As Women of Color Get Attention from the White House, We've Got Some Questions

On November 4, we held a webinar called Impact Giving for Women and Girls of Color, a first-of-its-kind online forum to discuss where funding is headed for this population, featuring three expert speakers on the topic: NoVo Executive Director Pamela Shifman, Scholar C. Nicole Mason, and Southern Black Rural Women's Initiative leader Oleta Fitzgerald.

It was an amazing experience. I received several emails from attendees in the afterhours, wanting to discuss the future of this movement and looking for ways to guide and coordinate efforts.

In the days that followed, I found myself thinking that the movement to address this disparity for women and girls of color still seemed so small compared to the funding for boys and men of color. I wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Social Change about how much money is going toward men and boys of color in philanthropy, and questioning the disparity. Another writer for the Chronicle, Marie Cohen, wrote a response post titled Men and Boys of Color are a Philanthropic Priority for Good Reason. In some ways, it seemed this was still the prevailing school of thought.

But a week later, the Obama administration announced a new initiative to put $118 million into funding specifically for women and girls of color over the next five years.

The initiative provides yet more evidence of a palpable movement to do better for women and girls of color in philanthropy right now, and it would appear that the Obama administration is picking up on it and pushing for as much investment as possible.

What does this new initiative look like? It's called Prosperity Together, and it is starting with $100 million in funding from 28 foundations focused on women. The partnership is composed primarily of state-based women's foundations of varying sizes, like the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts (small) and the New York Women's Foundation (big). Curiously absent from the list are two other foundations in the Grantmakers for Women and Girls of Color PartnershipNoVo Foundation, which has a huge new initiative around this issue, and the Foundation for a Just Society. Both foundations confirmed that they are not directly involved, though certainly research and projects that the two have funded are contributing to this movement.

In contrast, the founding partners of My Brother's Keeperwhich started with started with $200 millionincluded a lengthy list of corporate donors, such as Sam’s Club, Deloitte Consulting, PepsiCo and Sprint. Where are all these corporate donors now?

There are scant few corporate foundations out there focusing on women and girls of color. Traveler's Insurance has made some small donations specifically to address women and girls of color, and so has the FISA Foundation. But most corporate donations specifically for women and girls of color are in a very low range. Maybe there needs to be some more action from the White House to round up the corporate donor partners for this new movement.

Another $18 million in funding also comes from the Collaborative to Advance Equity in Research—a new and still evolving collective of colleges and universities, public interest groups, publishers and research organizations. This collaborative will be directed by Wake Forest University, and aims to "support new and already existing research efforts focusing on women and girls of color." Vanderbilt University also recently signed on as a partner here.

The Prosperity Together initiative will follow up on the recommendations of a November 2015 reporta 15-page paper from the White House called Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color, which provides a blueprint for where this initiative is headed on the ground. Here is a quick rundown of what's on the agenda:

  1. Fostering school success and reducing unnecessary exclusionary school discipline: Grantmakers for Girls of Color and progressive media outlets in general have been talking about this issue loudly over the past year, and it appears to be paying off. The goal here is "implementing supportive school discipline strategies and policies, including through public awareness of the impact on girls of color."
  2. Meeting the needs of vulnerable and striving youth: This goal is tied directly to research finding that "many girls enter intervening public systems through a route that begins with sexual abuse and trauma." Again, the Grantmakers for Girls of Color initiative was all over this topic, which showed up in the mainstream media frequently over the past year.
  3. Inclusive STEM Education: The plan here is to help more women meet the workforce demands of today, and reduce "opportunity gaps that affect women broadly in STEM education and fields, but often affect women and girls of color the most."
  4. Sustaining Reduced Rates of Teen Pregnancy and Building on Success: The plan is to expand access to  knowledge about birth control and preventive health services.
  5. Economic Prosperity: The goal is to "expand pathways to economic prosperity through opportunities for job mobility and investments in fair, equitable workplace policies."

In contrast, for My Brother's Keeper, the White House released a 33-page paper in July 2015 called Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High-Return Opportunities for Change, which outlines six milestones to be reached for boys and men of color:

Milestones 1 and 2: Entering School Ready to Learn and Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade: Here, the report advocates for universal preschool as a strategy to bring more disadvantaged youth up to speed educationally.

Milestone 3: Graduating From High School Ready for Career and College: The report advocates "high-performing charter schools."

Milestones 4 and 5: Completing Postsecondary Education and Training and Successfully Entering the Workforce: Here, the report advocates for student support and workforce development programs. 

Milestone 6: Reducing Violence and Providing a Second Chance The report advocates for mentoring programs and initiatives that reduce recidivism.

While these initiatives are obviously not easily comparable, it is interesting to note how much more expansive the agenda is for men and boys of color, including big milestones about educational attainment and workforce involvement. Interestingly, too, all of the interventions for the men and boys of color are generalizable to women, whereas the initiatives for women and girls do not lend as easily to generalization for men. For example, there is no mention of trauma and abuse for boys and men of color, though this is likely a comparable problem.  

To be sure, different populations require different frames, but doesn't something feel off here?