A Toy Startup's Move to Fund Social Justice Work

A lot of nonprofit work and research focuses on children's education, and for good reasons. But what about playtime? Specifically, how can toys, games and media perpetuate limiting or divisive stereotypes? And in a marketplace that strongly emphasizes social justice, how should manufacturers and retailers support, say, a boy who abandons his action games to play with his sister’s Barbies?

That’s the impetus behind Woozy Moo and its founder Hai Tiet, who emerged from Harvard, Columbia, and a stint at the United Nations with an understanding that the toy industry “controls fun” in a way that can limit children’s behavioral horizons at an early age, especially young girls.

According to an interview with Forbes, Tiet was frustrated with the limited way policy can address playtime, and decided to pursue a more entrepreneurial course. Based in Atlanta, Woozy Moo sells toys under the banner of girl empowerment, eco-friendliness, and attention to special-needs children. And now Woozy Moo has launched a grant program to support direct service or advocacy work that addresses social injustice or inequality.

The grants in question aren’t large (up to $5,000), but Woozy Moo doesn’t say applicants need to be working in the early childhood field. Nor do applicants need to be based in the U.S. Ideally, the grant should fund work that combats the marginalization of a specific population (women, LGBTQ people, racial minorities, etc.), and cost effectiveness is a key criterion. Applications can be accessed at the link above, and this year’s deadline is October 31.

The grant will not fund research, individuals, exclusively religious purposes, for-profit organizations, or scholarships/endowments. The company is open to its grantees using the money for general operating support. Note that Woozy Moo funds its own separate scholarship program supporting incoming college students who are interested in combating discrimination and its effects.

As Woozy Moo continues its journey into nonprofit funding, its e-commerce business is tapping into a growing market of parents who place a premium on good gender messaging. The old pink-blue dynamic is still entrenched, but it's showing some cracks.

Social media is making it easier for concerned parents and activists to call out toymakers who engage in blatant stereotyping on their labels. In addition to Woozy Moo, big names like Toys R Us and Lego are moving away from boys’ toys versus girls’ toys and toward categorization by age and interest area. Mattel has also sounded off about changing how it markets its popular lines.

Big toy manufacturers tend to focus their nonprofit funding on the childhood space. Like Woozy Moo, though on a larger scale, the Mattel Children’s Foundation funds NGOs throughout the world, while Hasbro’s ECE giving has been mainly U.S.-focused. Other funders in the space include LEGO (diverse funding through the LEGO Children’s Fund), and the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood, which focuses on the importance of play for younger children (versus academic rigor).