Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
“Funny Girls is a philanthropic investment in building the pipeline for female leadership,” says Jenny Raymond, of the Harnisch Foundation’s (HF) program employing improv techniques to build girls’ leadership skills.
Raymond, who is HF Executive Director, and Carla Blumenthal, Funny Girls Program Manager, spoke to me by phone from the HF offices in New York.
It’s an auspicious time for a program devoted to building the next generation of female leaders as 2018 saw a historic number of diverse women elected to political office. “That didn’t happen overnight. It was brewing for a long time,” says Raymond, who sees Funny Girls as a tool to build on these gains.
Programs fostering self-esteem and leadership skills in girls are not uncommon. What is unusual is the use of improv as the tool to achieve these ends. Funny Girls is not trying to develop comedians or actors: the participants are diverse groups of eight to thirteen-year old girls enrolled in after-school programs with a social justice focus. The improv methods are used to cultivate core leadership skills, particularly in low-income populations typically lacking opportunities for such development. “It’s about getting girls to recognize that they have a voice and deserve a seat at the table,” says Raymond.
The HF was founded in 1998 and its mission is to create a “fair, equitable and inclusive world.” It’s angle: empowering girls and women, particularly through storytelling, which can include everything from supporting women-centered film-making, TED Fellows and journalism, to leadership summits, coaching and social justice initiatives.
Funny Girls was developed in 2015 and its name (“it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s about girls,” says Raymond) came from a brain-storming session between Raymond and HF Founder and President Ruth Ann Harnisch. The Foundation looked at Stanford and M.I.T. executive training programs to see what particular challenges women were facing, and how they were being addressed. Women and girls face hurdles including boldness being reduced to “bossiness,” and their authorship of ideas being challenged. Working with experts in leadership curriculum development, Harnisch and Raymond chose specific leadership skills that overlapped with the main tenets of improv comedy, and built a curriculum for girls based on leadership, improv and creative movement.
While leadership can be one of those “I know it when I see it” attributes, the five key concepts of self-awareness (understanding one’s own perceptions of self, and how one might be perceived by others), learning agility (responding quickly and sharing one’s own insights), collaboration (prioritizing a goal and working together to meet it), empathy (recognizing others’ emotions), and resiliency (employing multiple strategies and learning from mistakes) are as good a place to start as any.
“These five skills have been a fantastic marriage with improv,” says Raymond. Funny Girls partnered with NYC’s Magnet Theater and the Pilobolus dance company to develop the curriculum. Pilobolus emphasizes collaboration in movement, a perfect fit with Funny Girls says Raymond. The attraction to Magnet was simple, “We observed all of the local improv companies and liked them the best.” The “story aspect” is key, Raymond says, “Magnet is very focused on developing a character; that is the tenor we wanted to represent in our curriculum.”
The eleven-session Funny Girls program is now up and running and has six partners, all of them after-school programs with a social justice focus. “We train the instructors, who are drawn from the organizations we work with,” says Blumenthal. Each instructor receives 17 hours of training in combining leadership skills with improv. “We don’t do it for them,” says Blumenthal, “the instructors go back to their organization and run the program.”
Blumenthal says one program goal is to instill a “growth mindset” in the girls, and to have them explore their own definition of leadership. This is vital as different individuals, and cultures, have varying conceptions of what constitutes leadership. One improv concept that is valuable in this area is “yes, and …,” in which a participant accepts what someone else has said, and then expands on it. This encourages creativity, collaboration and open-mindedness.
Blumenthal also describes an improv game targeting resiliency in which one girl is a dolphin trainer, and another girl a dolphin. The trainer thinks of a gesture to teach the dolphin and tries to impart that lesson without using words. The dolphin-girl must figure out the gesture and perform it. The exercise can be both hilarious and frustrating, and take five minutes or more to complete. “By the end they embody resiliency – the girls had to try a lot of strategies to get where they needed,” says Blumenthal.
Funny Girls’ participants predominantly hail from communities of color in New York City (and one program in Richmond, Virginia). “The instructor brings their organization’s identity to the program,” says Raymond, and adds, “the instructor may know youth development, and certainly knows her own community, but likely not improv.” Funny Girls has proved to be a good fit with New York City after-school programs, as the city’s Department of Education mandates that programs receiving city funding incorporate leadership training in their curriculum.
The Funny Girls program was piloted in 2016 in three NYC schools, and currently has six partners:
The program concludes with a showcase that demonstrates games tied to leadership skills. “The girls make presentations in which they explain leadership skills and how they embody them in action,” says Blumenthal.
“Funny Girls is part of the continuum of work the Foundation has done from the beginning,” says Raymond. The Foundation has worked with thousands of women since its inception in 1998, and its leadership initiatives have included VoteRunLead and The OpEd Project, among other programs designed to “get women’s voices out into the world.” These efforts have been successful; still, “Countless women have told me,” says Raymond, “‘I wish there had been an opportunity when I was younger to develop leadership skills.’”
“We see a thirty percent drop in self-confidence among girls between ages eight to fourteen,” says Raymond. She notes that by the time they become teenagers, many girls stop raising their hand in class because they fear social repercussions for doing so; boys typically are not burdened by this fear.
