Editor’s Note: This piece is authored by Hamutal Gouri, founder of Consult4Good, with support from Tuti B. Scott, gender justice leader and facilitator for the Jewish Women’s Funding Network community learnings.
Aviva is a preschool teacher’s aide in Jerusalem. Despite being an experienced and dedicated professional who educates and cares for those most precious to us, she is employed only as a contracted worker earning low wages with no job security.
Aviva is not alone. Her reality is that of tens of thousands of women in caring professions who, more often than not, are poor working women. But Aviva and her peers are also members of local labor union chapters and therefore are also social leaders with years of activist experience. These women are fighting for their human rights while working in what are often abusive and underpaid employment settings.
On April 2, the University of California at Los Angeles announced a $5 million gift for the Samueli School of Engineering. Alumna Stacey Nicholas made the donation to support Women in Engineering at UCLA (WE@UCLA), a two-year-old program that works to close the gender gap in engineering majors at the university.
The engineering, science, and medicine fields have been traditionally male-dominated for decades. Nicholas’s gift is one of many recent efforts in feminist philanthropy working to close the gap between women and careers in the technologies — and to great effect.
On March 8th, Girls Who Code announced the biggest philanthropic commitment in their organization’s history — a $3 million endowment from Walmart. The funds will go toward Girls Who Code programs across the U.S., supporting girls and college-age women as they work to join the tech talent pipeline.
Founded in 2012, Girls Who Code is an organization dedicated to closing the gap between women and technology-focused careers. Through workshops, Summer Immersion Programs, clubs, and College Loops (networks for college-age women studying computer science), Girls Who Code connects girls in underserved areas with technology education.
Solidago Foundation might only have $5 million in assets, but you wouldn’t know it from their leadership among social justice funders, especially when it comes to supporting women at the grassroots.
“We are small, we don’t move a lot of dollars, but we move big ideas and are deeply committed to being in community in the arena where we hold our positional power,” said Sarah Christiansen, the Program Director for Environmental Justice and Inclusive Economy.
This outsized role is highly visible in the nascent funding for solidarity economy, an organizing framework that often overlaps with new economy, economic democracy, cooperative economy, and/or inclusive economy. It is characterized by economic initiatives and enterprises that are community-controlled, democratic, sustainable, committed to social and racial justice, mutualistic, cooperative, and respectful of diverse approaches.
While some feminist thought leaders such as Chief Executive of Women’s World Banking of Ghana, Charlotte Baidoo, are calling on microfinance institutions to do more when it comes to lending to women, Root Capital is beginning a new partnership with the Australian Government to do just that.
Root Capital will partner with the Australian Government’s program, Investing in Women, to deploy $2 million AUD (approximately $1.49 million U.S. dollars) in a ten-year program to support women business owners in South East Asia. As a partner of Investing in Women, Root Capital plans to bring in private sector co-investments for women’s small and medium-sized agricultural businesses in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
“This is a major step forward for the impact investing and agricultural finance sectors,” says Root Capital’s Founder and CEO, Willy Foote. “Together with Investing in Women, we will catalyze the growth of women-led businesses throughout South East Asia—and in so doing, will significantly improve the livelihoods of both women and men in rural communities.”
The initial investment from Root Capital will fund new loans for women in Indonesia, where the organization has had a presence for the past three years. Root Capital’s work in Indonesia has resulted in more than $23 million in loans to ten agricultural businesses, improving incomes for more than 10,000 producers.
Root Capital launched its Women in Agriculture Initiative in 2012 and has since reached more than 270,000 women producers per year. This new partnership with Investing in Women will help to bring more women into leadership of agriculture in South East Asia. While women make up 50% of the agricultural workforce in South East Asia, they are less likely to be in leadership positions and lack access to training and resources like fertilizer and farm machinery. According to a press release announcing this new partnership, if access for women to key components of the agricultural business were equalized, “farm yields would increase by up to 30 percent—growth which could significantly increase rural incomes and reduce global hunger.”
Root Capital is a pioneer in both gender lens investing and in feminist philanthropy. An editorial published on Philanthropy Women last year, written by Charlotte Wagner of the Wagner Foundation and Catherine Gill, Executive Vice President of Root Capital, articulated key concepts in feminist philanthropy that guide the work.
