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Investing in Women for Whole Community Well-Being: Four Rounds of COVID-Response Grants Released

For 38 years, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has been a catalyst to achieve equity for women and girls and their families. Since 1983, it has been our foundational imperative to invest in women for whole community well-being. Founded by women who came together across race, socioeconomic class, and geography to create long-term system-wide change for women and girls, WFMN’s call of advancing gender and racial equity is as urgent as ever amid COVID-19.

In this moment of heightened need for so many across our state, it is imperative that we resource responsive strategies led by communities most impacted: women, people of color, Indigenous people, the elderly, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, rural communities, and all who live at the intersections of identities pushed to the margins. To this end, we are resourcing the urgent needs and innovation of women as they lead communities through this pandemic as professionals, caretakers, problem solvers, and providers.

Responsive Philanthropy

In 2016, WFMN created the Community Response Fund to meet the urgent needs of communities across Minnesota who are working on the front lines of gender and racial equity. In response to the pandemic, WFMN leveraged its responsive grantmaking infrastructure to launch the COVID-19 Women and Girls Response Fund to award a half-million dollars in emergency grants to organizations serving women and girls experiencing gender-based violence, older women, policy and advocacy, and women and girls who need short-term financial support for childcare, eldercare, food, housing, transportation, health, wellness, and safety from violence. Since launching the fund in March, WFMN expanded its half-million-dollar goal and more than doubled our investment in grantee-partners leading in their communities as first-responders in a crisis.

In four rounds of grantmaking through this fund, WFMN has awarded more than $1 million to 80 organizations across the state to address the needs of women and girls experiencing gender-based violence, older women, and short-term financial support for everyday needs.

More than 83 percent of all COVID-19 Women & Girls Response Fund grantmaking supports organizations led by women of color and Indigenous women, including undocumented women, Muslim women, immigrant women, young women, LGBTQ+ people, and women in greater MN, representing our ethos that people most impacted by inequity hold the solutions to lead us to lasting change. With four rounds of grantmaking, funded programs will reach more than 100,000 women, girls, and thousands more through secondary impact in families and communities. 

Responding to Urgent Needs

Facing unprecedented need across our state, WFMN grantee-partners are leading in their communities as first-responders in a crisis, directly serving needs that are rapidly changing, including:

  • Short-term financial assistance: The pandemic and resulting economic shutdown has led to compounded financial hardship for women and girls, particularly Black, Indigenous, immigrant and refugee women of color, elders, small business owners, and rural Minnesotans. Our partners are ensuring that communities most impacted have access to financial aid to ensure they survive in the short-term and can thrive in the long term.
  • Safe & affordable housing: While homelessness and housing insecurity is a reality for Minnesotans every day of the year, the pandemic means even greater risks to their health and safety. Grantee-partners statewide are ensuring that all people can access safe and affordable housing during this time through rental assistance and by opening shelters for those recently released from the criminal justice system, LGBTQ+ people, and others at high risk for exploitation.
  • Bridging the digital divide: For students in homes without Internet access or the devices needed to access online classrooms, distance learning is all but impossible. Grants are being leveraged by our community partners to support students and their families with technical tools and mentoring.
  • Victim-survivors not safe at home: Orders to isolate at home are important for community health, but have left victim-survivors of domestic violence, gender-based violence, and human trafficking at greater risk of abuse. Statewide grantee-partners are assisting those victim-survivors holistically—by offering safe housing away from abusers, providing financial assistance, ensuring basic needs are met, and connecting victim-survivors with culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
  • Holistic & accessible healing: While the world is experiencing a viral pandemic, other healthcare needs persist, and new health concerns can arise. Community partners are ensuring that communities across the state receive safe, culturally relevant, and accessible healthcare, including obstetrics care for pregnant and new mothers, reproductive services, and mental and emotional support. 
  • Intersection of COVID-19 and racial injustice: Women, girls, and their families are distinctly impacted by the intersection of a global pandemic and a social justice uprising in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. As longstanding disparities are illuminated in every sector, grantee-partners are investing in Black women and youth leaders and centering their leadership in anti-racism work as they address racial equity and create healing and wellness.
  • Gender-based violence & housing in Greater MN: Women, girls, and their families in Greater Minnesota encounter place-based barriers to accessing shelter and emergency services when fleeing domestic violence. Grantee-partners in Greater Minnesota, particularly in rural areas, are ensuring that no one must choose between having shelter and being safe from violence and abuse.
  • Incarceration & re-entry during a pandemic: Currently and recently incarcerated women must overcome enormous hurdles to accessing education and other services that prepare them for life after prison. COVID-19’s ongoing impacts on the economy, healthcare, and social services systems increase barriers to re-entry for formerly incarcerated women. Statewide grantee-partners are responding with innovative digital programming and increased emotional and mental health support to ensure women can successfully re-enter society and find long-term opportunity, including connections with community. 
  • Policy-making & advocacy with underrepresented communities: Mobilizing leaders within underrepresented communities to organize for systems change and against discrimination, injustice, and gender-based violence while experiencing disproportionate impacts of COVID-19.
  • Transformative organizational adaptation at the intersections of gender and racial justice: Organizations on the frontlines of the pandemic are reimagining, adapting, and evolving their operations and programming in response to COVID-19 and related social and economic issues for long-lasting impact. Grantee-partner leaders are designing new ways of operating to facilitate the healing, health, and wellness of their communities while advancing creative and responsive programming that meets community needs for technology infrastructure, childcare, and distance-learning support.

