African American Women’s Giving Circle Celebrates Ten Years

This year, the African American Women’s Giving Circle (AAWGC), one of two giving circles sponsored by the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, celebrates its 10th anniversary. To date, AAWGC has disbursed more than $226,000 in grants to local nonprofit Grantee Partners serving the needs of African American women and girls.

While we honor what we have accomplished in that time, the recent wave of protests across the country sparked by hurt and outrage among many people—of all colors—reminds us that the most important days of our work are ahead. If we are to address the critical issues facing many communities of color, the economic security of vulnerable women and girls is more essential than ever.

AAWGC’s goals are simple: encourage philanthropy among African American women, and, by pooling our members’ financial contributions, help local organizations address unmet needs. We focus our resources on area organizations that are led by an African American woman and serve the needs of African American women and girls. We look for organizations that demonstrate innovative and promising approaches to addressing the social and economic obstacles that are barriers to success for African American women and girls.

For example, this year, we made $8,000 in grants to three unique organizations: Breast Care for Washington, which operates the only state-of-the-art breast cancer screening facility east of the Anacostia River; Courtney’s House, which helps women and children heal from domestic sex trafficking and commercial sex exploitation; and Ramona’s Way, which offers holistic services for women who abuse substances and who are also survivors of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse.

We are proud to support these organizations, the women who run them and the invaluable work they do in our communities.

As AAWGC’s chair, I am equally proud of the women, like myself, who have pooled their financial contributions—and given their time and talents—to help these unique organizations. And I am proud that together and individually we can each say, “I am a philanthropist” and together we are making a difference.

Pay It Forward

One of my favorite books is “Pay It Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde which was then made into a movie starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the movie did not do the book justice.  But, what can you do…Hollywood!

The storyline is that the thirteen year old protagonist, Trevor McKinney, is given an assignment by his social studies teacher to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. His plan — called “Pay It Forward” — is based on the networking of good deeds. He does a significant favor for three people, and then asks each recipient of a favor to do an equally significant favor for three others rather than paying the favor back to the person that did it for them. This notion of “paying it forward” has become a well-known meme but it begs a question about the notions of “paying back” and “paying forward” that have really interesting implications for philanthropy.

Looking at patterns of giving, we see that some of the highest philanthropic giving goes to churches, alma maters, etc. People feel very connected to places that have helped shape their lives in some way and are thus compelled to support them when they have the means. This kind of giving, while important and meaningful, really is about “giving back.”

Now, think about how the concept of “paying it forward” plays out in philanthropy.

There is a point in the story where Trevor believes that his experiment is a failure because it doesn’t catch on the way he had hoped. But in the book, as in life, we see that while paying back can offer more immediate results (we have that more direct connect between the benefactor and the beneficiary), paying it forward takes much more time and much more faith that our act of kindness — or in the case of philanthropy and generosity — yields what we hope it will: someone whose life has changed in a way that compels and allows them to do the same for others.

This pay it forward model of philanthropy is really what the work of The Women’s Foundation is about. But it takes a leap of faith, which is hard to do.  We already know that our churches and schools have helped us – we experience first-hand the impact on our own lives that these institutions have had. But how comfortable are we in making an investment in something that is often very much outside of our own experience, and/or will take time to yield dividends? Like the stock market, social change and pay it forward philanthropy is about the long-game. But also like the stock market, for those who are patient and willing to take some measure of “risk” by believing in the potential of something they have not yet seen come to pass or experienced, there is the opportunity to see incredible returns. It is clear that when you invest in the power and potential of people, the impact can be profound.

If you have any doubt about the power of “paying it forward,” just read Catherine Hyde Ryan’s book. And next time you think about your philanthropy, ask yourself – are you paying back, or can you be bold enough to also pay it forward?

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s Luncheon Remarks

On October 23, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2014 Leadership Luncheon. Please click here to see a video of her delivering the speech in its entirety.

Here. Now. For Her. – is this year’s luncheon theme.  I hope as you thought about coming today, you also took a moment to reflect on what this means to you.

Why are you here, now—in this moment?  Who is the “her” in your life who has touched you profoundly, or whose life you have touched? 