While there has been a recent rise in the number of women running for offices across the United States, the journey towards gender equality in politics is not moving fast enough. Statistics shown in a recent paper written by Saskia Brechenmacher, an associate fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program, prove that gender equality in politics is still far from reach, yet many European countries have come significantly closer to this goal. Brechenmacher’s paper provides research about the efforts of such countries and identified moves the United States can make to reach gender equality sooner.
As of right now, women make up 19.3% of the House of Representatives and 21% of the Senate. In several Western European countries, women make up over 30% of their respective parliaments. Lack of equality in any government system leads to a structure that does not reflect its population’s makeup, diminishes the voices of women, and weakens the quality of democracy. In the article, Brechenmacher clarifies that this imbalance is less affected by voter bias and more affected by the small number of female candidates. Female candidates tend to be voted into offices just as often as men, yet they are less likely to run because of four major issues.
Four Issues That Need Addressing to Get Women Representing America
Issue #1: Change America’s single-member voting system. This limits the number of candidates a party can support and shrinks the window for women to enter the political playing field. European countries have adapted systems which allow parties to nominate several candidates, bring a much wider range of people to the ballot. While it is not likely the United States would adopt this same system, 11 U.S. cities use a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system instead. This structure allows voters to select several nominees and rank their choices. For candidates, this system encourages a civil approach to campaigning over huge spending. Because of this, it makes it easier for women and minorities to get their name on the ballot, likely not having the same access to funding and connections as men.
Issue #2: Establish gender quotas like European countries have done. These can either be mandatory by law or established within political parties, the latter being more common in Europe. With gender quotas, European parties have established percentages of their nominees and recruits to be female, thus integrating women from the lowest levels. In the United States and Europe, proposed gender quotas have received huge pushback, but unlike the U.S., Europeans have successfully implemented several at the local and government levels. This has been accomplished by female-led campaigns, the contagion effect, self-image of parties and party elites, publicizing research promoting such quotas, and making allies. In the United States, recruitment and training of female candidates have taken the place of quotas as an effort to combat this issue. The Republican party has established Right Women, Right Now to recruit and train women for state offices and the Republican Congressional Committee launched a short-lived program GROW to shine a light on women running for house seats. The Democratic party has seen significantly more success with this, however, through EMILY’s List, Women Lead, and the Women’s Senate Network. However, the numbers do not compare to those of European parties. Other options suggested by the Carnegie report are to set numerical targets for parties to recruit women, systematically recruit and support female candidates, address misconceptions about biases held against women running for office, and prioritize internal equality within parties.
Issue #3: Deal with the problems of publicly funded elections in the United States. Often, U.S. elections require huge sums of money to get noticed, giving the advantage to wealthy candidates with a recognizable name and connections. Because women have been left out of the world of politics, they immediately face a disadvantage when fundraising and advertising. European countries have taken this into account, making reductions on campaign spending. Some countries have made percentages of government funding to parties based on the parties support for and recruitment of female candidates. EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund have made it easier for women to receive funding, but more steps could be taken. Financial incentives for support of female candidates, specific funding for open-seat races, and overall shifts in public financing could further level the playing field for women running for office.
Issue #4: Address the Gender Issues in U.S. political institutions. European countries suffer from these internal barriers as well, but activists have continued to make moves toward equality. Internal gender equality plans, placement of women in leadership positions, improvements on childcare and parental leave rules, family-friendly working hours, and internal support structures have vastly improved the experience of women in office in Europe. In the United States, the Carnegie report by Breckenmacher suggests we should work toward improving data collection, setting internal gender benchmarks, improving childcare and parental leave rules, and combating sexual harassment. With these changes, the everyday experience of female political figures will be vastly improved. Getting these issues addressed will keep the conversation on gender equality going on the local and congressional levels.
While European countries have made greater strides than the United States, their movement toward gender equality has plateaued as well. Internal barriers and biases are still huge issues that are the most difficult to uproot. Keeping the conversation alive is the most important aspect of our battle. It will allow for incremental change to continue and will break down stigmas and misconceptions about the power of women today.
