Founding Mothers Reflect: America Now Free to Be You and Me Again

It’s a herstoric moment. It’s a historic day. It’s the end of the reign of terror that lasted four years under President Donald Trump. It’s the day that a woman of color ascends to one of the highest roles of leadership for our country.

Ms. Foundation Founding Mothers, from left to right: Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Marlo Thomas, Patricia Carbine. (Image credit: Ms. Foundation for Women)

Many women leaders have been inspired to speak today, to tell of how they are experiencing this massive shift in representation for our leadership, which we believe will lead us to becoming a better country. Here are some great responses and reflections from the Founding Mothers of the Ms. Foundation, all incredibly strong and enduring women leaders who capture the monumental nature of this event with their words. They are introduced by Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

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MacKenzie Scott and the $14.2 Billion Dollar Question for Women & Girls

What a week for women’s philanthropy. MacKenzie Scott has shown herself to be a woman who is true to her word, as she continues to give away her fortune at a staggering rate compared to most philanthropists.

MacKenzie Scott
Photo of Stockholm, Sweden by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash


“Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty,” said Scott, in the Medium post where she announced her new gifts totalling $4.2 billion.

Who were the grantees specifically for women and girls? Ms. Foundation for Women, National Women’s Law Center, Global Fund for Women, and a huge proportion of this funding went to 63 different community YWCA programs across the country. Hispanics in Philanthropy, which has a grantmaking strategy focused on gender and racial equity, also received $15 million in funding. The YMCA National office received $20 million and many local YMCA’s also got funding. There were big groups of grants for United Way organizations across the country as well as Feed America, Easterseals, Meals on Wheels, and Good Will. Many universities for people of color also received substantial gifts. Most gifts appeared to be in the $10 to $50 million range.

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Hunt and Justice Leaders Discuss US History of Racism, Sexism

On Thursday, November 19th, 2020, at 6:30 pm, The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture held a one-hour event with guest speakers Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, Matrice Ellis-Kirk, and Jerry Hawkins. The discussion was centered on Hunt’s book, And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost Radical History of America’s First Feminists. 

women's history
Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. (Image Credit: Dallas Institute Webinar)

Larry Allums, Executive Director of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, welcomed viewers and discussed the auspiciousness of the event, given that this year is the Centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. He described Helen LaKelly Hunt as an important “discoverer and chronicler of the connection between abolitionist and women’s rights movements in American history.” He acknowledged Hunt as a “dear friend” to the Dallas Institute and recognized her contributions as part of an early group of women donors funding gender equality, noting that Hunt co-founded the Texas Women’s Foundation, the New York Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Funding Network, and Women Moving Millions. 

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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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Lessons for Philanthropy from Black Women Leaders

I’ve lived and breathed women’s philanthropy for much of my career, from the cubicles of corporate philanthropy, to the living rooms of philanthropists, and the open-office workspaces of nonprofits both large and small. While constantly assured I was in the most “game-changing” and “innovative” conversations on giving, rarely can I recall speaking about the contributions of Black women in philanthropy.    

black women leaders
Chantal Bonitto reminds readers of the lost stories of black women leaders in philanthropy with an essay exploring their contributions.

When you ask most people to name philanthropic leaders, the list is usually populated by their family members plus a few American tycoons. Industrialists of the early 20th century such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller come to mind, as do the technology and finance titans of today. Reflecting the historic racial divisions in financial wealth in America, philanthropic history and communities largely reflect the charitable actions of white ultra- wealth. 

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Is Melinda Influencing MacKenzie Toward Feminist Giving?

In the world of feminist giving, we have to celebrate the wins, both the small ones and the big ones. One of those big wins is happening right now, as Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos team up to distribute $30 million through the Equality Can’t Wait Fund.

With Equality Can’t Wait, Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, two of the richest women in the world, are teaming up to accelerate gender equality. It’s a big win for feminist philanthropy. (Image Credit: Equality Can’t Wait)

The more Melinda and MacKenzie can collaborate, the more the world of feminist philanthropy has to celebrate, since these two women hold more assets than many small countries combined.

