Ms. Foundation focuses funds on groups led by minority women

NEW YORK (AP) — The Ms. Foundation for Women unveiled $4 million in funding Wednesday for more than 100 groups that are working for social justice. But the nation’s oldest women’s foundation says it hopes its grants will exert an even larger impact by helping reshape philanthropy.

More than 90% of Ms. Foundation’s donations will go to groups led by women and girls of color. Ms. Foundation CEO Teresa Younger said the decision to find and fund such groups was a response to her foundation’s report, “Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More with Less.” The report found that annual total philanthropic giving specifically for women and girls of color in the United States averaged just $5.48 in 2018. The overall average giving for each person in the country was about $204.

“The foundation has funded women and girls of color for a long time but not in an explicit and intentional way,” Younger said. “What we wanted to do was really lean into the transparency and be explicit about what we were trying to do.”

Ms. Foundation wasn’t just trying to get more of its money into the hands of groups run by women and girls who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). It wanted to help connect these groups with other donors.

“Our grantee partners and other movement leaders were saying to us, ‘We can’t find who is giving to us’,” Younger said. “While many foundations say they are funding BIPOC people or women and girls of color, but they are not saying it in their proposals. So those that are on the ground, trying to do this work, are unable to figure out where they’re supposed to be applying.”

The Ms. Foundation hopes these grants will help take some mystery out of philanthropy for female-led nonprofits. That’s something that Ratasha Elise, founder of Durham, North Carolina-based healing justice and racial justice nonprofit Chocolate Soul Revival, hopes for almost as much as the funding that her group will receive from the Ms. Foundation.

“We’ve been doing this work for a really long time and having to spend so much time and energy getting access to resources,” Elise said. “There is this possibility of hope that people will see how much, not only our organization, but so many organizations that focus specifically on the needs of women and girls of color.”

Chocolate Soul Revival plans to use its grant from the Ms. Foundation to expand its team, as well as for additional training and to “create some space to reflect,” Elise said. “One of the things that oppression creates is a state of emergency,” she said. “It’s really important to be able to take a step back to be reflective, to look at what’s working and what’s not and be able to make adjustments.”

Like many of the groups the Ms. Foundation wanted to fund, Chocolate Soul Revival takes a broad approach to its racial justice work, which Elise says includes healing justice, economic justice and gender and reproductive justice.

“We’re dealing with wellness in a very holistic way — the mental, emotional, spiritual and the physical aspects,” Elise said. “There are aspects that are ancestral inheritances that are just culturally what communities of color have done for centuries in order to survive, in order to create room to flourish in the face of oppression.”

The Ms. Foundation’s Younger said the shift toward smaller, frontline groups led by women and girls of color was part of a strategic shift from the foundation in recent years.

“We said if we’re going to drop a pebble in the pool of inequality,” Younger said, “we will drop that pebble for women and girls of color, so that anybody in the pool will receive the ripple effect and hopefully we will make change for them too.”

The foundation is focusing its donations around five initiatives that seek social justice.

The “Ms. South” initiative is aimed at funding groups developing female leaders in the Southern United States – from South Carolina-based Beauty Marks for Girls, which supports girls with incarcerated parents, to Healthy and Free Tennessee and Youth Rise Texas.

The Activist Collaboration Fund and the Building Connections Initiative support groups that bring leaders of social justice movements and other sectors together to coordinate efforts. The Girls of Color Initiative supports organizations that are girl-led or girl-centered in their efforts to empower young women. And the S.H.E. initiative funds organizations that advance women’s safety, health and economic justice.

“Our hope is that people will start being intentional about what they are doing,” Younger said. “If they’re funding BIPOC communities, be intentional about it. Say it. Name it. Do your work internally so that you cannot just move money, but you as an institution become anti-racist. Then we want them to track it.”

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