manifest in support for policies that advance women and girls is sometimes a task that feels comparable to scaling the world’s highest mountain. “We have to meet people where they are and bring them with us,” she says, which can often be a daunting task.
Lee Roper-Batker spoke to me by phone from her office at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) in downtown Minneapolis, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. The WFM is the oldest and largest statewide women’s foundation in the U.S., and its mission is to engage in “systems change” affecting individual, cultural and community attitudes and behaviors. The goal is to move institutions and public policies toward gender equity, something that Roper-Batker describes as “Our Everest.” A Minnesota native, Roper-Batker has headed the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, which started in 1983, since 2001.
As the NoVo Foundation gets into its grantmaking from the $90 million in funds established to support young women and girls of color, one of its first big grants will go to help young women and girls of color involved in the juvenile justice system.
The Young Women’s Freedom Center, which has been organizing around juvenile justice for young women and girls in California since 1993, will be the recipient of new funding from the NoVo Foundation to support its work. The NoVo Foundation, which began in 2006, made a commitment last year to deploy $90 million in the service of supporting self-led organizing by young women who have “directly experienced poverty, violence, addiction, and incarceration.”
Nonprofits development folks looking to build community advocacy for trans people have a new source to tap. The Fund for Trans Generation (FTG), created by Borealis Philanthropy, just gave out its first round of grants, with an initial deployment of over 50 grants ranging from $15,000 to $30,000.
Borealis Philanthropy reports that it received 130 letters of inquiry for this initial grant cycle. 69% of these grantees has a budget of $75,000 or less, so these grants are going to make a huge contribution to the overall funding of these essential community groups.
It’s Time Network hosted a conference call this past week that gave a window for states across the country to learn about California’s efforts to grow gender equality movements. The call featured Jessica Stender of Equal Rights Advocates, who has been coordinating and enacting many steps of a legislative agenda for women in California. The call was well-received nationally, with people registered from 16 states.
From Betsy McKinney and the It’s Time Network team:
Thank you for joining us for Tuesday’s virtual convening to learn about how we can support policy agendas that lift women and children out of poverty, ensure fair pay and family-friendly workplaces, and more, focusing on the Stronger California legislation.
Things are really coming together for women’s funds and gender lens investing, as this new report details. The new report is written by Joy Anderson, President and Founder of Criterion Institute, Ms. Foundation President Teresa Younger, and Elizabeth Schaffer, Chief Operating Officer of the Global Fund for Women.
I have not read the report in total yet, but from my first foray in, I am really excited to see how these advanced thinkers and leaders are putting ideas together and finding new synergy for social change and finance. This is powerful stuff!
The report is written using architectural design as an extended metaphor for how to integrate the different sectors of finance, women’s funds, and social change theory. Combining these three components, the report then makes practical suggestions about how to influence issues like domestic violence, the gender wage gap, and climate change.
Given that Walmart is the largest employer in America, second only to the government, the fact that they are taking an active stance in addressing women’s empowerment is particularly important.
We want to make sure Walmart’s grantmaking gets talked about here on Philanthropy Women because they are such a large and influential company, not just in America, but globally. Because of their size, their ability to influence both the economy and the culture is great, and will likely have a growing impact on issues related to women as time goes on.
Rajasvini “Vini” Bhansali spoke to me by phone from Mumbai, India, where she was working and visiting family, the trip to her homeland compelled by a family illness.
“We attract donors and ambassadors that are thinking about local and global connections,” says Bhansali, Executive Director of IDEX (soon to be renamed Thousand Currents). Bhansali notes that 60 percent of IDEX’s budget comes from family foundations, 20 percent from individual donors, and 20 percent from earned income. Last year, IDEX recorded a 45 percent increase in new individual donors, and as it morphs into Thousand Currents, the organization has added staff positions, including a grants coordinator, a community engagement manager, and directors of “donor organizing” and “diaspora partnerships.”
Bhansali stresses the importance of IDEX’s mission to fund the underfunded — to grow those innovative grassroots groups that need more support.
Based in Berkeley, California, IDEX’s mission is to support women, youth and indigenous people in the Global South. The main focus of this support is directed at developing sustainable agriculture, building income, and addressing climate change. Essential to these goals is fostering women’s capacities to serve as leaders and agents of change.
IDEX (International Development Exchange) was started in the mid-1980s by returning Peace Corps members. The IDEX name came out of a desire to stress “exchange” as central to the organization’s mission – the idea that development should be collaborative and cooperative, rather than top-down and dictated from afar.
At the time of IDEX’s founding, the notion of an exchange between the rich and poor countries was “revolutionary,” says Bhansali; now, it’s gaining momentum and becoming increasingly mainstream. Regardless, a constant reciprocity of ideas and values with local partners still animates IDEX.