“It is such a fragile time in the development of self,” Raymond notes, citing statistics from the Girl Scout Research Institute indicating that four-fifths of girls don’t believe they have the skills to be a leader. That’s the bad news. The good news: nine tenths of girls believe that leadership skills can be taught. “We are trying to shift girls’ perceptions of themselves as leaders so that they can use that mindset to engage civically, in the work place and in the home,” says Raymond. “We are arming our girls with self-confidence, whatever direction they ultimately head in.”
The recent elections saw a wave of women running for, and being elected to, political office. Naturally, not all girls are interested in the political sphere, nor is Funny Girls trying to push them in that direction. Leadership skills are transferable across a range of professions and interpersonal situations. “The girls are talking about leadership and breaking it down to see what skills women leaders have, whether they are Hilary Clinton or Beyoncé,” says Program Manager Carla Blumenthal.
Funny Girls is a new program and is limited in scale, with only a half-dozen participating organizations at present, all of which receive a grant to run the program, and some supplemental funds for the organization itself. Raymond notes that HF chooses its Funny Girls partners carefully, “Not all organizations need us, or are a good fit,” she says. There must be buy-in from the organization, and the program needs to fill an unmet need.
Funny Girls is off to a strong start and has a format that could be widely replicated. “I’d love to take this to hundreds of organizations,” says Raymond, “but I can’t give that level of support at this point.” HF is a private foundation, and Raymond notes, “We are in the enviable position of concentrating on programming, not fundraising.” The downside is that program budgets are limited.
What will be interesting to see in years to come is how “graduates” fare. The premise, and the promise, is intriguing, but will Funny Girls really build leadership skills? Raymond acknowledges the institutional and cultural barriers women face in exercising leadership, but maintains that one of the best ways to develop women as leaders is by starting when they are still girls, and using unique programming to develop core skills which can be built on throughout a lifetime.
The phenomenon of watching others do something before we do it ourselves: it’s a process that seems hard-wired into humans. And in fact, prior research from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy shows that when we see others giving to charity, we are more inclined to engage in that same giving behavior ourselves.
Now, new research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute investigates how the process of observing giving behavior in others plays out differently for men and women, particularly when they are considering making a donation to women and girls.
Takeaway for Fundraisers: Men Need to See Men Giving
This new research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, uncovered a significant gender difference: women only need to see other women as role models in order to be influenced toward gender equality giving, whereas men need to see both men and women as role models in order to be influenced toward the behavior.
“Women’s and girls’ organizations and fundraisers in general can use this research to take concrete action to increase their fundraising,” said Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
One solution to this problem: showcase men giving to women’s and girls’ causes alongside women. This research suggests that fundraising professionals can potentially reach more male donors by featuring testimonials and donor stories from men about their decision to fund women’s and girls’ causes.
The study also notes that fundraisers across philanthropy would do well to apply this finding to any other group of donors that may not be giving to their fullest capacity. The research validates that testimonials and donor spotlights on a diverse range of givers may help more people envision themselves as givers to any cause. “Apply this ‘visibility’ strategy to any group that typically gives less frequently to your organization,” advises the infographic that accompanies the report.
Implications for Philanthropy Media: Showcase Diverse Givers of All Genders and Backgrounds
This study affirms that having visible role models is key for any social movement. As more stories of gender equality giving make it into the mainstream media, more people are able to find role models to envision themselves giving in this way. While publishers in the philanthropy sector like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Inside Philanthropy all cover gender equality giving, it would be helpful if they shared more stories that feature a wider range of givers to gender equality, so that the public has more examples of how different people arrive at gender equality giving as a priority.
Takeaway for Feminist Philanthropy Media (Like Us!): Keep Sharing Stories of Gender Equality Giving
The reports speaks to the role that social media sites like Facebook and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe play in increasing the visibility of people giving. We here at Philanthropy Women would argue that another important part of the landscape for social visibility and discourse around feminist philanthropy is specialized publishing on the subject. Many philanthropy media sites feature stories of gender equality giving, but Philanthropy Women is the only publication specifically dedicated to profiling this uniquely powerful work.
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.”
Everyday, it seems, some new subgroup is taking ownership of the #MeToo hashtag to create a movement of their own. The latest in this growing series of movements: girls. Today, Girls Inc., one of the country’s oldest nonprofits dedicated to helping girls, announced the launch of a new campaign called #GirlsToo, which will work to address gender-based violence against girls, including sexual harassment and assault.
#GirlsToo will take an approach that challenges gender norms for youth. “Sexual harassment and violence is an epidemic facing adults, but the problem starts at a much younger age,” said Judy Vredenburgh, president and CEO of Girls Inc. “The #GirlsToo campaign will focus on building a culture of respect for girls today and generations to come.”
The announcement was coupled with some sobering facts about just how prevalent sexual harassment is among high school girls. Young girls ages 14 to 19 report report that they hear boys making sexual comments “at least several times a week,” and the majority do not feel safe most of the time in society.
