New Research from WPI Highlights Race and Gender Variables in Giving

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at University of Indiana has come out with a new report detailing giving across race and gender. (Photo credit: WPI)

One important role that the Women’s Philanthropy Institute plays is producing research that drills down on the data about women’s giving, adding more demographic detail, including race, to the picture of how and why women give.

In its most recent research, WPI has identified ways that donors differ across race, and ways they appear to behave in relatively similar fashion. All of this data points to the fact that philanthropy is growing more aware of its diversity, and funders and nonprofits would do well to find ways to maximize engagement with donors of all backgrounds. By doing so, philanthropy as a social domain can help recognize and empower donors from historically oppressed or marginalized groups.

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ACS ResearcHERS: Uniting Feminist Philanthropy and Cancer Research

ResearcHERS brings together women leaders and medicine to raise money for research on cancer. (Image credit: ACS)

There is an old “riddle” that used to circulate in the early 2000s in which a father and son are critically injured in a car accident and rushed to the hospital. The hospital workers do everything they can to save the father, but he dies under their care. When the son is prepped for his life-saving surgery, the attending doctor stops dead and declares, “I can’t perform the procedure — I cannot operate on my own son.” How is this possible?

The answer? The doctor is a woman — the son’s mother — and that is why she is unwilling to perform the surgery. The difficulty of the “riddle” comes from the guesser’s automatic presumption that the doctor in question has to be a man — because, of course, only men are qualified to be surgeons, right?

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Male Domination Prevails: Detailing Media’s Gender Imbalance

The Women’s Media Center 2019 report shows how men dominate media. (Image Credit: Women’s Media Center 2019 report)

Despite decades-long efforts from female journalists, broadcasters, writers, editors, and other media professionals, a gap persists in the representation and employment of women across all forms of media. The imbalance is even starker for female media professionals who are otherwise marginalized, like women of color, women with disabilities, and women who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

The Women’s Media Center, a feminist organization that aims to close the gender and racial gaps in media with pointed research and training, recently released its annual flagship report on women’s media representation, including both the inequalities that haven’t been addressed and the progress that’s been made over the past year.

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What Philanthropy Must Do to Protect Reproductive Rights

Staff of the National Abortion Federation joined Kathy LeMay to talk about the problems facing abortion providers in today’s increasingly hostile environment.

With the fight to keep abortion safe and legal increasingly under threat, fundraising expert Kathy LeMay of Raising Change recently hosted a webinar with leaders from the National Abortion Federation. The goal of the webinar was to help philanthropists take action to support the abortion providers, during increasingly hostile times for providing these vital services.

Kathy introduced the Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, former President of the Episcopal Divinity School and Interim President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. (Longtime CEO of NAF, Vicki Saporta, who put in 23 years at the helm of NAF, announced her retirement this past year.)

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The Benefits of Replacing Powerful Men with Women in the #MeToo Era

Women are cracking the glass ceiling and making it into top leadership positions amid the #MeToo Movement, according to new research, but the distribution of female replacements varies by geography and social sector.

In an article in the Houston Chronicle, authors Yan Zhang and Yoon Jung Kwon, a professor and Ph.D. student at Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, argue that the phenomena of women replacing men in leadership roles holds great potential for signaling all sectors of society about changing gender norms. Even in heavily male-dominated sectors like major league men’s sports, a new era is dawning in which women’s leadership will provide a different paradigm.

From the article: 

Cynthia Marshall was hired as the new CEO of the Dallas Mavericks last February, with the mission to clean up the toxic culture of the franchise. 

Marshall’s appointment at the time was not an anomaly. According to data recently compiled by the New York Times, the #MeToo movement has brought down 201 powerful men (and three powerful women). Among the 98 men whose positions have been filled, half of their replacements were women. However, the percentage of female replacements was lower in Republican states than in Democratic states, and it was lower in government, politics and businesses than in media, entertainment and education.

An important point here for women donors to contemplate: moves like that of the Dallas Mavericks bring the #MeToo movement into the popular culture domain through sports, and this may be an effective way to create visible leaders for gender equality that contribute significantly to social change.

