Intersectional Philanthropy: A Conversation with Suzanne Lerner

Editor’s Note: This Q&A was created with the assistance and guidance of Claudia Carasso, Founder and Principal of Elastic Minds.

After our July webinar, “Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color: What Donors Can Do,” we had a chance to speak further with our guest, Suzanne Lerner, on her approach to intersectional gender lens philanthropy.

Suzanne Lerner, Co-Founder of clothing brand Michael Stars, is an activist entrepreneur with a primary focus on gender & racial equality, and the economic empowerment of women & girls. (Image Credit: Suzanne Lerner)

The conversation below explores Lerner’s experience as a philanthropist, business leader, and activist entrepreneur, as well as what other funders and company leaders can do to advance an intersectional focus in their approaches to philanthropy.

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Examining Patriarchy with “The Girl Child”: A Six-Month Journey

To those on the outside looking in, the story of women and girls’ social advancement may look like a road paved with victories. To those within the sphere of feminist philanthropy, however, that road has more twists and turns than many realize. We cannot deny the progress we’ve made in recent years, but we also cannot ignore the inequality, violence, and oppression women and girls still face around the world today.

But where does this oppression come from? When did we as a society learn to value boys over girls, to treat women like property or lesser beings? Why do we have to fight against it in the first place?

Imago Dei Fund, through a free program presented by Emily Nielsen Jones and Rev. Domnic Misolo, seeks to answer these questions with a six-month reading journey through the history of patriarchy. Examining the liberation of women through historic and faith-based lenses, “The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom: Putting Faith to Work Through Love to Break Ancient Chains” offers participants six months a guided tour with readings, group discussions, and reflections centered around the emancipation of girls and women.

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Liveblog: Women in Media Changing the Game

On Thursday, August 27th, we gathered for this month’s Philanthropy Women webinar: Women in Media Changing the Game. With guests Lori Sokol, Ruth Ann Harnisch, and Johanna Derlega, we discussed the under-funding and under-representation of female journalists and women’s media outlets, as well as ways funders can work to fix this under-representation.

How To Increase Funding for Women in Media

Editor-in-Chief Kiersten Marek kicked off the call with a reminder to breathe, and introduced today’s theme: Women in Media Changing the Game.

“We know now more than ever how important women’s leadership is,” she said. “COVID has taught us that women leaders in countries around the world have had much better success with managing COVID. And that’s just one example of the women’s leadership differential—the ability to prioritize health and the well-being of others.”

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Kinga Wisniewska on Collaboration over Competition

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Kinga Wisniewska, the Resource Mobilization Manager at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, a youth-led feminist fund working to support grassroots organizers in over 120 countries in the Global South.

Kinga Wisniewska is a feminist and a sexual and reproductive health and rights activist from Warsaw, Poland, now serving as the Resource Mobilization Manager at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund. (Image Credit: FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

The fundraising field is quite secretive, as organizations fear that sharing their donor experiences would have repercussions on their relationships, or that they would have to compete for funds if they disclosed what opportunities they are working on. It’s so weighty to work in silos, feel isolated and overwhelmed with the “I have to do it all on my own” mentality. That makes fundraising burnout very real, with lasting effects on our well-being and health, and affects so many of us in philanthropy, especially those working in resource mobilization.

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What Kamala Harris Represents for Donor Activism and Inclusion

Kamala Harris has officially made history.

The landmark selection of Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 election represents a huge win for diversity in politics. What’s more, Harris represents the positive impact of campaigning, fundraising, and donating in the world of feminist philanthropy.

What does the selection of Kamala Harris say about the future of feminist funding? And what does it represent for how far we’ve come? (Image Credit: Joe Biden, Twitter)

Harris’s own presidential campaign says a lot about what we can do with feminist funding for political campaigns. Her decision to eschew funding from PAcs likely played a major role in her eventual drop from the 2020 race, but her commitment to funding sources outside the norm of American political campaign speaks to just how far we can go with feminist funding.