For me, this theme is deeply personal. You see, in many ways, I am HER.  And I am here today because of my mother, Dianna Lockwood.

My mom grew up poor in a small town in NH, on a working farm, the youngest of three sisters. She never had the opportunity to go to college.  She met my dad while working as a medical transcriptionist at a VA hospital in Vermont.  He was a physician’s assistant.  They created a wonderful life—two kids and a house they built on 10 acres of land.

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And then the summer I was 10, it all changed. I remember the day well – my mom and dad came home in the middle of the day looking very sad and confused.  It was the early 80s, and many of you will remember, a recession was hitting the country.  The small private doctor’s office in our hometown was struggling financially, so they made a business decision – lay off the person who made the most (my dad) and the person who made the least (my mom). That decision changed our lives forever.

Up until that point, my dad was a high-functioning alcoholic. But being laid off crushed him, and he turned to alcohol frequently and worked only sporadically. We repaired our relationship later in my life, and he was an amazing grandfather to my girls before he passed away 5 years ago. But for the rest of my childhood, it was my mom who got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, consistently working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

I knew that my mom was making great sacrifices so that my brother and I would have the opportunities that she did not.  I could see how tired and stressed she was, and I’m certain there were many days when she’d simply had enough. I learned early on that if I wanted something, I needed to work hard to earn it.  I got my first job at 15.  That summer, and every summer for the rest of high school, I too worked two jobs, selling tickets at the local race track by day and waitressing at the local Pizza Hut by night.

I worked not because I wanted extra spending money, but to pay for basic necessities and do what I could to save for college. My mom always regretted not having that opportunity, but was determined that her children would.  It wasn’t easy financially, and I worked full-time pretty much the entire way, but I am proud to say that I am the first person on my mom’s side of the family to not only get a 4-year degree, but also a master’s degree.

Today is a big deal for my mom.  She’s here, with my husband, my daughters, and my brother.  She’s watching her little girl on stage, running a nonprofit in the nation’s capital, remembering some very dark days, and I know she’s thinking, “Damn, it was all worth it.”

Women's Foundation Luncheon 2014

So, I do what I do because of her. I’ve devoted my career to working on behalf of low-income women and their families because I want her to know that the investment she made in me, all of her sacrifices, were not in vain.  And now that I’m a mother, I have a new, more profound understanding of what she did, and I know that as I strive to make a better life for my own daughters, I am paying forward what my mother has given me.

But, my story is just one story.  There are many, many others.  Thousands of women who do all they can to ensure their children and families can step beyond their own experiences and limitations to live their dreams and achieve their potential.  But sometimes having a dream and working hard is not enough. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.

There are more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty across the Washington metropolitan region. Sadly, that statistic hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, particularly in light of the recession and what has now become a slow and prolonged recovery for those most in need. That stat also doesn’t capture the additional 250,000 women and girls who are living just above the poverty line, but certainly aren’t earning enough to make ends meet.

As frustrating as these numbers are, and as impatient as we all are for change, we have to remember that most women in our community didn’t suddenly fall into poverty.  It’s multigenerational.  And just as it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be resolved overnight.

What does it take to move women and girls from a place of economic vulnerability to security?

The answers to that question and the issues our region faces are complex, but now is the time to stand firm in our commitment, craft a bold vision, and re-double our efforts so that future generations of girls can achieve their dreams. That’s why we launched an innovative two-generation initiative to work with middle school aged girls and their female caregivers—whether that’s a mother, grandmother, or another women responsible for guiding and shaping that girl.

You all remember what it was like to be in middle school. It’s a difficult transition under the best of circumstances. As girls develop into young women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security.

Our goals for investing in girls are to support high school completion, develop self-esteem, encourage positive choices, and empower them as social change agents.

Our goals for investing in women are to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits, support increased financial capability, and provide the foundational skills that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

In the past year, we’ve been proud to partner with College Success Foundation, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and YWCA National Capital Area to help forge collaborations and creative thinking on ways to serve both middle school aged girls and their female caregivers with programming that meets their individual needs, while also bringing them together so that they can support one another on this journey. This work will first launch in Ward 7, but our goal is expand our two-generation work across the region, so that the 53,000 girls currently living in poverty can have a brighter future.