The research also highlights an important problem: women in the fields of government, politics and business need more opportunities to rise into leadership positions. Feminist philanthropists are uniquely positioned to push for this in the companies that they own or invest in, and by contributing to PACs, women candidates, and organizations supporting the government and business leadership pipelines for women.

Back to the article:

Replacing accused men with women amid the #MeToo movement offers important benefits to the institutions where the scandals were uncovered.

First and foremost, replacing an accused man with a woman immediately sends a signal to external and internal constituents that the institution is going to change its culture. Second, since most victims of the #MeToo movement are women, it is easier for a female replacement than a male to connect with the victims based upon their gender similarity.

In the case of the Mavs, minutes after accepting the job offer, Marshall joined the team’s owner Mark Cuban for a news conference, in which she told the media, “I want to do it for the sisterhood.” Such a commitment to the “sisterhood” is unlikely to be made by a male replacement. The connection between a female replacement and the victims can help the institution repair its stigmatized image and damaged relationships with constituents.

Seriously, try to imagine anyone other than a woman taking a CEO position and saying they are going to do it “for the sisterhood.” This kind of leadership sends major shock waves through the culture and helps shift our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

By finding ways to link women’s empowerment and safety with cultures that are known for being particularly male-dominated, like major league men’s sports, feminist philanthropists may find unique opportunities to create awareness and foster social change.

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How One Feminist Scholar is Putting Corporate Philanthropy On Notice

The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development is by Kathryn Moeller.

So much of what I worry about with corporate philanthropy is just how much it is used to grease the pill, so to speak, of the public swallowing all the damage that corporations do in the world. Corporate philanthropy asks us to believe, for example, that Nike cares about gender equality, even as much of its subjugation of labor in developing countries puts added pressure on women as both workers and providers, with very little given in wages in return.

Such is the subject of Kathryn Moeller’s book, The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development, which makes the case that even feminism can be co-opted by corporations and turned into a tool for shifting more of society’s burdens onto women and girls without addressing the structural factors that produce poverty.

The book makes a convincing argument that many corporations are not coming at gender equality in their philanthropy with a genuine interest in changing the circumstances for women. It also shows how much corporations continue to apply pressure to women’s lives, sometimes by demanding that they don’t have children so that they can put work first on their life agenda, or convincing women to take loans and enter into small business, even though they lack the supports and the know-how to ensure that the business has the best chance of success.

I would recommend that anyone interested in women’s empowerment read Moeller’s book, to recognize that the agenda for women’s equality can be seriously skewed by corporate interests.

While we continue to highlight and encourage corporate giving for women and girls here at Philanthropy Women, Moeller’s book helped me develop a more critical eye for where the corporate pressure for profits might be bleeding into the corporate do-goodism.

Similarly, in a recent issue of the New Yorker, Moeller has an essay called The Ghost Statistic that Haunts Women’s Empowerment. With this essay, Moeller brings much of her argument from the book into a more succinct narrative. She questions how one particular statistic came to be: the statistic that says that when women have control of money, they give 90% of it to their children and community. According to the essay, the reliability of this statistic is non-existent, which begs the question of how much we need to do in order for the data on women to become more detailed, validated, and replicated, in order to prove its value.

But Moeller also makes another valuable point. Even if the statistic is true, is that necessarily the recipe for a robust global economy? If women tend to give much of what they  have away, how will they accumulate the capital necessary to sustain and grow business ventures? And will they end up in situations where they are simply the conduit for money that goes into the hands of more powerful and controlling entities in their families and communities?

Moeller’s book is provocative and in league with other sharp critiques of philanthropy circulating these days including Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth. It’s a must-read for feminist philanthropists who want to take an approach to their work that will truly transform lives and avoids replicating, or further empowering, subjugating corporate systems.

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Cheyenna Weber: Creating a Solidarity Economy Giving Project

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

Editor’s Note: Fascinating things are going on in the realm of giving circles and community giving projects. We are pleased to share this piece by Cheyenna Layne Weber, one of the founders of Solidarity Economy Giving Project in New York City, which aims to bring together donors in new ways. 