Bhansali describes the decision to change the name from IDEX to Thousand Currents as pragmatic: to avoid confusion with other IDEXs, which include an engineering and manufacturing company, an international diamond exchange, and a weapons conference. In fact, if you google IDEX, the International Development Exchange comes up fourth, so it makes good sense to choose a name that more closely matches the mission. Thousand Currents feels like a better fit for an organization that has funded more than 500 community-led initiatives in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Born in India, Bhansali lived in various parts of the country before coming to the United States as a scholarship student at the University of California, Berkeley. “I didn’t have a game plan,” admits Bhansali about leaving India at age eighteen for the U.S. While she considered pursuing a scientific career, she had always been interested in the intersection of civil society and development, and upon completing her degree, returned to India and worked in Rajasthan, a state in northwest India bordering Pakistan. Bhansali knows this area well, and it is a particularly difficult one for females, with few educational and economic opportunities, and high rates of female infanticide and domestic violence.
Bhansali returned to the U.S., this time to Texas where she worked for the City of Austin and the State of Texas, and earned a Master’s degree in Public Affairs, focusing on technology and telecommunications.
Bhansali’s next significant move was transformational: a two-year posting to Kenya serving as a management capacity builder with youth polytechnics. This work on behalf of the international anti-poverty organization Voluntary Service Overseas proved pivotal in solidifying her commitment to social change, self-sufficiency, and economic development among the world’s poorest communities, with a particular focus on women’s role in that struggle.
After her Kenyan appointment ended, Bhansali returned to the Bay Area, and in 2010 assumed the helm of IDEX (after having been the program director for a year). In addition to changing its name, over the last several years, IDEX has engaged in a process of reinvention. Part of this grew out of a post-recession downturn—which, Bhansali notes, affected many U.S. social justice and solidarity organizations—but much of it was about better defining IDEX’s relationship to its global partners.
Typically, a non-profit will itself try to measure whether it is meeting its program objectives and goals, or have a third party conduct such an audit. But IDEX took a different approach. “We had our grantee partners evaluate our effectiveness as an organization,” says Bhansali.
One message that emerged was that partner organizations wanted IDEX to become a more visible and vocal advocate for local influence and control over development initiatives. Alliance-building on the regional and national level is key in this regard. In short, the message from the field was that sharing and communication are important; not just around specific projects, but also to encourage an egalitarian development culture.
IDEX supports locally-rooted groups, movements, and collectives which lack funds. According to Bhansali, too often Western non-profits “are looking for the brand-new thing, instead of seeing what is there already.” New is sexy and commands headlines, but IDEX’s mission is to further develop the capabilities of women and other vulnerable populations by supporting under-recognized organizations employing grassroots-level solutions.
For this reason, IDEX doesn’t fund one-time projects, but establishes ongoing relationships lasting three or more years. One of their senior partners is Chiapas-based DESMI (Social and Economic Development for Indigenous Mexicans, an organization that IDEX has worked with since the early 90s. Another is GRAVIS, which has collaborated with IDEX since 1999 in helping Thar Desert peoples in Rajasthan, India generate their own social, economic and political opportunities.
The empowerment of Rajasthani girls and women is essential to fulfilling this mission, and it includes education and vocational training, as well as developing female leadership. Hands-on projects include drought preparedness for 20 villages, namely the construction of underground water tanks to improve water availability. Women and girls benefit greatly from this effort, as it is typically their job to carry water, often from long distances, to fulfill basic household functions. Other IDEX-sponsored initiatives in Rajasthan include seed banks, and projects to improve food security.
IDEX attempts to put the marginalized and excluded at the heart of development and social change efforts. Its initiatives include cultivating women and girls as leaders and change agents, and strengthening climate resilience, sustainable agriculture, and locally generated economic growth.
Naturally, small groups in poor, underserved and often remote areas don’t have websites, billboards and marketing campaigns alerting potential donors of their existence. “We have regional program directors who keep their ears close to the ground,” says Bhansali. Moreover, IDEX also gets “leads” from already existing partners to help in connecting with needy groups who are typically unknown outside of their immediate communities. “We are often their first international grant maker,” says Bhansali of such budding local organizations.
IDEX is part of a movement seeking to change Western attitudes and approaches toward giving and development in poor countries. The IDEX Academy, a week-long spring gathering at a Sonoma, California ranch, is part of this attitude-adjustment initiative. IDEX’s “Theory of Change” which rests on “Community Self-Determination,” “Organizational Resilience,” “Global Solidarity” and “Social Justice Giving” forms the curriculum of the academy. In addition to the retreat staples of learning, discussion and team-building, the varied attendees and faculty engage in art, performance, physical movement and nature activities. It’s all aimed at furthering a culture of collaboration in aid of global grassroots development and sustainability efforts.
Bhansali, who is also a board member at Greenpeace USA and the Agroecology Fund, and a member of the Advisory Circle on behalf of New York’s Women’s Building, says she feels a continual push and pull regarding her native India. This tension is perhaps not such a bad thing; after all, it is a continual dialogue, a back-and-forth with a spirit of collaboration that fuels IDEX’s (soon to be Thousand Currents!) ongoing identity development as an organization, as well as its ripple effects for communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.Read More
Big News: The NoVo Foundation has narrowed down the scope of its focus for its $90 million in funding to empower girls of color, and the funder is now seeking regional partners to provide support to community agencies doing work for gender equality. NoVo is currently opening up RFP applications for community-based organizations in the U.S. Southeast to get grants for helping girls of color.
