Protected: From Surina

Celebrating Our Past, Catalyzing Our Future

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.

Invest: Grantmaking for the future

Our new Community Power Fund made our first round of grants this summer. Our new process models for the philanthropic sector simplified application and reporting processes that removes burdensome requirements and liberates our partners so that they can focus on building community power rather than filling out unnecessary forms. This year we made $370,000 in grants to support new and longtime partners who are advancing community-led gender justice work.

Train: Shaping community and public policy leaders

This year marked the 15th year of WPI-State and 500 members of our WPI Alumni Network. Built on an intersectional feminist perspective and social justice framework, WPI’s experiential training is delivered at both the state and local levels, transforming community advocates from concerned individuals to confident policy and budget changemakers.

This year, our WPI-State fellows worked on policy solutions in the areas of criminal justice, health justice, economic justice, trauma justice, and reproductive justice. From advocating for groundbreaking policies that sought to expand access to abortion and lactation accommodations for college students to fighting to reform the sentencing policies that fuel mass incarceration, this year’s WPI fellows truly stepped into their power and their contributions are rippling throughout the state. Five out of six teams made it to the Governor’s desk and three bills were signed into law! This brings the total number of WPI bills that have been signed into law over the last 15 years to 35! As Senator Holly J. Mitchell said to the incoming class of WPI fellows last week, “WPI has been responsible for passing more legislation than any other effort of its kind in Sacramento.”

Recognized across the country as a national model, stories about this year’s WPI fellows were featured in hundreds of media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, Bustle, and Mother Jones.

This year we also expanded WPI-Local to five counties across the state. In just four years, teams have applied their learnings to include environmental justice and early childhood development priorities in general plans of cities and counties across the state. They have rolled back “look back” periods expanding access to housing and employment for formerly incarcerated adults and system-involved youth. This year also marked the second Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute (PPPI), co-chaired again this year by myself and Senator Holly J. Mitchell. Modeled after the Women’s Policy Institute, PPPI is an experiential convening that trains funders about the public policy process and helps them be more effective grantmakers and stronger partners in advocacy efforts.

Connect: Convening community partners from across issues

The Foundation was founded on the ideal of the power of the collective. Throughout the year we connect community leaders including WPI fellows and alums, donors and policy leaders, advocates, grant partners and grantmakers in a variety of convenings and learning opportunities that will collectively so we can build the strongest movement for build and advance gender, racial, and economic justice in California. We are particularly excited in our work with the National Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives. This collaborative, modeled on the successful initiative led by the New York Women’s Foundation, includes women’s foundations in Dallas, New York, Memphis, Minnesota, Birmingham, western Massachusetts and Washington D.C. to develop innovative solutions with and for young women, girls, and trans youth of color. In California, we forged a partnership with Alliance for Girls to launch a Bay Area Young Women’s Initiative and are rapidly bringing on funding partners, including Kaiser Permanente, the Akonadi Foundation, and the Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation to join us in increasing resources to young women, girls, and trans youth of color.

Our founders had a bold and radical vision for feminist philanthropy to move money and build power for women, girls, and LGBTQ+ folks, particularly those who are people of color.  When I became CEO of the Foundation in 2014, I knew that carrying forward that vision would be the greatest honor of my life. Advancing gender justice has been my life’s work, and doing it here in California alongside so many powerful community leaders, funding partners, and colleagues is the greatest privilege of my life.

If you share our sense of purpose, and if you are as encouraged and as inspired as I am by the surge of wins we’ve seen this last year that propel us forward now, I want you to know that our movements are counting on your continued engagement and support. I hope you will join us and by investing in the vision of our founders and seeding this great institution for the next 40 years.

In community,
Surina Khan, CEO

PS: Our anniversary campaign will kick off in 2019 with gatherings and special events across the state that will honor our history, raise the visibility and leading voices of our movements now, and raise greater financial assets to ensure the future of this powerful Foundation and our enduring stance for gender justice. Please be sure to check your inbox and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter so you can join us to celebrate in your area.