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State of the Foundation Letter 2021

Our strength as a statewide community foundation is guided by the light and power of our communities and fueled by your investment in driving gender and racial equity together. We truly are a beloved community. With you, we are working in partnership with the most impactful organizations, stakeholders, and changemakers to realize a new day for women and girls. We are building on a legacy of radical leadership, hope, and generosity to drive systems change because we believe our collective ability to thrive is linked. As Fannie Lou Hamer, founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, said in 1971: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The past year has illuminated vast and unconscionable inequity and laid bare the daily injustices against Black lives and all people pushed to the margins, and the rising violence against our Asian and Asian American communities. Covid-19 has shown us the dual vulnerabilities borne by working people, and the resilience of mothers, care workers, frontline workers – all essential ingredients in an economy that too often undervalues its most precious assets – the women and girls leading today.

We Transform Together

We can and must do better. We must do it together.

When I came to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota a year ago, I was thrilled to put my life’s work to use and join you in making investments in women and girls as a pathway to whole-family and whole-community well-being. None of us could have predicted the unmistakable signal this year would send: our shared future depends on a radical understanding of the work we have always done to catalyze transformational change by placing equity at the heart of our systems.

For us, there is no going back to normal. Steeped in a deep-rooted white supremacist, classist, and patriarchal system, normal has not worked for most of us. In our Road to Transformation Listening Series this March, we heard that economic inequity exists before a girl is even born, that Black mothers worry about the possibility of losing their children every time they leave their homes, and Native women are disproportionately murdered and missing. We heard that inequities compound over a lifetime to impact the financial well-being and health of older women, particularly those who are LGBTQ+. Rural women are not recognized in their full power and stories, and women’s safety, security, and authority continues to be vulnerable in workplaces across our state. We cannot wait for change. We must relentlessly drive it.

In the last year, we have been at the table, putting equity into design as we listen and learn, co-create and adapt to catalyze change. We must make a new day for ourselves, our children, and future generations.

Since our inception, we have called for a change to the status quo. The time has come for a long-term cultural transformation that centers women and girls in responsive strategies across the state and nation. This year, we will invest in transformation for women and girls, their families, and communities. We will step into our future as an anti-racist community foundation boldly driving systems change for gender and racial justice with policy, grantmaking, and evaluation of our systems, structures, policies, and practices.

Through more than $1 million in responsive grantmaking from our Covid-19 Response Fund for Women & Girls and our Listening Series, we have seen the raw pain of our community partners. We have heard their exhaustion and frustration that the public awakening to their experience of violence, incarceration, and intimidation is nothing new. We embrace an investment in whole community well-being that celebrates the joy, vision, and innovative leadership of communities advocating for justice, even while experiencing grave injustice.

In the last year, we have evaluated our grantmaking practices to increase flexibility and expanded our investments in healing and capacity-building so community partners may sustain for the long term. In our community investments, our work as a board and staff, and with communities of learning and practice that have gathered virtually on our Road to Transformation, we are motivated by the wisdom and solutions of community as we deepen our commitment to be antiracist and march forward to justice.

We Harness This Moment for Change

Every two years, we release comprehensive leading research on the Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota. Our understanding of how women and girls are faring across measures of economics, safety, health, and leadership is not complete until we engage statewide communities in focused listening to hear how the data resonates with their lived experiences. Through our Road to Transformation Listening Series, we listened to the challenges, strength, and vision across nine statewide communities pushed to the margins. We will hold their stories with deep respect and care as we invest in their solutions.

Listening to the lived experiences of women and girls illuminates that our state’s women and girls are not broken – but the barriers they face are rooted in the inequities embedded in our systems. To work upstream, we must reimagine our world with equity in design.

Our ongoing practice of research informs WFMN’s strategies, policy, and community investments. This holistic model places us in a continuous state of co-creation, learning, and adapting to drive the most effective systems-level change for gender and racial equity.

We Boldly Commit to Gender and Racial Justice

Our vision of gender equity is indelibly bound to racial equity and the movement for justice. As we accelerate our call for transformation across our systems and society, I am thankful that you are on this journey with us. To transform together, we cannot stop at listening, learning, and amplifying the voices of communities pushed to the margins. We must transform our attitudes, our systems, our practices, and our institutions. To be antiracist and to invest in justice is an ongoing practice that requires daily shifts in mindset and action to build, share, and yield power.

In this work, we stand on the shoulders of our founding mothers and live into their legacy as philanthropists, activists, and radical warriors for justice when we catalyze transformation so that all women and girls thrive.

As co-chairs of the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice, co-founded last spring by Lulete Mola, now WFMN’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, we are investing in a visionary Holistic Black-Led Movement Fund to drive meaningful racial justice work. The collective has led convenings to transform the field of philanthropy with a shared understanding of anti-Blackness and racial justice, and will engage in participatory, community-led grantmaking this spring. We are moving the sector of philanthropy forward with us.

We Invest in Policy and Collective Impact

As we transform the field, we know the power of policy to address inequity and injustice at its root. Moving into a new fiscal year, I am energized by strong partnerships and a shared commitment to bold, intersectional, and inclusive policy that centers whole community well-being and is guided by the wisdom of women, girls, and gender-expansive people.

Our policy agenda addresses underlying socioeconomic inequities that impact women and girls across Minnesota, including racism, gender-based violence, and gaps in leadership and representation.

This session, we are leading in support for the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, Establishing the Office of Economic Security of Women, and advancing the Women of Color Opportunity Act, while increasing investments in Safe Harbor to sustain and expand emergency shelter, housing, and supportive services for survivors of sex trafficking. As leaders, partners, and supporters of bills to advance access and opportunities for low-income women, women of color, mothers, women in rural Minnesota, survivors of trafficking, and justice for missing and murdered Indigenous and African American women, we know that centering communities most impacted by inequity is the only way to lead lasting change for a stronger Minnesota.

As part of our 2021 policy strategy, WFMN joined the Minnesota Attorney General’s newly formed Advisory Task Force on Expanding the Economic Security of Women. Since our vital role in passing the 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), and with deep gratitude to the bold leadership of past president and CEO Lee Roper-Batker, our opportunity to achieve economic equity for all women, especially for women most pushed to the margins, is great.

We know women’s economic security is key to the overall economic security of the state. We look forward to leading, advocating, listening, organizing, and bridge-building to contribute to a stronger economic future for women as we repair the long-term impacts of the pandemic and the underlying conditions that have forced women out of the workforce in record numbers.

On the national stage, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council to guide and coordinate government policy addressing the challenges that impact women and girls in the United States. This is a positive outcome resulting from the advocacy of gender justice leaders across the nation including our joint letter with the National Philanthropic Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives leaders. We embrace the opportunity to be in community with the Gender Policy Council as we did with the former White House Council on Women and Girls.

Over the last year, we have harnessed our strength and adapted to urgencies and opportunities in this moment. Now, we press forward together. A new day is within reach where every one of us has exactly what we need to thrive.

I remain audaciously hopeful in the change I know is possible when we center community, learn and grow together, and move forward with courage.

By Gloria Perez
President & CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota

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