Reasons for Hope, Actions for Change - Women's Foundation California

The Women’s Foundation of California advances gender, racial, and economic equity by investing in, training and connecting community leaders.

As I begin my fourth year as CEO of The Women’s Foundation of California, I know I’m not alone in having conflicting emotions about the state of the world, and specifically the lives of women and girls, LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, and people of color. Like you, perhaps, I am so sad for all those who have lost so much in the wildfires across California. I am grateful for the firefighters, many of whom are incarcerated people. And I’m outraged by the daily and even hourly attacks on our community, yet amidst all these challenges, I still find reasons for hope.

This is certainly in part because I have the great honor of leading a powerful Foundation that works daily to resist these attacks and find solutions to the challenges our communities face. And it is also because the vision, resilience, and drive of our partners in our multi-issue movement relentlessly sets a bold agenda that refuses to stand down. Just this past week, the Governor signed three of our Women’s Policy Institute bills. These groundbreaking pieces of legislation will increase access to child care and renewable energy funds for low-income communities and expand rights for transgender people.

When other parts of the country are fending off unyielding attacks on basic rights, we in California are advancing significant change and keeping pace with the march of progress.

I am encouraged that, over this past year, the Foundation team and Board took time to reflect deeply on our core strengths, both to bolster us all during this current political moment and to strengthen our position for the years ahead.

As a result, we have a refined program strategy, focused on the three things we do best: invest, train, and connect. These three pillars will be our strategic focus in the years ahead, and I’m excited to describe how we are activating around them – but first, let me share the larger context within which this work is being done.

You may already know that women’s foundations play an essential role in the global philanthropic and social change landscape. Yet, there remain many gains to be made, and incessant headwinds that work to push us backwards. Women continue to earn less than men, experience disproportionate discrimination and gender-based violence, and struggle to find adequate health care.

Even as headlines decry the rank unfairness of the “old boys club” from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, it’s not only the business sector where women are held back. Women are as acutely underrepresented in positions of public leadership as we are in the private sector. Consider how these disparities of who is at the table effect how decisions and policy are made. Now compound this equation for queer and transgender people and communities of color. Indeed, our activism, nestled in a proud legacy, is as crucial today as ever.

Women’s foundations, like women everywhere, achieve great things with a dearth of support. The underfunding of women’s rights and gender justice organizations remains a stubborn hurdle. In the 1970s, when the women’s funding movement began, only 1% of all philanthropic dollars were going to specifically fund women and girls. Shockingly, four decades later, only 4% of all U.S. foundation support goes specifically to women and girls – and even less to support queer and transgender people. This is not nearly enough progress to redress the gender inequities and misogyny our communities experience every day in this country.

While many foundations have made recent commitments to addressing racial and economic inequity, the philanthropic sector must also make a commitment to foreground gender justice. You can be assured that the Women’s Foundation of California will continue to address all forms of gender, economic, and racial injustice and the compounded challenges faced by women and transgender people. And here are three pillars we will use to get there: Invest | Train | Connect.


The Women’s Foundation of California has a track record of supporting community-based organizations working to address the root causes of inequity and advance solutions across a broad range of issues led by women and girls—especially women of color, low-income women, immigrant women and LGBTQIA+ people.

We are often the first funder of organizations that go on to play a critical role in movement strategies to advance gender justice. We were, for example, the first funder of the Young Women’s Freedom Center (formerly the Center for Young Women’s Development), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Community Water Center, ACT for Women and Girls, and the California Healthy Nail Salons Collaborative. We have also incubated emerging organizations, including Essie Justice Group, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Alliance for Girls, and La Cocina. We are honored to remain in coalition with many of these organizations who are major forces at the local, state, and national levels.

Within our new strategic framework, and through our new multi-issue Community Power Fund, the Foundation will continue to invest in strategies that advance gender justice along the continuum of power-building, including community organizing, policy advocacy, civic participation, integrated voter engagement, and culture change. These efforts will coalesce around three core issue areas: health, safety, and economic justice. Our grantmaking will support organizations working on pay equity, affordable childcare, ending gender-based violence, workplace protections, ending exclusionary school disciplinary policies, criminal justice reform, reproductive health and justice, and environmental health and justice.

Photo by Matt Radick

Our new, responsive grantmaking guidelines and practices reflect our trust in community-based leaders as the experts, because we know that people closest to the problems in their communities are best situated to design the solutions. The Community Power Fund will model for the philanthropic sector a simplified application and reporting processes that will remove burdensome requirements and liberate our partners to focus on building community power.

Given the urgency of many of the issues our partners are dealing with, we have opted to prioritize general operating support, and to streamline the grant decision process from months to weeks, and, in some instances, days. We value relationships with our partners, so the application process will accommodate multiple formats; in addition to the written request, we will accept applications by video, and in some cases, through phone interviews. Progress reports will also be simplified, and we will accept them in multiple formats. We’ve heard our partners’ feedback and observed trends in the foundation sector, and are excited to deploy this simplified and more direct process in the coming year.