Accompanying the launch is a pledge that both youth and adult can take at girlstoo.girlsinc.org in order to increase their advocacy for gender equality and working to promote the dignity of girls. The campaign also provides resources for girls, boys, parents and educators about how to discuss harassment and abuse in order to feed healthy change in communities.
“I think supporting girls and women’s organizations is the greatest hope we have for worldwide transformative change – and my philanthropic choices are grounded in that belief,” said celebrity and activist Emma Watson, at a convening on July 10 in London, sponsored by NoVo Foundation, Oak Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and Ariadne.
Watson also noted that research across seventy countries concludes that women’s movements are the key factor in enacting policy change. “This makes it all the more shocking that a survey of European foundations found that less than 5 percent of funds were targeted towards girls and women.”
Watson chaired the opening session of From Violence to a Place of Power: A Funder Convening on Movement Building to End Sexual Violence. The convening was facilitated by Jude Kelly, and explored the many ways that philanthropy can increase its support for ending gender-based violence. The conversation in London was a “deepening” of an earlier convening held in April in New York, which brought together U.S.-based funders on the subject. In London, the goal was to examine the UK and European context for the movement to end violence against women and girls.
The day-long convening examined the fact that gender equality advocates face growing threats to their work and require more resources to preserve the gains women have already made, and move toward Sustainable Development Goal Number 5: the attainment of global gender equality.
Watson joined activists Nasra Ayub (Integrate UK), Marai Larasi (Imkaan), and Devi Leiper O’Malley (FRIDA–The Young Feminist Fund), all of whom spoke about the urgent need for funders and donors to hand over control to gender equality movement leaders and give them ongoing financial support to continue their work.
Emma Watson’s giving provides a strong model for other funders to follow. She currently funds more than thirty organizations in the equality and women’s rights space, both in the UK and globally. In the past 12 months alone, Watson has donated $5 million to gender equality philanthropy. Part of this $5 million went to support the Justice and Equality Fund, which is hosted by Rosa, the UK’s leading women’s fund.
“Long-term partnerships, rather than funding against short-term results, are absolutely critical,” added Watson. “Without flexible, core funding, activists don’t have the room and space they need to be innovative and create long-term change.”
“Young feminist organizing is about holding a line that’s been courageously made by so many others before them, and then advancing that shared agenda in today’s context,” said Devi Leiper O’Malley, one of the panelists from FRIDA — the Young Feminist Fund. “Young women, girls, and trans*youth have the curiosity, anger, openness and drive to create lasting change. Their activism might look different from what has been done before, but it deserves flexible, long-term support and trust from across philanthropy.”
The conference also examined austerity in Britain, which has been cutting back funding for women and girls surviving violence since 2011, with a 31% reduction in funding for gender-based violence prevention from 2011 to 2012. Another panel discussed the rise of authoritarianism across Europe, with panelists representing Bulgaria, Poland, Ireland, and migrant women.
“We are witnessing growing and strong opposition to women’s rights across Europe — and to civil society as a whole,” said Gergana Kutseva of the Bulgarian Fund for Women.
The takeaway for funders: fighting gender-based violence should be a top priority for many more in philanthropy.
“With survivors leading the way, we’re witnessing an unprecedented mass mobilization against sexual violence,” said Pamela Shifman, executive director of the NoVo Foundation. “Ending violence against girls and women is fundamental to every philanthropic mission, and there is a huge opportunity for many more funders to join in supporting this innovative and important work.”
Take it from Phaidra Knight, retired professional rugby player, who speaks in the above video about the value of funding initiatives like Sports 4 Life:”It really doesn’t matter your speed, your size, it’s just what you bring, your unique self, to the game,” said Knight. She went on to emphasize that with sports, young people have the opportunity become part of a team, which can lead to personal growth and improved self-confidence. “I think it’s so important, especially that girls from disadvantaged backgrounds have that opportunity. That is sometimes their ticket and access to greater things across the board.”
The Sports 4 Life Initiative is particularly aimed at increasing and retaining African-American and Hispanic girls in youth sports programs. Sports 4 Life was cofounded by the Women’s Sports Foundation and espnW in 2014. This year, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation also joined the initiative, providing regional support to eight organizations in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.
The Women’s Sports Foundation was founded by Billie Jean King in 1974 with guiding mission of strengthening and expanding access for girls and women to all sports. As many of us know, sports participation can be an important window of opportunity for young girls, but there is such a huge gap in attention given to girls in sports versus men and boys. Every day, just for fun, I scroll through all the sports sections of the news online, just to see how many times I see a woman or a girl. It’s probably less than 10% of the time. How often do I see a woman or girl of color? Probably 5 to 10%. A sliver of a sliver.
Programs like Sports 4 Life are aimed at providing more parity for girls of color across a wide range of sports. “Even more than we believe in the power of sports, the Women’s Sports Foundation believes that all girls – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ability, zip code or family income – deserve equitable access to the lifelong benefits of sports,” said Deborah Antoine, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Since Sports 4 Life began in 2014, the Initiative has awarded 200 grants totaling more than $1.1 million, and reaching more than 50,000 girls nationally. This year, the Initiative’s community partners were particularly successful in increasing opportunities for girls of color, with more than 85% percent of girl participants being African-American or Hispanic.