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Leading with Hope, Leading with Community Every Day

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017

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.

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