Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Sharon Shapiro, Trustee and Community Liaison at the Ruderman Family Foundation.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I wish I had known that philanthropy is a process and that there’s a strategy to giving. Growing up in a family that was highly philanthropic, we really didn’t talk about my parents’ giving and what it meant to them. We saw examples, but it wasn’t really spoken about in the house. Today, I try to teach my kids about philanthropy in a strategic way.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
First, I’m seeing that there’s a critical need in the mental health field during the pandemic, and often the Foundation isn’t able to move fast enough with our work to support programs and people in accordance with their required timetable and the urgency of their needs. We’re in the routine of determining who’ll be a good partner and developing the partnership, and that process can take years until you see the success. Now, we’re trying to adapt to this time of crisis.
Second, it’s challenging — in positive ways — to work with family. I’m proposing initiatives to my family as part of my work at the Foundation and convincing them that those initiatives are important. The process is challenging, but helps us all grow individually and collectively, as family members and philanthropic professionals.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
I’m inspired about being present and involved in the work that we do. It brings me a lot of joy and appreciation to go through the philanthropic process with recipients and then witness the success of our partnerships. More specifically, in the area of mental health, I’m inspired by meeting young people and hearing about their difficult journeys, and how they’ve worked to overcome obstacles. It’s particularly powerful to get personally connected to those individuals.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
As a mother, and especially a mother of three teenagers, I’m more sensitive to the needs of teenagers and young adults. I try to be open, which means a lot of people come to me personally for advice on this topic. That makes my work very meaningful.
Having empathy as a mother also helps me connect with the philanthropy we do. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can connect those two priorities and to be able to give back and affect change in society.
Whether or not it relates to gender, it takes a lot of time to learn what your passion is and what you want to do to support that passion. Young people with means don’t necessarily know where to start — it’s a journey, and you have to grow into it. For me, working on the issue of disability inclusion was a family decision that evolved into a personal one, and then we learned to include mental health as part of the conversation surrounding disabilities. I’m fortunate to do something that I’m passionate about.
5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?
I’ve been very influenced by my involvement with the Miriam Fund, a Boston-based philanthropic community committed to creating an equitable world that expands opportunities for women and girls. I’ve been able to meet so many women and have an influence in their lives through that volunteer activity. It makes me more thoughtful about the work I do as a professional philanthropist, including for the benefit of women and girls, and to help youths become leaders for the next generation.
6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?
As a philanthropist and as a woman, I see that there’s a need to put money funding toward efforts to bridge gender gaps and effect change. More initiatives supporting women and girls will help bring about equality, and philanthropy should be a significant part of these solutions.
Today, there are more women as leaders in positions of influence, which is changing the landscape surrounding equality and diversity. The Foundation is also developing a task force on mental health, and we’re very mindful of making that initiative inclusive in every way, shape, and form.
7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
Right now, more women have influential roles in all sectors of society, philanthropy, government, and entertainment. This is a major shift from what we’ve seen in the past. This trend will continue to grow. Hopefully, women will lead the way toward changing systems and correcting historic imbalances.
About Sharon Shapiro: Sharon Shapiro has been an active member of the Greater Boston Philanthropic community for many years. Her current projects reflect her family’s deep commitment to promoting disability inclusion in the Jewish community. She is also passionate about teaching teens about philanthropy – serving on the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (TFGB). Sharon has made major contributions to inclusive Jewish education through many years of service on the Board of Directors of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Combined Jewish Philanthropy (CJP), as well as the Committee on Services for People with Disabilities and the Special Education Committee, all at CJP. She is also the incoming chair of the Miriam Fund. The Fund aims to inspire and strengthen women and girls through grants within and beyond the Jewish community. Sharon also serves on the Disability task Force of Greater Boston. Active in a variety of Jewish organizations, Sharon’s affiliations include President’s Circle of Amit and Yad Chessed.
About The Ruderman Family Foundation: The Massachusetts-based Foundation furthers its mission within the Jewish communities in Boston and beyond, based on the mission and values of founder Morton E. Ruderman. The Rudermans followed the pattern of many philanthropic families—starting with generous check-writing at the kitchen table and quickly moving into strategic investment. Founder and successful businessman, Morton E. Ruderman, had long been giving back to the Jewish community in Boston. In the early 2000s, Mort decided to make a major gift to local Jewish day schools. When they learned about the absence of children with disabilities in their classrooms, the family felt this systematic exclusion was an affront to their Jewish values. They agreed to focus on correcting this injustice and from the beginning understood their commitment to the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities as a social justice imperative. To learn more about the Foundation, visit their website here.
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