Read more about some of the work led by these community partners, demonstrating the depth and reach of critical need and positive action across our state:

  • Life House, Inc. (Duluth) provides a 24-hour transitional living space for young women and LGBTQ+ individuals who have experienced sexual exploitation and/or human trafficking and are experiencing homelessness or life on the street.
  • NAVIGATE/Unidos MN (Minneapolis) is providing direct, short-term financial assistance to low-income and immigrant families and undocumented individuals across Minnesota, many of whom will not otherwise receive emergency support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Northwest Indian Community Development Center (Bemidji) uses an Anishinaabe Care Coordination model to support basic and financial needs for Native women and Native elders experiencing gender-based violence or unemployment.
  • Ostara Initiative (Minneapolis) is providing care packages and doula services to incarcerated pregnant women, while advocating for the release of pregnant incarcerated women and addressing inequities in the criminalization of women, particularly women of color and Indigenous women.
  • Phumulani (St. Paul) works with survivors and victims of sexual and domestic violence in the African immigrant community and will offer short-term financial assistance to women on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and women experiencing sudden unemployment or business closures.
  • Asian American Organizing Project (St. Paul) is leading a youth-focused COVID-19 response with its Youth Action Team. They are creating a zine that will include resources to address youth mental health and wellness, and dialogue on the surge of racism and violence against the Asian community.
  • Black Visions Collective (Minneapolis) worked alongside other Black organizers and organizations to launch Black MN COVID-19 Response to organize and demand solutions. Their new Emergent Fund will provide economic relief to members most directly impacted and/or those who do not qualify for government assistance.

Guiding Principles

Our first round of COVID-19 grants was guided by the principles that:

  1. Problems and solutions are found in the same place.
  2. Communities most impacted by inequity hold the wisdom to lead the collective towards lasting change.
  3. Communities live multi-issue lives, which requires a multi-solution approach.

Through this grantmaking process, we saw that the focus areas we’re funding intersect – that survivors and women experiencing violence and abuse need short-term financial assistance for a multitude of economic, health, and safety reasons, for instance. Often, the leading need is short-term financial support for all areas.

In the face of this global health and economic crisis, it was a profound privilege, inspiration, and duty to make responsive grants to Minnesota nonprofits leading their communities and addressing the complex, intersecting needs of Minnesota’s women and girls.

Investing in Long-Term Solutions

Through conversations with our grantee-partners, it is abundantly clear that the need of our organizations and our state’s women, girls, and families is far greater than any one source of philanthropic funding can address.

This is why, as we deploy emergency resources to women and girls in Minnesota and amplify their experiences, we must also use this time to imagine and create new ways of operating. Leading with our principles, an intersectional equity analysis considering gender, race, place, and additional identities (ethnicity, sovereignty, socioeconomic class, age, disability, LGBTQ+, immigration status) is needed to create the conditions in which all people have what they need to survive this pandemic.

In addition to centering the communities most impacted by inequity in the creation of solutions, we also invest in innovative research, policy, and strategic partnerships to deepen understanding and create a future that is better than our past.

Identifying Inequities

To learn more about the underlying inequities, our 2020 Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota and2019 Status of Older Women in Minnesota research, completed in partnership with the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, illustrate why we invest in women and girls to improve the lives of all Minnesotans. See the data to learn more about why women and girls are uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Women’s Foundation, we know that strong grantmaking and policy agendas, grounded in data and centering the communities most impacted, means well-being for our whole community.

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