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August 27 Webinar: Women in Media Changing the Game

How can funding women’s media “change the game” when it comes to social change? When more feminist voices are heard, how will that impact the world?

In the next Philanthropy Women webinar, “Women in Media Changing the Game,” our Editor-in-Chief and superstars of women’s media will drill down on how funding women’s media is impacting social change. You don’t want to miss this one! Our star-studded guest roster includes Lori Sokol of Women’s ENews, Ruth Ann Harnisch of the Harnisch Foundation, and Johanna Derlega of The 19th, the new media epicenter for women in politics.

This webinar answers the question of what happens when more women are at the center of media: We’ll drill down on the ways that feminist funding can help elevate voices, amplify campaigns, and throw the label of “fake news” out the window.

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Sheri West on Getting Closer to an Inclusive, Equal World

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Sheri West, the Founder, CEO & Chairperson of LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that builds confident leaders.

Sheri West is the Founder, CEO, and Chairperson of LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that builds confident leaders. (Image Credit: Sheri West/LiveGirl)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

Prior to founding LiveGirl, I worked at a large, multi-national company for almost seventeen years. So, I had to “unlearn” corporate bureaucracy in order to embrace the competitive advantage of nimbleness in a small organization. Yes, we vet ideas and have approval processes, but we focus on moving fast when responding to the world. We mine for ideas that our team feels passionately about, and then we make them happen. I feel it’s more important to do what you truly believe in and pursue what makes you happy and excited.

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(Liveblog) Equality Can’t Wait Challenge Q&A

On Tuesday, August 4th, the organizers of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge hosted a Q&A via Zoom webinar. The discussion focused on the contest itself: what it was, how to enter, and more. Starting with an introductory presentation on the Challenge application and finishing with a lengthy Q&A, this webinar focused on audience participation and a clear explanation of the contest rules and goals.

What is the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge?

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is a $40 million venture funded by Melinda Gates (through Pivotal Ventures), MacKenzie Scott, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and facilitated through Lever For Change, Pivotal Ventures, and Common Pool. Designed as a peer-reviewed and panel-evaluated contest, the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will offer grants of at least $10 million to at least three winning projects that help expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.

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The 12 Most Promising Trends in Women’s Philanthropy

Since I launched Philanthropy Women in 2017, and even before then, I have been paying close attention to the trends, as well as the big plays and strategy shifts, happening in feminist giving. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to enumerate some of those gender equality giving trends and other happenings, and flesh out what they mean both now and for the future of philanthropy.

feminist giving trends
State-based women’s funds such are getting more powerful as large foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation begin to recognize the value of their existing infrastructure to leverage social change. (Image credit: Women’s Foundation California)

1. Women Funders Are Getting More Ambitious With Their Strategies

I see women funders getting more ambitious with their strategies in many different ways, both in terms of the subjects they will fund as well as the approaches they are willing to try. This means they are doing bolder things with their money, which often translates into helping our culture to become more inclusive and knowledgeable about difference. For example, Mona Sinha, Chair of the Women Moving Millions Board, has done some amazing work lately supporting the documentary Disclosure. This film does groundbreaking work in terms of exploring the growing world of gender transition, helping this community to be seen and valued by society. Being unafraid to cross the barrier and fund the LGBTQ community is just one of the many bold strategies that more feminist funders are adopting more frequently.

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Liveblog – What Donors Can Do About Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color

Today marks our third webinar at Philanthropy Women! On Thursday, July 23rd, we gathered for “Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color: What Donors Can Do.”

We kicked off our third webinar with a warm welcome to our participants. Kiersten Marek, Editor-in-Chief, began with an overview of the funding issues outlined in Pocket Change, the Ms. Foundation’s report on the funding gap for women and girls of color.

Kiersten pointed out other issues impacting the funding environment for women and girls of color, including the recent announcement of downsizing at the NoVo Foundation, and the potential for funds being redirected to address the COVID crisis. However, there is some encouraging action happening now, as new corporations and foundations have stepped up for intersectional giving.

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