How Funny Girls is Growing Improv-Driven Leadership for Tweens

Funny Girls, a new program being piloted by the Harnisch Foundation around New York City and in Richmond, Virginia, engages girls in improv to build leadership skills. (Photo credit: Stephanie Buongiorno.)

Learning how to laugh as much as possible can be a key component to sane living, particularly in today’s regressive political and social scene. The Ms. Foundation for Women recently hosted its 22nd Annual comedy night, calling it “Laughter is the Best Resistance,” where Gloria Steinem did stand-up. Meanwhile, women like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are moving into the executive producer role for hit comedies like Grace and Frankie.

With all this emphasis on comedy, you might think that this is what the Harnisch Foundation‘s new program, Funny Girls, is all about. But there’s more to it, actually. Much more.

Jenny Raymond, Executive Director of the Harnisch Foundation, agreed that it’s a ripe time for women in comedy in a recent conference call with Philanthropy Women. “But Funny Girls isn’t teaching girls to be funny. It’s boosting and bolstering girls’ leadership skills. That being said, Funny Girls is experiencing the power of humor through improv, and paying attention to it.”

Funny Girls teaches leaderships skills through improv comedy to girls in grades 3 to 8. The  curriculum focuses on teaching five key leadership skills   collaboration, agility, resiliency, empathy and self-awareness as outlined by this video. Funny Girls is teaching the value of listening, persisting in difficulty, and collaborating, which will pay off in both healthier living and more women’s leadership over time.

“It’s about girls realizing the power of their own presence,” said Jenny Raymond, Executive Director of the Harnisch Foundation. (Photo credit: Stephanie Buongiorno.)

It’s currently being implemented through five partnerships, four in New York City and one in Richmond, Virginia, and hopes to deepen those relationships and add new ones in other geographic areas. The Foundation is staying in close touch with all its partners so they can learn as much as possible about things like cultural variance and program effectiveness.

“I went on a site visit in a primarily South Asian community in Queens, New York and it was so fascinating to see, culturally, how the girls responded to the curriculum in similar but different ways than I saw in the South Bronx the week before,” said Raymond. Offering the curriculum to others remains an important objective for the foundation, which aims to make Funny Girls as widely available as possible.

As part of the program, the Harnisch Foundation is training artists from within organizations and the community to implement the Funny Girls curriculum. One of the Funny Girls partners, DreamYard, is implementing the program in the Bronx. “Several of the organizations we are working with not only offer Funny Girls, but are also focused on social justice issues, and advancing the work that gets at the root of inequality that these girls are facing,” said Jocelyn Ban, Communications Specialist for theHF.  “For example, DreamYard is investing in girls not only to be leaders, but also to be a part of the solution to the problems they face in their communities through the arts.”

2018 will mark the 20th anniversary for the Harnisch Foundation, and adding Funny Girls to its portfolio has been a big shift for the organization, which has not traditionally done programmatic work. But it connects the foundation importantly to its own roots investing early and building out the pipeline for women leaders at every level of society. “This builds on the foundation’s history of investing in the leadership of women. Now we are putting a stake in the ground for supporting girls and investing in their leadership journeys, too,” said Ban.

Editor’s Note: Ruth Ann Harnisch, Co-Founder of the Harnisch Foundation, is a lead sponsor for Philanthropy Women.

Related:

Ruth Ann Harnisch on Getting the Most Bang for Your Social Change Buck with Women’s Funds

Funders Take Note: #MeToo is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

We’re Scaling Up: Announcing Philanthropy Women’s First Lead Sponsors

 

 

 

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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