The two-generation strategy actually builds and expands upon a decade of investments in our community that have focused on low-income women and women-headed families specifically. Through our grantmaking program, Stepping Stones, we have invested more than $7 million. And that investment has helped over 10,000 women increase their incomes and assets by $45 million through higher wages, decreased debt, and increased savings.

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Yes, these are impactful outcomes, but I believe we need to think bigger.  We are capable of doing more.  How do we move from 10,000 women to 100,000 or 200,000?  My goal is to, one day, stand before you and say we’ve accomplished this.  And I believe we can do it.

The Women’s Foundation has a powerful voice, and we have a responsibility to use that voice and our power as a convener to affect greater change. Yes, our investments in the community are critically important, but so too is our voice and our deep expertise and knowledge.  These are tools we can leverage, and it’s the combination of our investments and our influence that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

But it’s not just about us.  I know that no one organization can single-handedly end poverty.  This will require unprecedented collaboration and partnership among philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits, and individuals. And we need all of you, here in this room, to help spark a movement. We are poised and ready to lead that movement, and I want each of you to join me. Let’s harness our collective strength to, in turn, strengthen others.

This is the time—NOW.

Because what we do in this moment will shape the future of our communities. There are thousands of women and girls who need us now, more than ever.  Each one of them has hopes and dreams, and they deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Stand with us. 

HERE…NOW…FOR HER.

Thank you.

 

A Look at the 2013 Poverty Data For Our Region

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that gives us a snapshot of what poverty was like in 2013 in the Washington region. The data shows that poverty rates have slightly increased from 2012 and that women continue to be more likely than men to experience economic insecurity. This means they can barely afford paying their basic necessities such as food, housing, health insurance, and transportation. Roughly 10 percent, or almost 210,000 women and girls, in our region lived in poverty, compared with 159,700 men and boys, or 8 percent. Things were worst for families headed by single mothers—almost a quarter were poor— and for women of color—about 14 percent of Latinas and 16 of percent of African-American women struggled with poverty compared with only 6 percent of White women.

Poverty Data chart

There are many reasons why families fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, the persistent gender wage gap, barriers to accessing education and discrimination. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. That means, for example, supporting a family of four with less than $24,000  last year.  In a region like ours, where costs of housing, food and transportation are among the highest in the nation, $24,000 is not nearly enough to make a living. According to the Economic Security Index calculated by Wider Opportunities for Women, a family of four composed of two workers, an infant and a school child need an approximate annual income of $117,880 in the District of Columbia and $103,960 in Prince George’s County, for example, to meet their basic needs without receiving any public or private assistance.

The newly released data highlights the urgency of the work we are doing at The Women’s Foundation. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Such efforts help build their economic security and give them the opportunity to achieve their goals. Securing stable employment with living wages can alleviate the burden of living pay-check to pay-check and the constant worrying about how to make ends meet and care for their families, while allowing them to save and plan for a bright future.

Based on the stories we hear from our Grantee Partners and learn from our evaluation efforts we know we are impacting women’s lives. Maya was enrolled in one of YearUp’s workforce development programs. The odds were against her. She was living in a low-cost housing complex for mothers with many rules that made her participation in the program more challenging. She had to miss several days to take care of her sick child and money was always a concern for her, but she pushed through these obstacles and exceled at her classes and job internship. Upon graduation from the program she secured a full-time job with benefits and a salary that lifted her and her son out of poverty and changed the trajectory of their lives.

As we continue supporting the work of our Grantee Partners many more lives and families like Maya’s will be impacted. In the meantime, the updated poverty numbers are an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. We still have a long way to go before we realize a future where all women are economically secure.

 

Adult Education and Family Literacy in Our Region

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week is held each September with the purpose of raising awareness about the importance of basic literacy and numeracy skills for personal and social well-being, and economic security. Basic skills are key drivers of economic growth and societal advancement, and critical to the prosperity and development of children and families.

In the United States, 36 million adults have low levels of literacy and numeracy skills— meaning they aren’t able to read, write, and solve problems at levels necessary to perform their job or navigate common situations which require literacy; or they’re unable to use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas. Despite high levels of education nationwide, literacy and numeracy in the United States are still relatively weak compared to other industrialized countries, with little sign of improvement in recent decades according to a study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last fall.

