Fully Showing Up for Women: Ana Oliveira on Focusing Funding

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation Ana Oliveira. This interview was completed in late 2020. 

What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?  

Ana Oliveira
Ana Oliveira, courtesy of Ana Oliveira

From the time I began my journey at the New York Women’s Foundation to now, I’ve learned the challenges you can face in philanthropy when being most responsive to transformation and justice. I came to The Foundation because it is an inclusive place with a commitment to equity and justice, with an emphasis on centering the needs of our grantee partners and the communities they serve. Those elements have allowed me to fundamentally understand how to carry out our philanthropy with transparency, respect and partnership.  

What is your current greatest professional challenge? 

This year has shown us that we must continue to rapidly and fully show up for our  grantee partners and communities most impacted by the enormous devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Without a coordinated national response at the moment, philanthropy has an opportunity to step up for the greatest needs that communities of women and families are facing. And we’re committed to doing just that at The Foundation. We’ve faced this challenge head on through our COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, to support the communities of women and families — especially Black and brown communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — distributing more than $1 million in rapid response funds.  

What inspires you most about your work? 

It’s the extraordinary women I work with each day. From The Foundation’s grantee  partners, donor community and dynamic staff, I am inspired each day by their  commitment to justice. This year has especially shown me the resilience of the  communities The Foundation services and how we can continue to show up in bold ways for their greatest needs. It has shown me their ingenuity and reaffirmed my commitment to justice. 

How does your gender identity inform your work? 

My gender identity shapes everything about my life, just like racial identity or economic  conditions have. It has made me aware of the ways that we label, categorize and put people into blocks. It’s assisted me in understanding relationships of power. It’s helped me to challenge traditional and non-inclusive understandings of leadership and the ways that we are socialized to exclude those, particularly women, who don’t fit a rigid mold of who we’ve been told a leader should be.  

How can philanthropy support gender equity? 

First, philanthropy must have an awareness of how gender inequality impacts all gender expressions. Any philanthropic approach must be inclusive of and center the voices of trans, gender non-binary and gender nonconforming communities, who for too long have been pushed to the margins. The second thing philanthropy must do is listen to communities and leaders pushing forward movements for gender, racial and economic equity. And third, philanthropy must examine our own biases as an institution. The investments The Foundation makes in grassroots organizations is a reflection of these values. When we partner with these organizations, our investments amplify the work they have already begun in their communities, giving them the freedom to grow and increase their impact. 

In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us? 

In this moment, gender equity movements are taking us to an understanding of gender being historically constructed and not as a universal, absolute category. The movements are also giving us an understanding that gender equity is intrinsically connected with racial and economic equity. In ten years, my hope is that the movement for gender equity will have succeeded in a powerful manner by increasingly being connected with movements for racial and economic justice.

More on Ana Oliveira:

Ana Oliveira is President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation, the largest women’s fund in the country. Since 2006, Ana has led the increase of The Foundation’s grantmaking from $1.7M to $8M today. Focusing on economic security, safety and health, in 31 years, The Foundation has distributed over $66 million to over 350 organizations.

Ana has led critical cross-sectoral partnerships to advance women’s rights as a proud co-chair of The New York City Council Speaker’s Young Women’s Initiative and a Commissioner of Human Rights for the NYC Commission on Human Rights. She also sits on the Independent Commission to Study Criminal Justice Reform in NYC.

She has held key roles as a CEO of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, VP of Programs at Osborne Association, and Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center Substance Abuse Clinic. Ana attained her M.A. in Medical Anthropology and a PhD. (hon) from the New School for Social Research.

This interview has been minimally edited.


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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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