Harnisch Takes On Gender Equality In Creative and Collaborative Ways

She’s leading a flock of beautiful ladies who believe women can report war and crimes as well as any man,” reads the garishly dated-sounding ad promo for reporter Ruth Ann Leach. Such was the everyday sexism of Nashville in the 1970s, when Leach made history as the first woman ever permitted to sit next to the male anchor.

Four decades later, Leach—now known as Ruth Ann Harnisch—is encouraging women everywhere to break barriers and defy expectations. As founder and president of the Harnisch Foundation (theHF), she applies “creative, progressive, spirited philanthropy” to advocate for gender and racial diversity and equality, with a strong focus on women and girls.

Some of theHF’s programs are definitely unconventional—they mean it when they say “creative” philanthropy. For instance, there’s Awesome Without Borders, a joint program between the Harnisch Foundation (the sponsor) and the Awesome Foundation, the Awesome Without Border chapter awards a $1,000 no-strings-attached grant to “crazy brilliant ideas” weekly.  

Other programs encourage women to take up creative projects of their own. In 2014, Ruth Ann was a founding co-chair of The Women Moving Millions Film Circle, which aims to galvanize exposure and funding for women filmmakers. Through this partnership, members have opportunities to "learn about, fund, and take action on behalf of women mediamakers, their projects, and the industry, as it relates to gender equity." The initiative is part of a larger network called Women Moving Millions, a group of folks who have each pledged a minimum of $1 million to advance the status of women and girls.

Women innovators can also get a boost from theHF’s SupportTED program. Launched in 2009, the SupporTED program – which was co-created alongside TED and Renee Freedman & Company – provides each class of TED Fellows with personal and professional pro-bono coaching and mentoring. The program was so successful theHF teamed up with Renee once more to produce the Sundance Coaching Initiative, a fellowship for aspiring women film producers and directors.

You may have noticed something about all of these initiatives: theHF developed and leveraged strong partnerships for each one. The foundation seems to excel at collaboration, building working relationships with nonprofits, some of which are current or former grantees.


Curious about the next big project the Harnisch Foundation has in the works? Keep your eyes peeled for Funny Girls.  Launching in the fall of 2015, the program will teach “tween”-age girls (grades 3-8) how improv comedy can be used as a leadership tool. Having coordinated with Blogologues to perform exploratory research, theHF is now curating a committee of experts in child development, improvisation, movement and leadership to create a curriculum. If that's something you are interested in, email your note of interest to jenny@thehf.org.