Adult Literacy chart

The OECD study also revealed that socio-economic background has a very strong influence on adult basic skills. The incidence of low literacy and numeracy levels affects minorities, immigrants and communities of color at a disproportionate rate. According to the study, eight out of ten adults lacking basic skills are either Black (35 percent) or Hispanic (43 percent), compared with only one out of ten for Whites.

In our region, it is estimated that almost half a million people, or about 15 percent of the population 18 years and over, lack basic literacy skills. Prince George’s County has the largest concentration of low-skilled adults, roughly 22 percent of the population, followed by the District of Columbia (19 percent), Arlington (17 percent) and Alexandria (16 percent). Fairfax and Montgomery County adults fare a bit better, with only 11 percent of the population lacking basic literacy skills. These figures go hand-in-hand with educational attainment rates for adults 25 years and over. Prince George’s County has the largest share of adults (41 percent)  who have only a high school degree or less, almost 15 percent higher than the regional average (27 percent) and roughly twice as much compared with Arlington (17 percent), the city of Alexandria (20 percent), Fairfax County (22 percent) and Montgomery County (24 percent).

Literacy and numeracy are highly linked to employment outcomes and economic security. Basic reading, writing and math skills are often a requirement for jobs that pay living wages. It becomes even harder to move up the ladder or succeed in workforce development programs if the baseline to understand new concepts, learn and participate in program activities is missing. Lack of literacy and numeracy skills affects individuals beyond their capacity to earn a living; it is also deeply correlated with personal well-being. Adults with low literacy skills are more likely to report low levels of health, trust, political efficacy, and volunteering. Parents’ reading and math skills also have a lasting impact on their children’s development and future success in schooling. Studies show that children of parents who have not completed high school are more likely to drop out themselves. As parents increase their literacy, they are better equipped to become involved in their children’s education and provide financial stability for their families.

At The Women’s Foundation, we recognize the importance of building basic skills among adults and the power of education to break the cycle of poverty. Since 2012, we have supported Academy of Hope’s efforts to provide women with the basic skills needed to be on a path toward obtaining better jobs and improving their overall well-being. In fact, last year for Adult and Family Literacy Week, we brought you the story of an Academy of Hope graduate, Dorothy, who taught us, at age 74, that it is never too late to go back to school.  This year, the Foundation has continued its support for Academy of Hope, investing in the transition of Academy of Hope to an adult public charter school. In addition, through the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, the Foundation invests in school-readiness programs for children aged 0-5 that provide the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Basic education for all lays the groundwork to live and work together, communicate, develop and share knowledge, and earn a living that pays family sustaining wages. Investing in adult and early childhood education is helping families to build a better economic future and increase social and personal well-being. Through our grants, we’re working towards a high literacy future for our region, taking a page out of Dorothy’s book and sticking to her motto, “If you dream it, you can achieve it.”

High School Credential Opening Doors of Opportunity

The Adult and Family Literacy Month blog post below is written by  Lecester Johnson, Executive Director of The Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner, Academy of Hope.

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Beverly S., a recent graduate of Academy of Hope, exclaimed, “Getting my high school diploma is the best!” She adds, “It’s so good to take on a challenge and complete it. It (a high school credential) is already opening up new doors of opportunity for me!”

Beverly, like so many adults in Washington, DC, was desperate to get her high school credential and begin to turn her life around.  She was one of the lucky ones.  More than 64,000 adults in the District of Columbia lack a high school credential but the city only serves about 7,000 residents through its locally funded adult education programs and adult charter schools. In recent years, Academy of Hope has had a waiting list of over 200 adults each term with the goal of obtaining their GED or improving their academic skills to obtain a better job or to enter college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 30 million adults lack a high school credential in the U.S.  Across the city, adult education providers report long waiting lists for their services. Yet, for the last ten years, national and local funding has continued to decline, with more cuts to come due to sequestration.