Really, it’s hard to imagine a more positive development for the feminist giving sphere than Melinda Gates’s incorporation of MacKenzie Bezos right into the frontlines of feminist philanthropy. Yet this is also a searing indictment of how far inequality has advanced in our nation, that the coming together of two megabillionaires could have so much influence.

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45 Years, Millions of Lives: An Interview with Leah Margulies

Leah Margulies is an attorney, human rights advocate, and policymaker who has dedicated her career to bringing corporations to task over their activities that violate human rights.

“Join other people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, and things will just happen.”

This is how my interview ended with Leah Margulies, a longstanding figure in the world of activism and corporate accountability. A civil rights lawyer, a policy maker, an attorney, an author – Leah’s resume stretches across almost five decades of powerful work. Her career represents the best possible outcome when philanthropy and activism intersect – years of positive action, progress, and the ability to look back and see how far we’ve come.

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Celebrating Oseola McCarty and her Legacy of Planned Giving

Cynthia Reddrick, guest author and philanthropy expert.

Editor’s Note: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Cynthia Reddrick as a guest contributor to Philanthropy Women. As a women’s philanthropy scholar and experienced planned giving consultant, Reddrick invites us to celebrate Black Philanthropy Month by honoring Oseola McCarty, a Black female philanthropist who left an inspiring legacy of generosity.

August is Black Philanthropy Month (BPM), an opportunity to amplify the power and influence of Black women donors and philanthropists. Created in August 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet), Black Philanthropy Month allows us to take time to globally celebrate African-descent giving.

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Estate Gift will Research and Expose Historic Women Artists

“Lamentation with Saints,” by Plautilla Nelli (public domain)

The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art of Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana recently received an estate gift of about $4 million from the late art historian and philanthropist Jane Fortune, who died in 2018. Fortune founded the non-profit Advancing Women Artists (AWA) in 2009 with a mission to research, restore and share women’s artwork, particularly in Florence, Italy. She was known to be a passionate explorer and advocate for the preservation of historic pieces by women and was affectionately dubbed “Indiana Jane” by the Florentine press, according to Smithsonian.com. The new gift to the museum consists of a collection of works as well as funds to back future research and initiatives that will support women artists. 

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Feminist Grantmaking’s Connection to the New Relational Culture

Feminist Scholar Rebecca Walker is pictured here with Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix, after delivering a lecture at Southern Methodist University in October of 2017. Walker and Hunt were in town to discuss the history of feminism and ways to develop a more relational culture.

The recent Kavanaugh hearings resurfaced a very old story about gender, power, and the truth of experience.  When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely testified, people everywhere had to grapple with the fact that early life relationships, and particularly sexual traumas, can drastically impact our lives.

In fact, while our dominant culture remains in denial about the prevalence and negative effects of sexual violence, thought leaders in feminist psychology and sociology have been calling attention to the problem for decades.  While sexual violence is an extreme form of domination and abuse, these thought leaders have demonstrated how gender-based violence is part of a continuum of control and exploitation that most women begin to experience more of as they hit adolescence.

As David Brooks wisely points out in his recent op-ed, Two Cheers for Feminism, “For thousands of years social thinking has been dominated by men — usually alpha men — who saw life as a place where warriors and traders went out and competed for wealth and power. These male writers were largely blind to the systems of care that undergirded everything else.” Brooks references Carol Gilligan, Niobe Way, Alisha Ali and Pedro Nuguero, in their new anthology called  “The Crisis of Connection,” for their ability to identify how the stereotypically masculine values of “self over relationships, individual success over the common good, the mind over the body, and thinking over feeling” have perpetuated harmful gender dynamics in relationships.