From Cheyenna Layne Weber:

There are more than 2,000 solidarity economy organizations in New York City, most of them founded and maintained by women. These democratic, member-led groups take different legal forms, but hold certain values in common—social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, mutualism, and cooperation. They include low-income credit unions; cooperatives providing food, affordable housing, and childcare; cooperatives of farmers and workers; community gardens and land trusts; and community-supported agriculture. Together, these form a solidarity economy based on meeting material needs rather than making profits. (Explore these models in this short video.)

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

Women form solidarity economy organizations as creative solutions to systemic oppression faced in workplaces, families, housing, food systems, and financial institutions. Latinx women in Staten Island formed worker co-operatives that operate cleaning or childcare businesses while providing living wages and control over working conditions. Bangladeshi women in East New York grow food for their families in a community garden they control. In the Bronx in the 1980s, low-income women formed affordable housing co-operatives , which endure despite rising real estate values. Around that time, women of the Lower East Side formed a low-income credit union that not only continues to serve the immigrant community but has expanded to Harlem and Staten Island. In all five boroughs, no matter the race or ethnicity of the community, women are building a solidarity economy.

Attendees at the Solidarity Giving Project annual party. (Photo credit: Zachary Shulman)

So why have you never heard of it? The erasure of women’s labor in the home has been well-documented, and a similar dynamic emerges for women’s labor in communities and workplaces. This is especially true when the labor is not designed to add value for shareholders of a corporation, but rather benefits the community members who control and make use of the services of a solidarity economy organization. Many innovative women are also overlooked because they do not fit patriarchy’s conception of the entrepreneur: white, male, affluent, able-bodied, straight, and Christian. Thus, dominant institutions like government, philanthropy, and the private sector have little understanding of the incredible entrepreneurial role women often take up, and until recently had expressed little interest in learning more. This is beginning to change as cities like New York and philanthropists such as Robin Hood Foundation have begun investing in worker co-operatives to ameliorate poverty.

But it is not enough. Solidarity economy organizations often lack funding, especially those run by and serving women who are of color, immigrants,  low-income, disabled, queer and/or trans. While a few co-op loan funds and investors offer capital (such as The Working World or Cooperative Fund of New England), it is almost impossible for these women to find micro-grants to cover costs like training and technical assistance, crowdfunding matches, emergency support, or event sponsorships. Of the available grants, arduous application processes, requiring professional grant-writing or prior relationships to power (such as alumni networks), exclude women working within solidarity economy organizations.

To meet this gap young philanthropists and organizers created the Solidarity Economy Giving Project (SEGP). A program of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC),a democratic membership organization for NYC-based, solidarity economy enterprises, the Giving Project is the only solidarity economy grantmaking effort in the United States controlled by grassroots leaders. The Project includes a multi-racial, multi-gender, and intergenerational Giving Circle whose members each give a minimum $2,000 gift annually and jointly host a fundraising party. Giving Circle members lead the program, which includes learning from local solidarity economy leaders about their work; developing an analysis of racialized capitalism; building skills  to improve social justice philanthropy; and plenty of time to enjoy being with others dedicated to redistributing their wealth to address capitalism’s harmful impacts. Members also encourage each other to do more than just move money — to also become advocates and participants in the solidarity economy. Organizers initially hoped to raise $15,000 in the pilot year and ultimately raised $50,000. Now midway through year two, the Project has raised $61,000 in total.

Grassroots leaders designed the grantmaking process, which includes a very brief  application and a reduced reporting structure. The grantmaking committee is comprised of the elected members of CEANYC’s Board of Directors. SEGP donors do not participate in fund disbursement, and grantees are not burdened by site visits or extensive interviews with funders. Instead, donors trust the solidarity economy community to distribute these funds. This transfer of control flies in the face of traditional philanthropy, where a donor’s name is often affixed to a gift, and breaks with the  convention of foundation-based Giving Projects where full-time staff support participants in grantmaking decisions.

