October, 2018: Last month I celebrated my fourth anniversary as CEO of this incredible institution. This milestone is particularly exciting as my fifth year as CEO will coincide with the Foundation’s 40th anniversary in 2019.
In 1979 when we were founded, we were one of the first women’s foundations in the country. Our San Francisco-based founders, including Marya Grambs, Roma Guy, Debbie Lee, Ruth McGuire, and Tracy Gary set out to create “feminist philanthropy” to place financial support of the movement in the hands of those who were leading it and give women donors the exponential power of collective giving.
In 1986, with support from our San Francisco Founders, the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation was founded by a group of women that included Belinda Smith Walker, Jai Lee Wong, Laurie Owyang, Pat Ettienne, Elizabeth Bremner, Brenda Funches and many others who had a similar vision: to fund programs for women and girls in the greater Los Angeles area. In 2003, after decades of working collaboratively, the two merged under the leadership of one of our former CEOs, Patti Chang, to become the Women’s Foundation of California, a statewide foundation charged with carrying on the vision of our southern and northern California founders. And their vision is as true today as it was in 1979 and 1986.
Our founders were responsive to the lack of funding going to support gender equity. Back then, only 1% of all philanthropic dollars in the US was going specifically to women and girls. Now, four decades later, that number has inched up to 4% which means our work is nowhere near done. In spite of powerful gains, all women (cisgender women and especially transgender women) and those from communities of color, continue to earn less, experience discrimination and gender-based violence, struggle to find adequate health care, and are underrepresented in positions of public and private sector leadership.
This is an unprecedented moment for our community to celebrate the Foundation’s 40-year history and set our intention for the next 40 years. As has been made incredibly clear since the 2016 election (and continues to be illuminated) the systems we live and work in and the cultures that shape our experience are dominated by heteronormative, transphobic, white supremacist, patriarchal norms.
The Women’s Foundation of California is prepared to continue the vision of our founders and advance gender justice. Given the contemporary political, economic, and social climate, with both critical challenges and extraordinary opportunities, we are confident that the Foundation’s program strategy we have developed over the last year (Invest | Train | Connect) will achieve the greatest results for building community power and position us to fiercely defend progress and relentlessly advance justice in California.