The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota named Susan Sands & Chanda Smith Baker as recipients of the 2021 Mary Lee Dayton Catalyst for Change award. They were presented with the award at the annual Leadership & Legacy Circle for Women and Girls Celebration honoring donor-partners on September 30.
Established in 2009 in honor of its namesake, Mary Lee Dayton, the Foundation presents the award annually to elevate and recognize philanthropists who use their resources and leadership to advance gender and racial equity in Minnesota. As Mary Lee Dayton said, “Women know what they’re doing.”
Through her leadership in business, nonprofits, and philanthropy – and the gifts of her time, treasure, and talents, Susan Sands has been at the heart of transformation that has opened doors for women. She co-founded the first chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners in 1977 and was a founding member of the Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund, which became Women Winning. Since 1979, Susan has been the founder and owner of S&B Properties, specializing in real estate consulting with small businesses and nonprofits.
Susan’s passions have inspired her commitment to service, and she is most proud of the gifts of time and energy she has given. In 2013, she and her husband, Bill, established the Sands Family Social Venturing Fellowship at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business. Susan has served in leadership roles with Jeremiah Program (both local and national), District Energy St. Paul, Venn Foundation, Westminster Presbyterian Church, James J. Hill Reference Library, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Women Venture, and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She holds an honorary Doctorate from United Seminary of the Twin Cities.
In honoring Susan Sands with the award, Gaye Adams Massey, CEO of the YWCA Saint Paul, celebrated her as an innovator, trailblazer, expansive thinker, and generous advocate for equity and opportunity across sectors. Gaye said, “True to Mary Lee as the namesake of this award, Susan’s thinking is expansive, and she is always generously making connections that make a difference. She knows that this work is for a lifetime – and that we will win, but only if we keep opening the door, passing the torch, and lifting as we climb.”
Susan has known the Women’s Foundation since its earliest days. She was at the table when Mary Lee Dayton, who saw the lack of investment in women and girls, became the first woman in the world to give a gift of $1 million to a women’s fund.
The Women’s Foundation is greater because of the philanthropy, leadership, and generosity of Susan Sands. In remarks at the event, Susan shared, “Over the years, I became particularly impressed with the courage it must have taken Mary Lee to challenge the status quo that was likely supported by many of her friends. She certainly could have stayed away from the challenge of convincing her peers that something was wrong with the way funding decisions were made. She used her power and influence to initiate a force that has only continued to grow over time. The leadership of the WFMN has taken the initial vision to heights that we could never have imagined in 1983.”
This year, we also honored Chanda Smith Baker with the Mary Lee Dayton Catalyst for Change award. As Vice Chair of the WFMN Board of Trustees and a longtime community leader and partner, Chanda has never been a leader who waits for opportunities to come, she creates them. She contributes to building gender and racial justice through board service, including as co-chair of the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice with Lulete Mola and Repa Mekha. As Chief Impact Officer & Senior Vice President at the Minneapolis Foundation, Chanda has more than 20 years of experience working in, for, and with underestimated communities.
At the Minneapolis Foundation, which she joined in 2017, Chanda oversees grantmaking programs, provides strategic direction to community initiatives and partnerships, and is the founder and host of the award-winning podcast Conversations with Chanda.
Previously, she spent 17 years at Pillsbury United Communities, a complex community-based nonprofit where she served in a variety of leadership positions before assuming the role of president and CEO in 2011. Chanda has also served on numerous nonprofit and philanthropic boards throughout her career, and her civic leadership has been recognized with several awards and commendations.
In presenting Chanda with the award Adair Mosley, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities and a trustee of WFMN said, “[Chanda] saw untapped potential, made intentional investments in my leadership, and made the work about partnership. This is where Chanda stands—lifting up individuals and using her platform to ensure each person sees their value and contributions. There are many who stand on her shoulders.”
In remarks accepting the award, Chanda said: “To Mary Lee Dayton: Thank you for all that you did, for all that you knew, and for your commitment to those you knew depended on you seeing and investing in them. When we see people, and we invest in them, and we understand that their expertise combined with our expertise makes our community better, we do better.
With that said, here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we recognize them.
May we raise them.
May we honor them.
May we see them.”
The Women’s Foundation’s future is strong because of the vision and leadership of each partner who acts, lives, and gives to create a state in which all women and girls can experience economic opportunity, safety, and leadership. We are grateful for the leadership of Chanda Smith Baker and Susan Sands. Their legacy of generosity, support, and unwavering belief in the power of women and girls is the foundation of how we catalyze change and continue building a world of justice, equity, and opportunity.