Now in its 15th year, our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) will keep the Foundation focused on policy leadership development, because we know that grassroots community power is realized when community leaders help shape laws, regulations, ordinances, and allocations. Removing real and perceived barriers to shaping policy will directly alter the course of our democracy, economy, and shared future.

Because, as I’ve noted, women and transgender people—particularly those from communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, and queer communities—are often a critical voice missing in policymaking, WPI will continue to increase the number of grassroots community leaders who actively engage in this process. This work is deliberately inclusive of the groups who are most often shut out from the halls of policy and power.

Since 2003, 32 of the policy projects of our WPI fellows have been signed into law. Just in September, three of our WPI teams sent their bills to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. By October 15 all three of these bills had been signed by the Governor.

One, Assembly Bill 523: The Equity in Clean Energy Investments Act, authored by Assemblymember Reyes, allocates 35% of California’s renewable energy fund to projects located in and benefitting disadvantaged and low-income communities.

The second, Assembly Bill 273: Unlocking Opportunities for Families, authored by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, expands access to subsidized childcare by clarifying that English as a Second Language and High School Equivalency education programs are acceptable types of training programs.

Senate Bill 310: Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Trans People, authored by Senator Atkins is one of two groundbreaking bills signed into law by Governor Brown last night that addresses the rights of trans people. This piece of community-powered legislation ensures that incarcerated transgender people can more easily petition for a name and/or gender marker change.

A fourth WPI bill, Senate Bill 320: College Student Right to Access Act, authored by Senator Leyva, will ensure that students at California public higher education institutions have access to medication abortion and scientifically accurate abortion counseling on campus, removing the time and cost barriers that currently exist. This bill will be taken up again in January 2018 and will be a game-changer for California, and a model for other states in expanding reproductive health services.

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. I’ll highlight just one more of WPI’s wins: the 2017 Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which expanded labor protections to more than 500,000 domestic workers, (the majority of whom are immigrant women).

Over this decade and a half, WPI has trained almost 500 community leaders who are connected to millions of people across California. The potential for the WPI network to advance change in California is tremendous, essential, and—as activist leaders from other countries pointed out to me at the September 2017 Women’s Funding Network global conference, inspiring well beyond our borders.

Given the state of the world today, I am encouraged and honored to know we are shining a beacon that other regions and nations find valuable. With trainees coming from across the spectrum of social justice movements: reproductive justice, criminal justice reform, economic equity, relationship abuse and gender-based violence, and environmental health and justice, I am gratified to know WPI serves as a model for people power changing the world.


The Foundation was founded on the ideal of the power of the collective. The third pillar of our strategy connects nonprofit and grassroots leaders, WPI fellows and alums, donors and policy leaders, advocates, grant partners and grantmakers in a variety of convenings and learning opportunities that will collectively build and advance gender justice in California.

One of our important continued partnerships is with the California Budget and Policy Center, with which we launched the California Women’s Well-Being Index in 2016. This first of-its-kind online resource provides data on women’s health, safety, economic security, employment and earnings, and political empowerment for all of California’s 58 counties. In the coming months, with support from JP Morgan Chase Foundation, we will host a series of gatherings to share and use the data to advance system-level change.

Also in the coming year, we will continue our partnership with the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose to host the next Bay Area Women’s Summit in June 2018. This action-oriented convening will gather 1,500 people to explore solutions to the most pressing challenges for women and girls in our local region.

Looking across a broader geographic scope, we enjoy a powerful role in the women’s funding movement. This work builds on recent alliances including the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., held in 2016, at which eight women’s foundations came together to launch the National Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives. This collaborative, modeled on the successful initiative led by the New York Women’s Foundation, has already moved 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 recently forged a partnership with Alliance for Girls to launch a Bay Area Young Women’s Initiative and are rapidly bringing on funding partners, including the Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation to join us in increasing resources to young women, girls, and trans youth of color.

It is not lost on me that our role as a public community foundation gives us a unique position between funders and activists. We will leverage this position to deliver the second year of the WFC’s Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute. 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 in advocacy efforts.

Finally in the year ahead, with The California Endowment, Blue Shield of California Foundation, and Fondation CHANEL, we will co-convene the first-ever California Gender Justice Funders Convening. The convening will be a diverse gathering of funders and donors who will collaborate, coordinate, and leverage our respective investments for greater effect.

Given the contemporary political, economic, and social climate, with both critical challenges and extraordinary opportunities, we are confident that the Foundation’s program strategy: Invest | Train | Connect will achieve the greatest results for building community power and position us to continue defending progress and advancing justice in California.

When I was appointed CEO of the Foundation in 2014, I was thrilled to be coming back home to an organization and a state I care so deeply about. Advancing gender justice has been my life’s work, and doing it here in California alongside so many powerful community leaders and colleagues is the greatest privilege of my life. I hope you share our sense of purpose about this work, and are encouraged to continue to engage with, act upon, and join our growing base of funders who are supporting this agenda.

This work is powered by you.

The feminist future we are building together in California is going to be built by all of us sharing our time, our money, and our skills.  Please consider contributing today.

Together We Are Unstoppable.

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