"Now Is Our Chance." Behind NoVo's New Big Bet on Girls and Women of Color

We've been closely watching the NoVo Foundation lately for two very good reasons: First, its assets and giving have been surging in recent years, thanks to an influx of Berkshire Hathaway stock from Warren Buffet (and the soaring value of that stock, which also comprises the bulk of NoVo's endowment). And second, the foundation has emerged as the top funder working to address the structural inequities faced by young women and girls of color in the U.S., an area long neglected by philanthropy. What's more, it's forged an unusual path in that work, seeking to really engage with the people it hopes to see move upward. 

Big money and bold ambitions are always an exciting combination, which is why tracking NoVo is so interesting right now. (And why we recently named its Co-President Jennifer Buffett as one of the 50 most powerful women in philanthropy.)

With that prelude, let's get to today's big news: Which is the NoVo Foundation's announcement of a new seven-year $90 million commitment to “support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color in the United States.”

NoVo’s announcement sets a new high of giving in this space. The $90 million effort is rivaled only by the collective giving of 28 of the country’s women’s funds and foundations, which, together with the White House, announced a $118 million commitment to women and girls of color through Prosperity Together partnership in November of 2015.

That same month, Inside Philanthropy and the Chronicle of Social Change hosted a webinar called Impact Giving for Women and Girls of Color, which featured Pamela Shifman, Novo's Executive Director. Scholar C. Nicole Mason, who now heads a piece of the White House’s research on the subject, also presented at the webinar, along with advocate and leader of the Southern Women’s Rural Black Women’s Initiative, Oleta Fitzgerald. Everyone spoke of the growing momentum in this area. 

The new funds from the NoVo Foundation aim to build on that momentum, supporting grassroots programming and advocacy, as well as national-level policy and culture change efforts. Important to NoVo’s approach, these efforts will be girl-led and girl-driven and “designed to address the systemic and institutional challenges faced by girls and young women of color across the country." 

In order to identify the best use of the $90 million, NoVo will be launching regional learning sessions to hear from young women and girls of color. NoVo’s grantee partners, including Girls for Gender Equity, the African-American Policy Forum, A Long Walk Home and others, have been doing this work of conducting listening tours in communities across the country, in order to develop strategies and priorities for addressing problems.

This bottom up approach is a breath of fresh air in a philanthrosphere where funders tend to operate in a top down fashionand then scratch their head about the limits of their impact.

It's a good moment for NoVo to be writing larger checks for the most marginalized people in America. The White House Prosperity Together initiative shows how high on the agenda issues of women and girls of color have gotten. Yesterday, meanwhile, the White House announced its first ever Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, devoted to advancing public policy that eliminates the disparities that specifically face black girls and women.

This forward movement hasn't come about by accident. Last year was a very active time for the world of funding for women and girls of color in the U.S. As we reported, Grantmakers for Girls of Color was launched, a partnership of the Foundation for a Just Society, Ms. Foundation for Women, New York Women’s Foundation, Communities for Just Schools Fund, and NoVo. The online platform provides research, data and news on how to address disparities for women and girls of color. On May 19th in New York City, these partners will hold a national conference with over seventy funders to strategize ways to address structural inequity, particularly for black girls and young women.

“Across philanthropy and far beyond, we see unprecedented potential to ensure that girls and young women of color finally move from invisibility to investment, “ said Pamela Shifman, executive director of the NoVo Foundation. “Now is our chance to work together to harness this moment and ensure it is translated into long-term, meaningful change.”