This decision was based on the outcome of a year-long listening tour across the country with girls of color, movement leaders, and organizers. During that time, NoVo employed its strategy of getting feedback and solutions directly “defined and driven by girls and women of color” in order to maximize impact for this population.
Ruth Ann Harnisch recently penned a piece for The Tennessean on why she supports The Women’s Fund in Tennessee, seeing them as “the smartest, most efficient way to meet the ever-changing needs of women and girls in this area.”
Women’s funds today are using a range of strategies to build economic security for women and families. By lending capital to women’s small businesses, many women’s funds are helping women build their own financial security — an important step in advancing the frontiers of gender equality.
Investing in financial stability for those on the margins of society, including those who have been traditionally excluded, is central to the mission of many women’s funds, and The Women’s Fund discussed by Harnisch in the article appears to be a prime example of this. The Women’s Fund supports Doors of Hope, for example, which “offers real-life training for women coming out of prison, along with support as they develop skills for living.”
From Ruth Ann:
I’m always amazed when a stranger recognizes me as “that girl from television,” since it’s been almost 30 years since Ruth Ann Leach signed off from WTVF-Channel 5.
Are you old enough to remember when I started as the “Dollars and $ense” consumer reporter in 1973? All these years later, my business is still centered on dollars and sense. As an investor in for-profit and philanthropic ventures, I continue to look for the biggest bang for the buck.
I’ve covered the Fund for Shared Insight before, and I want to call attention to this new announcement, since it’s a great example of how philanthropy is evolving into a more democratic creature — by becoming more aware of what does and does not work in funding strategies.
Many women’s funds and foundations were early believers in incorporating grantee feedback into the grantmaking process. Women’s funds and foundations were also some of the first to bring grantees onto foundation boards to help inform the decision-making process. Some research suggests that women have a leadership edge with their listening and relational skills. Whether that’s true or not, women leaders in philanthropy can and should engage in active listening to create more effective strategies.
Now,Shared Insight has issued a national, open request for proposals for nominated nonprofits to participate in Listen for Good — Shared Insight’s signature initiative which helps funders and nonprofits advance high-quality feedback loops.
‘Listen for Good’ Open Request for Proposals Released; Five New Funders AnnouncedListen for Good 2017 Request for Proposals PostedShared Insight is excited to announce that it is offering up to 75 Listen for Good (L4G) grants in 2017.The goal of L4G is to help nonprofit organizations—across issue areas, populations served, geographies and budget levels—build the practice of high-quality feedback loops with those they serve. The L4G methodology is simple, yet systematic and rigorous. In order to engage more funders in supporting beneficiary feedback efforts and using the data to inform their work, L4G is structured as a co-funding opportunity.To participate in L4G, a nonprofit must be nominated by a current funder (existing or new). If the nonprofit(s) a funder nominates is selected to participate, the nominating funder will contribute $15,000 of the $45,000 grant total for each nonprofit selected. Grantees will receive a grant of $45,000 over two years: $30,000 paid the first year and $15,000 the second year. Shared Insight will accept proposals from funder-nominated nonprofits through May 26, 2017.For funders to learn more about how to nominate a grantee, click here. For nonprofits to learn more about how to apply for a L4G grant, click here. In addition, Shared Insight will hold two informational webinars for potential nominating funders:
“The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust is thrilled to join Fund for Shared Insight and contribute to this vital work to improve philanthropic effectiveness,” says Jennifer Hoos Rothberg, Einhorn’s executive director. “Our relationship-based approach to philanthropy—when done well—is one of the chief factors in helping our partner grantees achieve impact, and we’re thrilled to work in partnership with such a talented group of colleagues from foundations we have long admired to help support and advance the field in this way.”
Don Howard, president and CEO of Irvine adds: “We are big believers in Fund for Shared Insight’s goal of improving services and impact by listening. We’re especially interested in advancing funders' abilities to listen to the people we seek to support, and using that information to guide our decisions.” He continues, “Joining Fund for Shared Insight is a great opportunity for Irvine to partner with like-minded funders that are experimenting with incorporating community-level input into our work and the work of our grantees. We look forward to being part of these efforts and to sharing what we learn.”
“As a leader in philanthropic innovation for over a century, The Rockefeller Foundation is excited to become a core member of Fund for Shared Insight and further our ongoing commitment to strengthening both our own practices and the field of philanthropy writ large,” says Dr. Rajiv Shah, Rockefeller’s president. “Today, institutions like ours are more rigorous, analytical, and results-oriented than ever before, but there is still much we can learn—not only from each other, but also from researching and experimenting with new approaches. The more ways we can listen to and understand the perspectives of the people we seek to serve, the more effective our efforts will be.”
Many in philanthropy, including top women leaders like Helen LaKelly Hunt and Gloria Steinem, talk frequently about the importance of listening to those who we seek to help. Listen for Good (L4G) is an initiative that invites nonprofits and funders to “join us in exploring a simple but systematic and rigorous way of getting feedback from the people at the heart of our work.” In 2016, L4G made 46 grants supported by 28 nominating co-funders.