Adult education has been the easy target for cuts as we blame adults for squandering an opportunity – one that some would argue, given the life circumstance of many who drop out, never existed. The ramifications of continued funding cuts in adult education have begun to reveal themselves. The release of survey results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competency (PIAAC) last fall confirmed what many in adult education already knew. American adults are not doing well in literacy, numeracy or problem solving skills compared to other countries. The impact of low literacy extends beyond the adult with low skills. PIACC findings indicate that more than any of the 24 nations participating in the survey, a U.S. parent’s literacy and socioeconomic status had the greatest impact on a child’s ability to succeed in school. Because of this, it is not surprising that U.S. results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA are also lagging. PISA is designed to test whether high school students can apply what they’ve learned in school to real-life problems.

When dealing with the drop-out crisis, elected officials often cite stopping the pipeline of dropouts as a justification for increased funding in K-12 education. The pipeline, however, begins with the parent. Parents with strong literacy skills can better help their children do homework, study and succeed in school. According to a 2012 Urban Institute report, young adults whose parents have a high school diploma are more likely to complete high school than are those whose parents do not. They are also less likely to live in poverty.

Beverly S., who is also a mother of two, illustrates the key role a parent’s literacy plays. She says her life has been a struggle but she managed to get by, and she always instilled in her children the importance of learning and finishing high school. Both of her children graduated high school. Her example is also motivating her son to continue his training as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and work towards a stable career.

Beverly has already begun to reap the benefits of her education. Most recently, she applied and was accepted to Public Allies’ DC fellowship program. Through Public Allies, she has been placed at Academy of Hope and serves as our Student Navigator, providing support for fellow adult learners! She says her plan after her 10-month Public Allies fellowship is to enroll in college to study business management. With her high school diploma in hand, Beverly is aiming for a career, not just a job. Her goal is to own her own business, become a consultant to help other small businesses and nonprofits, and someday buy a house of her own.

Is "care" having a moment or a movement?

This is the final installment in our series on the White House Summit on Working Families, which The Women’s Foundation attended earlier this summer.  Be sure to read the other posts in our series.

As a foundation focused on economic security work, “care” is both a central and pervasive challenge – and an opportunity to influence the trajectory of multiple generations. Child care allows parents to work, or to complete the education and training necessary to find a good job. But quality early care and education is expensive, and not always accessible – in terms of location, or the hours that may or may not match up with a worker’s schedule. Quality also comes at a cost: “In 2012, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.” That said, quality early care and education provides critical early learning opportunities, and helps prepare children for kindergarten and beyond. For low-income children in particular, early learning can help close the “readiness gap” that influences educational attainment and economic security in the long-term.

As a women’s foundation, these issues are even more central. Women make up a large percentage of the care workforce (in the child care and early learning space, but also home care and eldercare workers). These professions are low paying. Look at the formal child care workforce alone, and you’ll see that women make up nearly 95% of the workforce. Those jobs are also some of the lowest paying in the US: of the 823 occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 24 professions earn less than child care workers. Looking beyond the formal care workforce, women are also largely informally impacted by the “sandwich generation,” no matter their profession – that is, they are taking on the responsibility of caring for children and aging parents simultaneously. This has a tremendous impact on work/life balance, employment opportunities, and earning potential.

The White House Summit on Working Families featured a panel discussion on caregiving. A few highlights from the conversation…

  • On quality early care and education: In decisions about child care, quality is not always the driver of parent choice. Other factors could be cost, convenience, or the comfort of knowing a family member or neighbor. In practice and in policy, we have to find ways to get beyond the amorphous “quality” concept that may or may not resonate with parents.
  • On economic security: As Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, pointed out, the burden of balancing work and family has a long-term impact on economic security. Seventy-five percent of people with caregiving responsibilities are also working; two-thirds of those people find that they have to make some sort of workplace accommodation to allow them to handle their caregiving responsibilities. The resulting loss in wages, pension, and social security for each of these women: $325,000 over the period that the worker is also a caregiver.
  • On the case for employers:  David Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons, pointed out the impact of “caregiving stress” on workers. He makes the economic case to employers for workplace flexibility and balancing caregiving responsibilities:  caregiving stress cuts into worker productivity, and it impacts the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare. There’s an economic case for employers to be on board with changes in policy that influence this issue.

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What was missing from the Summit conversation?

