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?
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.
The New York Women’s Foundation distributed a record $8 million in 2017 for undertakings in line with its mission to create “an equitable and just future for women and families.” A vital part of this 31-year-old foundation’s work is drawing on local expertise to create and disseminate research on the needs and circumstances of women, girls, LGBTQI, and gender-nonconforming people.
In the fall of 2018, the foundation released part of a series called, Voices from the Field, which explores challenges and support strategies for low-income women in NYC during four major developmental periods: ages 0-8, 9-24, 25-59, and 60 and up. The newly released “Blueprint for Investing in Women Age 25 – 59” draws on data and expert interviews across academic, policy, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to identify systemic barriers and potential solutions for these populations.
New York City is home to a diverse group of 2,250,000 female-identifying people. Striking stats from the NYWF research include that in the state of New York, the rate of workforce participation for women with children under six is 81 percent for Black women, 64 percent for Latina women, and 50 percent for White women. A total of 56 percent of Latina household incomes cannot cover basic living costs, along with 47 percent of Black households, 44 percent of Asian households, and 24 percent of White households.
Given that many women of color and immigrant women in poverty are both primary caregivers and breadwinners, stable housing and care for their children emerged as key focus areas. President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation Ana Oliveira said the report clarified that “there must be a concerted and coordinated effort by the government, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to use their resources to expand access to affordable housing and reliable child care.”
An anonymous participant in a job training program is quoted in the report, explaining how having to both earn wages for a household and be its primary caregiver can be a catch-22:
“I’m constantly worried about my children because I can’t always arrange good care for them while I’m in training. And once I’m hired, I know I’ll be constantly worried about my job because there are bound to be times when those arrangements will fall through and I’ll have no choice but to stay home to take care of my kids. Women can’t be in two places at once and—when we try to be—everyone loses. Why haven’t people figured that out yet?”
Reasonably-priced child care was found to be the most crucial need for women in NYC, with affordable housing a close second and a clearly interconnected factor in women’s stability. Being able to pay for housing also connects to other obstacles for women, such as domestic abuse; women who cannot afford a place to live struggle to leave violent situations. Similarly, equitable and living wages, quality health care, and inclusion and representation in the public sector are all areas where barriers exist and overlap for women, especially for those of color and of immigrant status.
The NYWF calls on the public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to step up their support for these females, pointing out that it can only benefit the metropolis as a whole.
“[The Blueprint Series] is offered with the conviction that there is no better strategy for boosting New York’s overall economic strength than supporting the women who provide the cultural wellspring and the economic and caregiving bedrock for the city,” the foundation states in the publication.
Specifically, it asks the government to back policies including family leave, equal pay, job training, emergency refuge, improved sexual assault and rape prosecution, and to “forthrightly identify, monitor, and combat institutionalized harassment and violence against women of color, immigrant women, and LGBTQI individuals.” Nonprofits and funders are similarly encouraged to serve and empower women economically, civically, and through high-quality health and family services, including those relating to reproductive care.
NYWF emphasizes the need for multifunder efforts and collaborative action to reach these goals and recommends that funders “ensure that all those efforts reflect the explicit input and guidance of those constituencies” served. Participatory and inclusive grantmaking and strategic partnerships are methods the foundation already embraces and practices itself. Examples include its, “Girls Ignite! Grantmaking,” which empowers teenagers to distribute local funds, and its funders collaborative called the New York City Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color, among many of its other undertakings.
The New York Women’s Foundation also recently announced the first recipients of grants from its Fund for The Me Too Movement and Allies and launched the Justice Fund to address the effects of mass incarceration on females. It will certainly be interesting to see what new endeavors and developments 2019 holds for this women’s foundation; in the most recent annual report, Oliveira and Board Co-Chairs Kwanza Butler and Janet Riccio write they are “more resolved than ever to take bold action to create gender, racial and economic justice.”