(April 1, 2015) I want to begin by thanking you for being a critical partner of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. Your leadership as a donor-partner is creating equal opportunity and pathways to prosperity for all women and girls — and men and boys — families, and communities. Thank you.
Truly, we are at a tremendous point in time for social justice movements, as a whole. Can you feel the energy? From the work of women’s foundations in the United States and around the world, to Black Lives Matter, people are hungry for equality. Their impatience for change has resulted in extraordinary grassroots movements.
In March, I was in New York City at the 2015 United Nations (U.N.) Commission on the Status of Women conference to lead a panel I helped organize. (I will get into details about the panel a little later in this letter.) After attending a number of U.N. sessions hosted by countries from Europe and the global south, I had an epiphany.
Here at the Women’s Foundation, we believe that problems and solutions are found in the same place. Leading with this belief, each day we are honored to invest in those solutions – and in hope – that will achieve true gender equality for everyone.
While at the U.N., I realized that this is not the way much of the world operates. A majority of the organizations doing this work, both within and outside of the United States, do so within a triangle-framework of “victim-perpetrator-rescuer.” Story after story that was shared involved unimaginable violence, a rescue, and then repeat. I recognized the limitations of this framework, in that the conditions which led to this cycle are never addressed.
This brought to mind a favorite, powerful quote by Indigenous Australian teacher, Lilla Watson:
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Through your generous partnership, we have the opportunity to work together toward a future for women and girls that is free from poverty, violence, health disparities, and a lack of leadership opportunities.
We see the full landscape of solutions on the ground, bring the drivers of those solutions together, and invest in the most effective and strategic ones. By fueling grassroots and grasstops solutions, we create change. And time and again, I have witnessed those solutions and changes materialize through the work of our grantee-partners across the state.
Now, we look ahead! In the following pages, I will share our programmatic priorities and what you can expect from us in our new fiscal year (April 1, 2015 – March 31, 2016).
Planning, Growing, Leading
As we enter the final year of our current strategic plan, we are excited and ready to plan what’s next (April 1, 2016 – March 31, 2021). To guide us, we have hired The Genius Group, a Georgia-based practice whose tagline reads: Hopeful Ideas Made Real.
During the interview process, the Genius consultant asked us: “Is this strategic plan about what the Foundation does or who the Foundation becomes in order to change the world?”
This reflective, forward-thinking question gave us confidence that we selected the best consultant to walk with us through this critical five-year planning process. Together, we will craft a plan which answers that question and is embedded in our ethos of listening, learning, analysis, and discussion in order to create economic and equal opportunity for all women and girls in the state.
For us, working at an intersection of gender, race, place, and equity (class, age, ability, sexual orientation) has widened the lens, broadened the conversation, and afforded the opportunities we have today toward true equality. Over the past year, this intersectionality has inspired us to break new ground to uncover opportunities for growth and fresh, smarter strategies.
What Minnesotans Really Think About Gender Equality
Last fall, we hired The Mellman Group (Washington, D.C.) to conduct focus groups and baseline data research in Minnesota. (Mellman conducted the statewide research that informed our MN Girls campaign). The findings uncovered the general attitudes Minnesotans hold around gender equality and what messages will resonate best to shift their attitudes regarding women’s and girls’ place in families, society, and work.
I’ll share just four interesting findings with you now:
- “Gender equality” is not a top concern for most Minnesotans.
- “Equal opportunity” was preferred over “gender equality.”
- “Gender equality” is associated with economic benefits.
- Young women lured into sex trafficking/prostitution elicited the greatest worry.
With insights like these — in particular, proof (#4) of the success of our MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign — the research is already an invaluable, internal resource that is guiding our overall messaging and work. It will also help us as we seek and build more support and leadership from and with men. I am happy to share the findings with you; please email me at Lee@wfmn.org for a copy of the report.
Expanding Our Equity Framework to Include Gender Stereotypes
As I mentioned at the top of this letter, I organized a panel at the United Nations in March. On the panel were six women’s foundations — three national (California, New York, Minnesota) and three international (Mexico, Europe/Central Asia, Africa) — plus TrueChild, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
Collectively, we shared how our foundations are examining and considering gender norms — stereotypes of what it means to be feminine and masculine — in our program strategies and funding, and how those norms impact equality.
In philanthropy, this practice — so new in the United States, but standard among philanthropies and nonprofits internationally — is referred to as “gender norms funding.” I was inspired and encouraged by what I learned that day from our sister funds and feel confident that this is a smart and strategic practice to embed in our work here at the Foundation.
A few years ago, my instincts about the impact of gender norms on program outcomes were confirmed by Riki Wilchins (TrueChild), a U.S. thought-leader in the field. So in 2014, the Women’s Foundation funded the dissemination of Riki’s research, Gender Transformative Giving: The Next Phase of Feminist Philanthropy? The research articulated clearly that in order to achieve gender equality, gender norms had to be examined, identified, and shifted.