  • Robust discussion of improving pay for the caregiving workforce. It was only a question from the audience, at the end of the panel session, that sparked discussion around low pay. In response, Duffy Campbell of the National Women’s Law Center pointed to the need for policy solutions – that the market isn’t working for the workers who are parents/caregivers, or the workers who are caregiving providers. I only wish this was a more central piece of the discussion. Higher pay for this workforce would impact the economic security of this mostly-female workforce; it would also help translate to higher quality early care and education programs in the community.
  • Race. I was happy that gender was often discussed at the Summit, but overall, race was left out of the conversation. The same was true in the panel on caregiving – even though, for example, 16% of the child care workforce are African American and 19% are of Hispanic or Latino origin.
  • How issues of caregiving begin early. The Women’s Foundation invests in the economic security of women AND girls. When we planned our strategy for investing in girls , we repeatedly heard from providers and advocates the need to recognize the caregiving responsibilities that girls and young women were taking on at home, and the impact of those responsibilities on their education, afterschool options and workforce participation. When reliable care isn’t available for younger siblings, older girls in the family often step in. Solving caregiving challenges has the potential to impact multiple generations at once.

It certainly feels like care is having a moment in the spotlight – from the Summit, to national conversations about Pre-K access and media stories talking about the crisis of care. We can only hope this moment turns into a movement with real solutions for families.

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If you’re interested in care issues, check out more on The Women’s Foundation’s Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative. Interested in further reading? Check out the following resources:

 

The Emotional Fragility of Life Is Easily Shattered

Editor’s note: The piece below was co-authored by Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President & CEO of Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and Catherine Meloy, President & CEO of Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Earlier this month, a tragic story unfolded in our nation’s capital that was reported in the Washington Post, Woman, 30, Charged in Mother’s Fatal StabbingKieva Hooks, a young, single mother was charged with the murder of her own mother in a home they shared in Columbia Heights.  While many questions surrounding this tragic incident remain unanswered, what is known with all certainty is that, as a result, the lives of three people have been ruined:  Kieva, her mother, and her nine- year-old daughter.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in some of the most disadvantaged communities throughout the DC region.  According to an analysis by Washington Area Women’s Foundation of the American Community Survey, the District of Columbia has exceptionally high poverty rates (41.3 percent) among female-headed households with children.  As it happens, Kieva was among this most vulnerable population.

Kieva attempted to turn her life around by enrolling in a Goodwill training program funded by Washington Area Women’s Foundation several years ago that provided her with marketable job skills and supportive services ultimately leading to successful employment.  However, transitioning from a life of struggles to one of independence is a difficult path fraught with detours.

Because Kieva had been served by both Goodwill and The Women’s Foundation, the words and the despair that jumped off the pages of the Washington Post article had new meaning to us.  This was not just “another article” about a faceless tragedy.  This was a life we had touched.

As a society, we should all feel the pain and anger that come with senseless acts of violence.   Incidents like this one should give us greater resolve to take the actions necessary to influence change so that there are fewer outcomes like Kieva’s.

Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Goodwill, Washington Area Women’s Foundation and numerous other strong charitable agencies in and around Washington, DC stand ready to provide assistance when necessary.  But we need the commitment of our community, both the public and private sectors, to help address the needs of the most vulnerable.  So we end with this question:  Will you stand by us as we continue to work to change the outcomes for people like Kieva, her mother, and her daughter?  Indeed, you’re the only ones who can.

Every Day is Election Day: Catching up with Rebecca Sive

Around this time last year, we hosted a Brown Bag Lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. Since that event, Rebecca has been touring the country talking about her book and meeting with women at all levels of leadership. We were lucky enough to catch-up with Rebecca by phone recently for an update on what she has learned through these conversations with women across the country. 

What are some of the top things that you have learned in the last year traveling around the country talking to people about your book?

I think the thing that stood out to me the most is that — across race, ethnic, age and geographic lines — there are women everywhere who want to be politically active. That was very interesting to me, not to mention heartwarming. Going into the book tour, I thought perhaps women’s sentiments would differ from place to place, but they didn’t. Everywhere across our country, there are women who are very clear that being a public office holder is very important to them.  And there are also, for instance, women who have already been the PTA president or a member of the school board, who have now decided that the next step is the state legislature or some other higher office. That was wonderful to see and hear about. They were not a homogeneous group, either, but a heterogeneous group of women who care deeply about their communities and making them better.