The impact of the Giving Project has been profound, even in its first full year of grantmaking in 2018. Grants included support for:

  • Nine women (seven women of color) to attend cooperative leadership trainings;
  • An affordable housing co-op in Brooklyn to prepare a vacant unit for a new family;
  • Manhattan community gardens to provide programs for low-income Latinx children;
  • Expanded staffing and ownership opportunities at catering and food processing worker co-ops led by people of color; and
  • Crowdfunding matches for a healthcare co-operative and a new food co-op that both serve Brooklyn communities of color.

The SEGP is something that like-minded donors could do in any city, and it is sorely needed. (Check out the solidarity economy in your area!) Whereas most funding is piecemeal,such as support for community gardens by health funders or credit unions by Community Reinvestment Act funds— we need resources to unify these disparate models  in a single solidarity economy vision.

The Hildegard Fund and Economic Justice grantmaking of New York Women’s Foundation and the new Solidarity Economy Initiative funders collaborative in Massachusetts are promising steps by funders in support of  a united solidarity economy rests on the power and potential of women’s leadership. Key to such efforts is acknowledging that this  work must be self-directed from the grassroots, and that resources must flow to under-resourced, dedicated innovators, not to well-connected charismatic white men or existing grantees who happen upon co-ops as a good idea they want to adopt.

A solidarity economy that meets all of our needs and welcomes all of our contributions is possible. The Solidarity Economy Giving Project is a small step in that direction.

We welcome any opportunity to support others who want to implement a similar program. Reach us at any time via organize@gocoopnyc.com.

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How this Collaboration Helps Women Deliver Babies More Safely

Ariadne Labs, a “joint health system innovation center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health” is launching a new collaboration in 2019 to help more women access guidance in the birth and parenting process. (Image courtesy of Ariadne Labs Facebook page.)

A health care foundation, a nonprofit initiative, and a for-profit health information company are collaborating to get tools, data, and a clinically-validated health information into the hands of pregnant women across the country. Launching in the first half of 2019, Ovia Health will be collaborating with the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs and the California Health Care Foundation in order to help more women and families navigate pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Recently Ovia Health announced the new collaboration, which aims to add to the 11 million women and families that the company reports have already used their services. Ovia Health reports that its “enterprise solution for employers and health plans” has a measurable impact on clinical outcomes, reducing maternity costs and providing highly personal and clinically-informed guidance.

One of the main missions of Ovia Health is to help pregnant women avoid unnecessary cesarean section (c-section) operations if they are able to safely deliver the child vaginally. “While a c-section can be critical and even lifesaving in certain circumstances, many women are unaware that it is major surgery that comes with serious health risks and should only be performed when absolutely necessary,” said Stephanie Teleki, PhD, MPH, Director of Learning and Impact at the California Health Care Foundation. “With Ovia Health making these materials available via its platform, millions of moms will be able to make more informed decisions about their pregnancy and childbirth.”

As women’s health intersects with technological advancement, women donors can play an important role by supporting research and initiatives that improve communication with women as patients. These improvements for pregnant women and families can potentially reduce unnecessary surgeries and improve the birth experiences of women everywhere.

More information about the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs is here. 

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Researching the Intersections: RI’s Women of Color Suffer More Poverty

A new report from Women’s Fund of Rhode Island discusses how women of color in Rhode Island suffer higher rates of poverty. (Graphic courtesy of report infographic)

Race and gender play an important role in economic outcomes. In addition to the gender pay gap, women of color lag well behind white women in economic well-being.

A recent infographic “Rhode Island Women of Color 2018: A Snapshot” published by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI) indicates sharp disparities between white women and women of color across a range of economic indicators including wages, poverty, educational attainment and home ownership. The WFRI research was done in partnership with the Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute.

Women of color comprise roughly a quarter of Rhode Island’s female population. They earn significantly lower wages than White women, and are much more likely to be poor. Among women 18-64 years of age, 9 percent of White women are poor, while 18 percent of Asian women, 22 percent of Black women and 20 percent of Latina women are below the poverty line. Among those over 65, there is an even greater discrepancy: 31 percent of Latina women are poor, three-and-half times the rate of White women.

