Category Archives: Op-eds

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017 | Leading with Hope, Leading with Community Every Day

Dear Friends:

Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements in our state, nation, and around the world. Yet, we see progress slowing instead of accelerating in many places and populations: in Minnesota, disparities between women and men, and among white women and women of color, are on the rise.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BeBoldForChange. We’re heartened by this call. We must be bold, smart, and strategic as we work – within the context of a divided America – to secure equal rights for all.

We’re concerned that much of the rhetoric and policy espoused by the White House demeans people based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. We see it as an ominous sign that the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented hundreds of recent and escalating hate incidents. Further, it concerns us that the White House Council on Women and Girls’ website has disappeared, along with White House websites specific to America’s LGBTQ and disabled populations.

As a statewide community foundation, how will we #BeBoldForChange?

With unwavering integrity, we will hold fast to our vision of a world of equal opportunity in which women, girls –and all people – hold the power to create and lead safe, prosperous lives.

This vision is our North Star. Yet while it transcends, it is also deeply affected by politics. We will continue to work to educate and find common ground with policymakers and corporate, community, and philanthropic leaders to remove systemic barriers to gender and racial equity. And, we will stand in support with communities, ready to defend threats to immigrants’ rights, women’s safety and security, reproductive rights, and access to health care, quality education, and childcare.

We’re determined to fix the broken systems that keep a disproportionate number of women in poverty and in low-wage jobs, vulnerable to sex trafficking and other forms of violence, and unable to reach their full potential. We’ll continue to fund and support community-based solutions, because we know that problems and solutions are found in the same place.

At the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, we will continue to lead with hope, generosity, and inclusion to ensure gender and racial equity, equal opportunity, safety, and economic prosperity for all.

To #BeBoldForChange, our leadership necessarily takes many forms:

  • Increased investments in ground-breaking research that parses the data behind systemic inequality and gives us the fact-based context for our work.
  • Commitment to cross-sector leadership – standing with and for multi-sector partners and individuals – to identify and invest in innovative community-based, community-led solutions to gender and racial disparities.
  • Commissioning a map of the resources available for this work to identify and close the funding gaps.
  • Changing minds and behavior by creating strategic communications rooted in Minnesotans’ shared values and shared humanity.
  • Changing systems by changing policies.
  • Standing with a growing group of national and statewide philanthropic partners, including, most recently, the Immigrants’ Rights Funders Collaborative and the YWI National Funders Collaborative.
  • Developing a toolkit on using a place-gender-race lens for the field.
  • Increasing grants to organizations that pioneer best practices and protect human rights.

I’m pleased to report that in the past month, we’ve committed an additional $100,000 in Innovation Fund grants to three community partners facing incredible threats:

  • A grant to Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund will help it increase its advocacy capacity to counter threats to exclude Planned Parenthood as a federally-subsidized health care provider for women; and
  • General operating grants to Advocates for Human Rights and Immigrant Law Center will boost their ability to ramp up their legal battles and train lawyers to meet the recent, drastically increased demand for their services.

While times like these call for agile responses to threats, we must also develop proactive initiatives that move upstream. We couldn’t be more thrilled about our new Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN), a $9 million, seven-year bipartisan initiative that we’re co-leading with the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota to create safe and prosperous lives with young women.

In the same way that our bipartisan MN Girls Are Not for Sale campaign changed the way Minnesotans talk about and address sex trafficking, YWI MN seeks to change how communities discuss and invest in young women. YWI MN also provides a timely context in which to build even more meaningful partnerships with corporations committed to workplace equity and workforce development.

Our steady advancement of our mission and strategic goals is not about or limited to these first 100 days of the new White House administration. It is about standing with communities, leading with our values, and defending our mission and vision 365 days per year.

Recently, I spotted a t-shirt that captured my thinking perfectly. It read: “Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie.”

Here at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, we intend to serve up heaping slices of systems and policy change until gender and racial equity is achieved.

In these times of uncertainty, I am sure of two things: first, that our vision to create a world of equal opportunity in which women, girls, and all people can lead safe, prosperous lives has never been more important; and second, that our donor- and grantee-partners make this vibrant work possible.

Here’s to our continued partnership, and boldness.


Lee Roper-Batker is president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

Women’s Foundation of Minnesota: Our Path Forward >>>

(Nov. 9, 2016) – This has been a brutal election, one that has divided us. Neighbors with good hearts and a commitment to a prosperous Minnesota – and nation – supported both Trump and Clinton, in nearly equal numbers. The challenge now is to harness that goodwill to create a world in which we all want to live.

We share the same hopes and dreams. We all want to live in safety. We all want our children to prosper. We all seek the dignity and security that comes with steady employment and benefits.

>> Read more from Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO

Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014

Our Role in Passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014

(May 12, 2014) On Mother’s Day (May 11), Minnesota made history! Before a packed room of legislators, advocates, families and media, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014 (Act) into state law. What an incredible day for all Minnesotans.

At the Capitol that day, Lee Roper-Batker, our president and CEO, was among leadership asked to meet with the Governor in his private chambers before the signing, and then to be among a small line-up of speakers that made brief remarks after he signed the Act into law.

Each speaker — which included Senate President Sandy Pappas, House Speaker Paul Thissen, Rep. Carly Melin, and Commissioner Kevin Lindsey (MN Dept. of Human Rights) — praised the contributions and leadership provided by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. The air was positively electric with possibility and celebration, and Lee said that she had never been prouder to be a part of this organization and of the leadership role we played all legislative session to pass the Act.

This is the first time in state history that policymakers — Republicans and Democrats, alike — prioritized women’s economic security as key to the overall economic security of the state and of all Minnesotans. The Act addressed the root causes that prevent our state’s women from gaining an economic foothold and securing a pathway to prosperity.