It’s not always pretty how the sausage, salad and salmon get made. Low-pay and difficult working conditions are commonplace in the restaurant industry. Many workers are part-timers, and few have benefits. Moreover, workers’ tips are sometimes stolen by management, and wages can go unpaid. These problems are particularly acute for immigrants, who are over-represented in the restaurant industry, and often have little recourse. Women, who comprise over half of industry workers, must further contend with sexual harassment, which is rampant in food-service businesses.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has been active since 2001 in addressing the challenges facing restaurant industry workers. Recently, it highlighted the long-term costs of sexual harassment in a study it conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley. On May 8, it held a national press call with actor Sarah Jessica Parker, ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, and current and former restaurant workers, to publicize the study’s initial findings.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was founded in New York in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to help restaurant workers displaced from their jobs. In 2008, it became a national organization advocating for restaurant workers wages and rights. ROC United now has nearly 30,000 worker-members, more than 500 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members nationwide. It has won 15 worker-led campaigns, and recovered $10 million in stolen tips and wages. Co-founder Jayaram is the author of the 2016 book Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, which rates restaurants not on the quality of their beef, but on the wages, working conditions and opportunities they provide workers.
That sexual harassment is prevalent in the restaurant industry is no surprise, but the ROC United/UC Berkeley study goes beyond this fact to address how the experience of being harassed affects young women’s lifelong tolerance for harassment, even in other industries. The study combines qualitative data and quantitative analysis of surveys of several hundred women who worked in the restaurant industry when they were young. Current food-service workers, as well as women in different sectors—including Hollywood, media, politics, and philanthropy—were interviewed for this initial portion of a longer study.
According to ROC United, one in two Americans will work in the restaurant industry in their lifetime. The organization’s research reveals that almost 90 percent of women in the industry experience harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers. ROC United states, “For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. They learn early that sexual harassment is an unfortunate condition of work that must be tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to earn enough wages through tips.”
The ROC United effort against sexual harassment is linked to the “One Fair Wage” campaign, which would eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. One Fair Wage represents a concrete policy solution to blunt the prevalence of restaurant-industry harassment. According to ROC United, “Women workers who rely on tips to make ends meet are forced to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to ensure they take home enough income to feed their families. One Fair Wage ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.”
In addition to the sexual harassment study and its accompanying press call, in February, ROC United held #NotOntheMenu rallies in Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, the Bay Area, Detroit and New Orleans to demand an end to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.
ROC United has received support from a number of granting bodies, including the San Francisco-based, James Irvine Foundation. As part of its Fair Work initiative designed to boost the fortunes of California’s lowest income workers (those making less than $12.50 hourly), in 2016 Irvine provided ROC United a three-year $1.4 million grant. The funds are being used, “… to support low-wage restaurant workers in California by enhancing the occupational skills, leadership development, and civic participation opportunities of workers while engaging employers, policymakers, and consumers to raise industry standards.”
Other funders have included Foundation for a Just Society, which provided $100,000 to ROC of New Orleans, “to support ROC-NOLA’s work to build power and voice for women and LGBTQI restaurant workers in New Orleans’ restaurant industry.” Other prominent supporters of ROC United include the Ford Foundation, which hosted a 2016 event in support of ROC United founder Saru Jayaraman’s book Forked. The event featured a slew of famous chefs and restauranteurs, many of whom have come around to the idea that treating restaurant workers fairly is not just the right thing to do, but it can be good for business as well.
One of our goals at Philanthropy Women is to explore different ways to invest in reducing the gender gap and building a better economy — ways that operate in both philanthropy and in regular business markets. Alongside gender lens grantmaking, progressive women donors also have another important way they can deploy their capital for gender justice: gender lens investing.
One new investment instrument that recently came to our attention is BRAVA Investments, headed by CEO Nathalie Molina Niño, with partners Trevor Neilson and J. Todd Morley. BRAVA is not primarily focused on supporting women owned start-ups or getting more women into the c-suite of corporations (though this is something they look at), but on investing in industries that economically benefit employees or consumers that are disproportionately women.