One way to reduce the harmful effects of gender inequality in our lives is by consciously practicing a different kind of being with our power — experiencing ourselves as having “power-with” other people, rather than “power-over” them. Despite growing social inequality, in our personal relationships, it is still possible to practice a “power-with” approach. One such approach is facilitated by a process called Safe Conversations.  

I recently attended a Safe Conversations training in New York, so that I could learn and teach others the skills to help people unpack the patriarchy and power dynamics in their personal lives. After decades of research and practice, Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix have come out with Safe Conversations, a new way to engage in relationships, that makes it possible for people to experience deeper empathy and understanding.

How Does Safe Conversations Work?

The training I attended in New York involved multiple practice sessions, during which we broke out into groups of three’s and practiced being both members and facilitators of the structured conversations.  Within an hour of beginning the training, we had begun to engage in conversations that went deeply into a space of emotional revelation.  Facial expressions softened as the groups tried out speaking to each other with new, unfamiliar sentence stems like, “Let me see if I’ve got that. You said…” and “Is that what you are feeling?” and then listened in new ways, with an ear toward being able to reflect back as much of what they heard as they could.

This wasn’t the first time I had practiced the techniques. I had attended an online workshop with my husband in February of 2017, and since then, had been introducing the technique in small ways in my private practice, with astonishing results. I had seen mothers and daughters reach new understandings of their longtime emotional struggle. I had seen couples practice the technique and come away with a renewed commitment to making their relationship work. Even as people sometimes felt awkward or resisted, I saw how speaking in this new way, using Safe Conversations, was impacting them positively.

Safe Conversations helps us identify ways in which we experienced early relational challenges, and how those challenges impact our identity, as well as our sense of hope and possibility about ourselves, our families, and the larger community. The process teaches us how to both share appreciation for people in our lives, and how to safely tell the story of our own emotional challenges. Built into the process of Safe Conversations is a feedback loop that fosters validating and empathizing with each other’s emotional struggles. Essentially, Safe Conversations teaches us that everyone needs to be part of the answer to a more gender equal and relational world, and gives us the skills to connect better with others.

A parallel process of sorts has been building momentum in philanthropy recently with a strategy called participatory grantmaking, which helps donors and grantees build stronger relationships. Participatory grantmaking invites donors and grantees to become partners, with the central premise that the grantee has the experience to lead the way toward solutions. Organizations like NCRP, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and the Fund for Shared Insight, are adding to the chorus of philanthropy experts calling for more participatory grantmaking, with many large foundations joining the Fund for Shared Insight in the past year.

Three decades ago, Helen LaKelly Hunt was part of a small army of pioneering feminist founders of some of our country’s largest and most successful women’s foundations. By funding the start of these women’s funds, Hunt helped establish new community hubs for participatory grantmaking. Most women’s funds have been under-recognized practitioners of participatory grantmaking since inception, and these practices — of moving into relationship with the grantee, listening to and incorporating their feedback, and even of including grantees on boards and in the grantmaking process — have made women’s funds some of the most effective change agents in the philanthropic landscape.

In philanthropy, participatory grantmaking is teaching us to listen and value feedback in the donor-grantee relationship. This is a significant shift, but just as important are shifts that can take place in our own everyday relationships. With new techniques like Safe Conversations, we can all be stewards of stronger, more gender equal families and communities.

Editor’s Note: Kiersten Marek is trained as a Safe Conversations Leader and will be teaching her first Safe Conversations workshop on November 7, 2018. To learn more about future Safe Conversations workshops for both helping professionals and the general public, please email Kiersten at kiersten@philanthropywomen.org

Full disclosure: The Sister Fund (of which Helen LaKelly Hunt is co-founder) is a Lead Sponsor of Philanthropy Women. 

Related:

Women’s Funds Show Philanthropy the Way to Transparency, Diversity

Thought Leaders Discuss Origins of American Feminism, Parallels to Third Wave

Priscilla Chan and The Future of Inclusive Philanthropy

How to Reach Critical Mass for Gender Equality Movements

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