Black and Latina women are more likely to be employed than are White women. The labor-force participation rate for females over the age of 16 in Rhode Island is 60 percent, and is lower for Whites (59 percent participation rate) than it is for Black (61 percent) and Latina (65 percent) women. One reason may be that young White women are more likely to be students than are women of color. White and Asian women hold four-year degrees at much higher rates than do Latina and Black women. Of course, these differences in educational attainment are a major factor affecting wages, and are among the reasons Latina woman can expect to earn $1.2 million less over the course of 40 years of work than a non-Hispanic White man.

Two in five Rhode Island women work in health care, social assistance or educational services. Women of color are particularly likely to labor in these fields, often in lower-paid positions like personal care aides and nursing assistants. Eighty-seven percent of Rhode Island’s healthcare support workers are women, and women of color account for nearly half of these workers. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the wages of 96,700 Rhode Island women (either by raising their wage to $15, or as a result of increases as pay scales are adjusted).

Another area where women of color are at a disadvantage is housing, as a much larger percentage of their income goes to housing costs than is the case for White women. Latino women spend nearly half of their income (48 percent) on housing. The rates for Black, Asian and White women are 45, 39 and 30 percent respectively. Moreover, Rhode Island has the second lowest home ownership rate for households of color in the country.

“While we often hear about the gender wage gap and its subsequent wealth gap for women, this report really puts a spotlight on how deep the inequities go for our sisters of color,” said Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “Efforts to increase the minimum wage and ensure fair pay are just a few initiatives that we are working on with community partners. However, more needs to be done. We want to hear from the community as to how best to use the findings of this report.”

The WFRI will hold a series of community forums to share information and invite ideas about how best to address the inequities. As part of the series, the Fund will host a ticketed event “Cocktails & Conversations: Women of Color Research” on January 30 from 6-8pm at the Tech Collective in Providence. Panelists will include Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute; Angela Ankoma, Executive Vice President of the United Way of Rhode Island and Traniesha West, Community Organizer for Working Families.

The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island was founded in 2001 as a field of interest fund, and became a 501(c) in 2005. In addition to research and advocacy, it makes grants to local programs that improve the lives of women and girls. The Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute, a nonpartisan research and policy organization founded in 1999 by Linda Katz and Nancy Gerwitz, is dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low and modest-income Rhode Islanders.

While Rhode Island is a small state of approximately one million people, and regional and local economies and demographics vary across the country, gender and race disparities are found everywhere. Increasingly women’s foundations and other non-profits are upping their efforts in improving the lives of women of color. Among the major funders in this area is the NoVo Foundation which has recently allocated $90 million in funding to empower girls of color in the U.S. Southeast, and the Ms. Foundation which has committed $25 million to funding programs targeting women of color.

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How Funny Girls Become Leading Women through Improv Programs

Funny Girls, a program created by the Harnisch Foundation, teaches girls five key skills of leadership in subtle yet profound ways. (Photo credit: Brittany Buongiorno)

“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.”

Funny Girls seeks to instill a “growth mindset” in girls to they can discover their own definition of leadership. (photo credit: Babita Patel)

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.

With its emphasis on leadership development, Funny Girls works with the New York City school systems to provide its program. (Photo credit: Brittany Buongiorno)

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 Arab American Family Support Center in downtown Brooklyn; Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the Bronx; Girls for a Change, supporting girls of color in Richmond, Virginia; Global Kids, providing a global perspective within a human rights framework for under-served NYC youth; The Red Hook Initiative, supporting youth development and empowerment for low-income youth in Red Hook, Brooklyn; and SAYA (South Asian Youth Action), providing academic, personal and professional development for youth in New York City.

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.

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Editor’s Note: The Harnisch Foundation is a lead sponsor of Philanthropy Women, providing support for our work to expand feminist philanthropy journalism. Read More