“I don’t think investing in women will become mainstream and be taken seriously until we prove that it is lucrative,” said Molina Niño, in a recent phone interview with Philanthropy Women.
Founded in August of 2016, BRAVA brings together Molina Niño’s expertise in large-scale business development and operational growth, with a value-based approach to investing that contrasts sharply with what many other gender lens investors are doing today.
Where did Molina Niño get the idea for her unique approach? To introduce her reasons for developing BRAVA’s approach, she referenced a recent study by Project Sage, which rounded up 58 gender lens investing instruments for a detailed analysis. Molina Niño said she did similar research in preparing for the launch of BRAVA.
“I did a mini-version of Project Sage a couple of years ago,” said Molina Niño. “What I saw was that a lot of my friends and colleagues were starting funds for women and they were struggling to raise cash, so they were these little micro funds worth like $2 million to $15 or $20 million tops. And they were all focused on early stage, very early stage, and higher risk. And they were doing it in the traditional venture capital way, where you invest in 100 companies and you hope that 10 of them will at least provide some return and one or two will really take off.” But Molina Niño didn’t want to take that approach.
“I wanted to do later stage investing, and I noticed nobody in the gender space was doing that,” she said. She liked later stage investing because it meant lower risk, and she also liked being more attractive to large scale institutional investors.
“For me it has always been about scale.,” said Molina Niño. “Even if you’re doing amazing work, but you’re doing it with $10 million a year, that’s pretty small potatoes. It’s never going be part of a big endowment or a big pension fund, it’s never going to be something that moves the needle in a big way. So for me, scale was important, as well as investing in companies that I think we can grow, and not expecting 90% of my companies to go bust.”
Another thing Molina Niño noticed, when she looked around at colleagues in gender lens investing, was that nearly all of the gender lens investing instruments created over the past 10 years are dominated by white women. “Even though I know many of the people who started these funds, and so I believe it’s in no way intentional, but it’s as though somebody wrote a memo and said, ‘Okay people, we’re only investing in white women.'”
So that was another challenge for Molina Niño. “Women of color get .1 % of venture capital,” she said. “You don’t hear many people talking about that.”
Molina Niño wanted to change that, but she also saw some problems in taking an approach of primarily funding women-led start-ups, since that also had limitations in terms of impact. “At BRAVA what we do is, we consider investing in women not to mean necessarily investing only in women entrepreneurs,” she said.
By way of example of the kind of business BRAVA is tracking, Molina Niño described a company called Honor in San Francisco that is a platform for matching people with elder care professionals. “They do a great job of building trust, because the site helps you find people who are vetted, and they have a great reputation for that. Part of how they got that reputation is by attracting and retaining their talent. ”
The way they do that, said Molina Niño, is by paying their workers $20 an hour, in a industry where workers generally receive no more than $12 an hour. “That’s huge. That’s life changing, the difference between $12 and $20 an hour.” Molina Niño also sees the writing on the wall for the need for elder care services in the US. “You have 10,000 people who are turning 60 every day in this country. This is a massive growth play.”
For Molina Niño, the litmus test for deploying capital is that the investment be measurably improving the economic lives of women, at scale, as part of their core business model. “It makes zero difference to me whether the founders are women. It makes zero difference if the board is made up of women. I would love for that to be the case, and maybe after I invest in them, I can influence that to be the case. But it doesn’t make all the difference to me, because they clearly have a model that takes large numbers of women and substantively changes their lives.”
BRAVA Investments hones in on opportunities for making the most impact in gender equality by investing in mid-level growth companies in health care, education, and consumer products, that are economically benefiting women. “If I think about how am I going to make the most impact, by making one woman entrepreneur successful, or by focusing on a company like Honor that is going to help thousands of women rise out of poverty, I’m always going to choose that latter model,” said Molina Niño.
BRAVA’s investment’s focus is on high growth business models that economically benefit women. “I don’t believe that making the one woman a billionaire is going to translate into thousands of women being better off,” said BRAVA’s co-founder and CEO, Nathalie Molina Niño.”I think if you believe that, you’re basically talking trickle down economics. And I don’t believe it.”