As you know, our charge is to shift attitudes and behaviors, and institutions and policies that limit women’s equality. We believe that by enhancing our Equity Framework (intersection of equity, gender, race, and place) to expand our gender lens to include gender norms, we’ll get better outcomes across all of our programs — outcomes that will positively impact the lives of girls and women and boys and men.
For instance, research by TrueChild examined why so many girls college-tracked to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) never make it, despite millions of dollars invested by funders. The research revealed that funding dollars have focused on external barriers — such as teacher bias, parental attitudes, and lack of role models — believed to be the cause for the attrition, when the barriers are actually internal ones. In other words, it is girls’ internalized beliefs in gender norms — what girls can and cannot do in order to be feminine, and in this case, also attractive to boys — that is the driving cause. For systems change to occur, we can no longer ignore the harmful impacts of gender norms.
Within our Equity Framework up to now, we’ve asked: “What are the conditions we want to change for women and girls?” By expanding how we view gender to include a gender-norms lens, that question has become: “How do concepts of masculinity and femininity serve as barriers to women and girls – and men and boys – and what will we do to change it?”
Ultimately, our impact and results will be strengthened, and we will have an opportunity to create a sea-change in how other philanthropies are using a gender lens in their work, even when their work is solely funding men and boys. While the concepts behind gender norms funding may be new to us in a formal sense, we know that these practices are already being applied to the work of a number of our grantees.
A great example comes from our grantee-partner, Hmong Women Achieving Together. We funded this group to confront gender norms within their community. Their approach was unique. Project leaders worked with male clan elders to facilitate discussions about why gender equality is important to girls and women, and benefits women and men.
What an amazing opportunity for all of us to be part of something I believe will result in revolutionary change that leads to greater gender equality!
MN GIRLS ARE NOT FOR SALE: Where We Are, Where We’re Headed
Today (April 1), we begin the fifth and final year of the MN Girls Are Not For Sale (MN Girls) campaign. When we launched MN Girls in 2011, we did so with a strategic vision and plan that mapped out all five years of the $5 million campaign, from grantmaking and research, to policy change and public advocacy. By all measures, MN Girls has been a success and we are proud of the leadership role we have played. We’ve changed laws, increased housing, funded research, and mobilized the public against child sex trafficking.
Already this legislative session, our work at the state capitol is paying off. Gov. Dayton has included an additional $4 million in his supplemental budget to provide outreach, housing, and supportive services for child victims. If the funding is approved, we’ll be at $9 million in total funding and closer to our $13.3 million goal to fully fund the Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door model.
In this final year of the campaign, we turn our attention to ending the demand. Last September, we released groundbreaking research with the University of Minnesota and Othayonih Research that identified the overall market for juvenile sex trafficking in Minneapolis. This year, we will fund the same team to expand their research over the next two years to include St. Paul, Twin Cities’ suburbs, bordering communities of northern Sovereign Nations, Duluth, and Rochester. Their work has been instrumental in allowing communities to create action plans that understand the market, end demand, and create points of prevention and protection for youth vulnerable to sex trafficking.
So, what’s next? In anticipation of the campaign’s close on March 31, 2016 and strong indication from stakeholders that our leadership is still needed in this nascent movement, we hired a consultant to explore options and help us answer that question. The consultant, Kate Mortenson, interviewed 24 stakeholders, including the board, advocates, policy leaders, and funders. The result? There was overwhelming support for our continued leadership through MN Girls Are Not For Sale.
On March 20, our Board of Trustees approved to extend the campaign for two to three years. Fundraising, grantmaking, research and advocacy will remain the campaign’s frame and will be included in our next strategic plan. We will keep you updated as the plan and next stages of the extended MN Girls campaign unfolds.
Showcasing our Collective Power on the National Stage
This fall, I have organized women’s foundations from across the country to gather with me on the steps of Congress for a public, one-day event: Prosperity Together. The purpose of the event is to connect and elevate the long-term commitment and collective power of women’s foundations to improve the economic security of women and families across the United States. We’ll announce a $100 million investment over the next five years and inspire Congress to action. I’m thrilled with the leadership opportunity this will afford us on a national stage and the potential for new national funders, influence, greater visibility, and more.
We all have different theories on how best to foster and achieve change: electoral, grassroots, or grasstops. As a statewide community foundation, we are afforded the opportunity to identify and blend strategies from across the state, then invest in those solutions. We are privileged to watch those programs grow and bloom positive, lasting change within communities. Ultimately, we lead with the hope of what is possible from these transformations we’ve witnessed and catalyzed.
This is why you invest your confidence, your resources, and the vision you hold for a better world with us. Each of you is a powerful contributor to the Foundation’s success and our ability to create a safe, equal, and prosperous Minnesota for all Minnesotans. Thank you!
As always, I welcome and appreciate your input and questions, and look forward to our continued journey together.