None of this would have been possible without the generosity and support of our donor advisors and closest supporters. Their support enabled us to hire Jill Sletten (lobbyist) to represent our interests at the state Capitol. Her wise strategic counsel expertly guided us through all of the political mine fields, hearings and committees to full passage in the House and Senate, straight through to the historic signing.

It also enabled us to support the work of the MN Coalition for Women’s Economic Security, a group of key nonprofits that led efforts at the Capitol. The Coalition included the Women’s Foundation, University of MN Humphrey School’s Center on Women & Public Policy (our research partner), AARP, Minnesota Women’s Consortium, Pay Equity Coalition, WomenVenture, GenderJustice, and Office on the Economic Status of Women. Our funding also paid for the design and printing of needed materials, plus media outreach across the state.

The Act was introduced at the beginning of the legislative session in February 2014, with key interest and leadership generated by House Speaker Paul Thissen.

Our involvement began much earlier. Well before the session began, Kim Borton (our director of programs) and Lee met with House Speaker Thissen. He asked us how the Legislature could do something for women. Our newly published (Jan. 2014) economics research on the status of women and girls in Minnesota contained just the answer. We could not be more pleased that this research served as the basis for each bill that comprised the Act.

During that same meeting, we offered to provide thought-leadership, support from business, and the hiring of a top-rated lobbyist. We also offered to handle any small appropriation or matching-fund needs. We delivered.

And with the stroke of Gov. Dayton’s pen on May 11, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to write a comprehensive women’s economic security package into state law that is designed to break down barriers to economic progress for women.

This is hopeful news. As our Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota economics research shows, the number of households with children below the poverty line increased by 64 percent (from 49,818 to 81,734) over the last decade. We believe that the new laws will help to reverse this harmful trend. Moreover, the payoffs for Minnesota women and their families are enormous.

The new laws strengthen workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant women and nursing mothers, expand employment opportunities for women in high-wage/high-demand occupations, and reduce the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws.

What a win for the Women’s Foundation, but most importantly, for Minnesota women and families. Important laws are now in place that remove barriers to women’s economic security — enormous steps forward toward equality for all women and girls in the state.

>> Access all of the Foundation’s research on the status of women and girls in Minnesota

Star Tribune: “Another strip club? What a black eye for our city” by Lee Roper-Batker

(April 10, 2015) When news hit that a three-story strip club will open next week in the heart of the city (“Upscale ‘Rhino’ club hits Mpls.,” April 5), e-mails of shock and outrage flooded my inbox and traveled far and wide within the human rights community. The gist: How can a city that prides itself on civic engagement, historic preservation, cultural investment and renewed work to end racial and gender gaps permit, at best, the objectification of women — and perhaps much, much worse — as part of its business community? >>Read more

2015 State of the Foundation by Lee Roper-Batker

(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:

  1. “Gender equality” is not a top concern for most Minnesotans.
  2. “Equal opportunity” was preferred over “gender equality.”
  3. “Gender equality” is associated with economic benefits.
  4. 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 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.

Thank You
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.

Star Tribune: “With prostitution, any market is a bad market” by Lee Roper-Batker

(Aug. 29, 2014) While readers of the London-based Economist may be familiar with its pro-prostitution stance, this largely European perspective about the economic value of the “free market” of prostitution is not one that Minnesota shares. So imagine my surprise to see “Tech opens up possibilities for prostitution” in the Star Tribune (Aug. 24). Why our state’s leading newspaper, which has publicly supported state efforts to address child sex-trafficking, would reprint this article is as mystifying as it is disappointing. >>Read more

Star Tribune: “Help Minnesota’s child victims of sex trafficking” by Lee Roper-Batker

(May 2, 2013) Last week, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota offered the state $1 million — the largest grant we’ve ever authorized — as part of a public-private partnership to end child sex trafficking. When Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act into law in July 2011, it created two sea changes. >>Read more

Star Tribune: “Sex Trafficking of Minnesota Girls is Happening, It’s Time to Act” by Lee Roper-Batker

(Jan. 22, 2011) Minnesota girls being trafficked for sex is neither rare (“Anoka man charged with selling teenager for sex,” Jan. 22) nor is it unique to Anoka. Although hidden from most of us, it is a pervasive crime shared by all communities.

In fact, research commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota showed a 166 percent increase from February to November 2010 in the number of girls trafficked for sex online and through escort services in our state. The Anoka man trafficked the teenage girl through In November 2010 alone, Backpage owner, Village Voice Media, generated an estimated $1.46 million in revenue from these types of ads.

Last year, the media reported 160 cases of girls being prostituted in 41 states. The average age of the girl is 14 to 15 years old, and 47 of the 160 cases – 30 percent – involved trafficking via the Internet. These were just the ones who were caught.

It’s time to remove our blinders and step forward to protect our girls. We need to ask legislators to create laws that treat girls who’ve been prostituted as victims not criminals, and to provide holistic healing services and shelters. We must support law enforcement to more aggressively arrest the men buying girls. And all of us must call for a federal response to hold platforms, like, accountable for their documented role in facilitating the buying and selling of our girls.

The reality is that selling girls has become a winning lottery ticket for predators who prey on vulnerable, at-risk youth. As we chart legislative priorities in the coming months, let’s invest in and protect our children, so they can enjoy the childhood they all deserve.

Star Tribune Editorial: “Consider girls’ needs, despite tough times”

(Jan. 26, 2009) A week in which the news will be dominated proposals for deep state budget cuts doesn’t seem propitious for the release of recommendations for more societal spending to improve the lot of girls in Minnesota. Then again, by reporting this week its conclusions from more than a year of study and discussion,  the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota is reminding lawmakers that the spending decisions they make have lasting, real-life consequences. >>Read more