The good news about BRAVA’s approach is that it attracts serious investors with deep pockets, who hear that BRAVA is working at a larger scale and also using a strategy economically benefiting large populations of women. “We’re focusing on domains where women are the majority — either they have a majority of women in their workforce, or a majority of women in their consumer base.”
BRAVA is taking a much different lens than other gender lens investing instruments, capturing the value of investing in economic sectors that influence women’s lives instead of in corporate structures that value women’s leadership.
“I worry that gender lens investing has been too focused on women in the corner office,” said Molina Niño. “So if you look at Sheryl Sandberg and her book, she is focused on the fact that there’s a lack of women in the C-Suite. I step back and think, what percentage of the total women in the world are going to be worried about getting into the C-Suite?”
It’s not that Molina Niño does not want to see more women in leadership across all sectors, but there are different ways to create prosperity for women. “As a woman entrepreneur, I’m personally very impacted by issues around women’s leadership in business, and I co-founded a center for women entrepreneurs at Barnard College at Columbia University, so nobody can say I don’t care about women entrepreneurs, but I have a hard time making the entire story be about that tiny sliver of the population. What about the other 99% of women who will never start a business and who will never make it to the c-suite? They deserve to be invested in, too.” And she believes the evidence shows this broader lens also makes for better investment returns.
A final key point for Molina Niño is the essential role of strong alliances with men in the financial sector and beyond. “Men need to be a big part of this equation,” said Molina Niño. So while the end game is about benefiting women, Molina Niño sees plenty of room for men to be involved, especially when it comes to raising capital. “It’s silly to exclude the people who have all the power, influence, and capital, and so my business partners and co-founders are men. I did that on purpose.”
We know that childcare needs to be valued and supported for society to thrive. Yet, time and again, we leave parents, particularly low-income and young parents, out of the picture for access to childcare.
Today, a new study released by the Ms. Foundation for Women validated that state and local officials need to take the reigns and steer their community toward economic growth by funding access to childcare.
“Our approach has not only helped the local organizations achieve policy gains, but also provided necessary resources to develop intersectional leadership in grassroots organizations,” said Aleyamma Mathew, Director of Economic Justice at the Ms. Foundation for Women. “To achieve economic security in the Trump era, we have to win on the state and local level,” she added.
Mathew emphasized that progress can continue if policymakers adequately fund childcare access for our nation’s most marginalized women. “Progress is possible if we continue to break down silos and work together.”
The Ms. Foundation strategy to address child care access calls on funders to do three things:
Support low-wage workers’ rights organizations and workers’ centers who organize in sectors that are made up of up 50% women.
Support new and innovative campaigns that increase public sector funding for childcare at the local and state level.
Work to raise wages and the quality of jobs in the childcare sector.
Sustainable Harvest International Founder and President Florence Reed did not encounter many other women leaders in philanthropy when she started the organization in 1997. “I was flying by the seat of my pants. I literally went to a library and checked out a book on how to start a non-profit, and went through it chapter by chapter,” she recalled in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. Who knew then how successful her initiative would be: Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) was recently named by Charity Navigator as one of the “six highest-ranking charities in the sector making major strides to increase sustainable food production.”
The dearth of women in leadership positions in philanthropy has changed over the past twenty years, largely because women like Florence Reed have pushed hard to involve more women in their endeavors. The two women Reed put on SHI’S first Board of Directors, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and a member of the International Women’s Club of New England, helped her network with other women in philanthropic organizations. She noted that this reaped immediate rewards: “I found SHI’s first treasurer through my connection with the International Women’s Club,” Reed recalled.
Reed’s attention to women’s involvement in the founding of her organization mirrors the work SHI does to improve women’s lives in Central America. SHI was born out of Reed’s desire to halt the decimation of the rainforests by educating farmers on how to replace slash-and-burn agricultural methods with sustainable practices that use their land more efficiently. SHI programs in Belize, Honduras, and Panama teach multi-story cropping and other sustainable farming practices. But Reed soon recognized that her work did more than help prevent the destruction of more rainforests. As she explained, “I did not expect it, and was surprised to learn that the women we work with gained in self-respect and also in the respect they received from others.” SHI has built a unique niche for women in partner communities to provide more for their families and develop their skills and self-confidence.