Related to this was the eagerness I saw to learn how to run and win: “How do I go about running for office? What are the steps I can take to do that, to seek the leadership position I want?”

Something else that I think is important, and that I saw reaffirmed — throughout my book tour — was how important it is for women to acknowledge that while they are seeking an office or political leadership in order to, in most cases, make advances on a particular issue, it is also necessary for them to understand and acknowledge that they are seeking power; that it is okay to seek power, and that to seek power to do good is the best. I find women are still sometimes hesitant to talk about this aspect of public leadership. So many women start their public careers by saying, “Well I really want to work on this issue.” Regularly, I found myself reminding my audiences that, in order for them to be effective on issues they care about, they would have to seek influence and power, wholeheartedly. Actually, this truth needs to be underscored for all of us!

Another key lesson that came up during my book tour is this: women who seek leadership positions really need sponsors (as well as tools like Every Day Is Election Day). To me, sponsors are people who open doors and bring you into the room. They say, for instance, “I understand you want to be in the state legislature; so, I’m going to invite you to be my guest at this important event — or speech or meeting — so that you can meet some of the people that can help make that happen for you.” Mentors are great, but sponsors are indispensable.

What do you see as the benefits that women get from running for any kind of office?

I feel strongly that when women put themselves out there and run for office, they are saying to their community: “This issue matters, and this office matters.” They are saying that it shouldn’t be just anybody who is the PTA president, or the school board president, or in the legislature; that it really matters who sits in those decision making chairs on a daily basis.

Yes, of course, there are also personal qualities that women will gain. For instance, they will learn to speak with confidence; no doubt, their self esteem will grow; but running for office is really about civic engagement. It is part of engaging successfully on behalf other people. That’s the big gain, the most important one gain.

Here is one story to illustrate this truth.  Earlier this month, I went to a county fair in a rural, agricultural area of Michigan. At the fair, I talked to a woman who was running for state representative. She had a classic women’s leadership story to tell me: she had been an accountant, and then a teacher, who was very involved in her community, but she just got fed-up with some things. Since she had retired as a teacher, she said to herself: “Okay, I’m going to run for the state legislature and work to make things better.” So, there she was at the fair. It was 90 degrees out; the humidity was 100%, but she was there shaking hands and talking to as many people as she could, telling them that she wanted to go to Lansing and fight for them. She embodied the notion that: “I understand that, if I am in public office, I can make a positive difference for others.  It’s not so much about me, it is about the world around me.”

In fact, since I visited with The Women’s Foundation last year, I encountered this same story –over and over: women who were clear that their search for political leadership and power wasn’t about them; it was about the potential to make a difference.

When you look at issues of sex and race discrimination, when you look at the systemic barriers to advancement, breaking those barriers down requires a group effort. That’s why The Women’s Foundation exists; that’s why donors give to you; and I think that’s why women who are effective politically are effective: they understand they are mobilizing a group of people; that they are agents of change.

Why is this work important to you?

I have been organizing women, helping and leading women’s causes my whole adult life. This work of mine has never ceased being really important to me because I just see so much power within women to do good. This isn’t to say that we’re all perfect, or that we don’t all have our faults, because we all do. But, it is to say that there is so much opportunity for women to build institutions, like The Foundation, to run for office, to be activists, to make this world better. So, over the course of time, I have just tried to figure-out ways to mobilize women to do that. And, if, sometimes, they don’t realize they have the power to make change, well, then, that motivates me, too.

Think about Women’s Equality Day; think about how hard and how long the suffragists fought to reach that day. That organizing went on for almost 100 years.  So, if we get tired now, well we’ll just take a look at them and keep on going. In this context, I want to say to you that I think we are now at the most important time for women political activists since suffrage. That’s because, for the first time in American history, women are being considered — and running — from the presidency on down. We are in a moment we haven’t experienced before. This is a wonderful (and important) time for all of us to mobilize to advance women’s political leadership.  Thanks to the Women’s Foundation for the work you’re doing to make this happen.