Self-Worth Grows Among SHI’s Female Farmers
As Reed notes, in the small rural communities where SHI works in Belize, Honduras, and Panama, life follows traditional gender patterns. She explained, “men farm or work at day labor, and women are responsible for caring for various family members and taking care of the home.” In addition to cooking and caring for their families, Reed explained that “rural Central American women collect firewood and build cooking fires, wash all clothing by hand, maintain household gardens, and help their husbands in farm work, especially during harvest season.” Housewifery in this instance bears no resemblance to the way that women run households in the United States and other developed nations. It is rigorous and exhausting work.
Sadly, as important as such work is to the maintenance of society, it has not always been valued. But women in SHI partner communities have discovered renewed self-worth and earned widespread respect through their participation in the programs.
According to Reed, even though SHI programs have always been open to anyone in a community where the organization works, “at first only a few women were interested. Participants were mostly male farmers, responsible for crops like corn and beans that require larger pieces of land.”
Soon, though, women began to participate in larger numbers. “Women’s regular responsibilities prevent them from going too far from home, ” Reed explained. “Women became interested in making their household gardens more productive through bio-intensive and square foot gardening. The practices they’ve learned from SHI training have allowed them to diversify their gardens and improve the nutritional balance of the family’s food supply. They grow many different fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, celery, radishes, lettuce, spinach and watermelon, and tend to papaya, citrus, mango and other fruit trees.” Surplus produce is sold in the community, increasing the family’s income.
This corresponds to SHI’s secondary goal of helping Central Americans feed their families and increase their household incomes. Yet Reed noticed that the women who have participated in SHI programs have benefited in many ways beyond basic household economics. She cites three specific examples of the ways that SHI’s work has given these rural women new opportunities to improve the quality of their lives and find their power as individuals:
One woman who suffered from severe depression seldom left her house. But the success of her fruit orchard led other villagers to come to her for advice about their own crops and gardens. Now, she told Reed, she “looks forward to waking up each day.”
Another woman has been so successful in her endeavors that she has become an important promoter of SHI programs and women’s involvement in them. She has even been invited to a national women’s conference to speak about farming practices.
One woman feared for the lives of two of her children when they were born underweight and she was so malnourished she was unable to breastfeed them. After working with SHI, Reed said, “her health improved, she gave birth to a normal weight baby, and was able to breastfeed.”
SHI has changed the lives of these women not only by improving their economic situations and physical health, but also by creating opportunities for them to increase the respect they receive from others. Reed even discovered that, “in many cases their husbands view them as more equal partners because they contribute more directly to the family income.”
How Can Women Support SHI?
Women in the United States can also benefit from work with Sustainable Harvest International. Reed highlights many different ways to contribute to SHI’s important work:
Volunteer: Reed said that “SHI offers many opportunities to participate as a volunteer in many different capacities, from translating documents to stuffing envelopes.” At their Ellsworth, Maine headquarters, volunteers perform data entry and package spices. But volunteers can work from many different locations.
Fundraise: Anyone can work with SHI staff to hold an SHI fundraiser. Historically, women in the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement learned a tremendous amount about finance and politics through fundraising; women today can do the same.
Book a Speaker: Florence Reed and her staff travel all over the world to promote SHI’s life-saving work, and welcome invitations to speak about SHI’s programs to women’s groups, civic organizations, churches, schools, and other places.
Donate: Women have become vital players in the world of nonprofit philanthropy as their financial profiles have increased. Though women still do not earn equal pay with men, at least 45% of millionaires in the United States are women. The financial power of women is evident can exercise significant economic muscle.
Do Field Work: SHI offers open and private guided trips to its program locations, where you can work alongside staff and farming families in hands-on projects to improve their communities. Participants enrich their own lives through new friendships, learning about other cultures, and developing their own sense of self-worth.
Reed’s work at SHI is just one of thousands of successes for women’s leadership involved in philanthropic work. Not only does her work benefit the planet, it brings new confidence and greater independence to the women it serves.