Trinity develops resource for D.C.'s entrepreneurial women!

As a recent Stepping Stones Grantee Partner (I’m an associate professor at Trinity University in Washington, D.C.), I partnered with students in three of my courses over two semesters to develop, conduct, and analyze two community-based research projects to benefit D.C.-area women.

Trinity University takes seriously its role as a member of our community and one of the ways we work to fulfill our social justice mission is by partnering with other community-based organizations to identify and address our area’s needs.

Our community work takes a number of different forms both on and off campus. Not only do we encourage our students to volunteer, we require students to engage in course-based service projects that benefit our community while reinforcing and extending what they learn in class.

And, unusual for an undergraduate institution, we also provide opportunities for undergraduates to perform hands-on research—something which is usually limited to graduate students at larger universities.  These opportunities not only introduce them to sophisticated and rigorous concepts and methods, but allows them to use their own community as a laboratory and a lens, adding depth, dimension, and a grounding in reality to their college educations.

Our students learn “in the ivory tower” as well as “in the neighborhood.”

Our two community-based research projects had different, yet complimentary, focuses. In one course, my students and I conducted three focus groups bringing together low-income single mothers in the D.C. area to gauge their potential interest in starting their own small businesses.

Our key finding was that these women believed that they would never be able to get ahead as someone else’s employee.  They saw small business ownership as the only way they would ever be able to get ahead financially while balancing the competing (and often conflicting) needs of work and family. We compiled our research findings and analysis into a comprehensive report.

Our research explored both the opportunities and advantages women envisioned when considering self-employment, as well as the obstacles they perceived to be keeping them from making the leap from wage employment to micro entrepreneurship. One of the biggest obstacles our research participants identified was a lack of information about resources out there to help them plan—then actually launch—their businesses (primary need, start-up funding).

This finding neatly segued into our second, parallel research project: an online directory of D.C.-area micro enterprise assistance organizations, a project that we researched and compiled over two semesters.

My students and I developed a research instrument to find out specific information about each organization we studied. We compiled a list of local organizations to survey, and students tenaciously contacted these organizations, surveying them then analyzing survey results to judge whether they met our criteria for inclusion. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity’s member directory served as the foundation for this asset-mapping project.

We were able to build on the information they provided and we eventually identified 25 organizations in the Washington metropolitan area that provided micro loans, business training and technical assistance, and/or other relevant information and assistance that women in our community can use to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.

Roxana Moayedi is associate professor of sociology at Trinity University, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

The Women's Foundation's got the spirit. Yeah, yeah!

If you catch the staff of The Women’s Foundation in an informal setting, you’ll often find us joking and teasing certain staff members about their former status as cheerleaders.

Not in a mean way.  Let me be very clear, we have nothing against cheerleaders.  Just in that surprised manner of learning that someone that is now your colleague and in a suit every day used to sport pom poms.

Sort of like when you would learn that your elementary teacher was also a human being who went to the grocery store.  

It’s kinda weird, and a funny new image to have in your head because it’s so different than the one you had previously.  So anyway, on occasion, you’ll find us teasing each other about our mysterious past lives.

So, after all this joking around, you can imagine how pleasant it was for us to be cited, as an organization, as a significant cheerleader for a local nonprofit in our area.

Deborah Avens, who just started a blog about her work with women in Prince George’s County, noted that for her nonprofit, Virtuous Enterprises (VEINC, Inc.) The Women’s Foundation has been a tremendous cheerleader.

She explained how our Leadership Award, which VEINC, Inc. earned in 2004, provided the confidence for Deb to realize that the work she was doing was really valuable. 

She also talked about this with me when I spoke with her earlier this year.  She explained, "It helped me build confidence that our organization could transition from a volunteer organization to a fully operable organization.  It was a part-time passion and when I became a Leadership Awardee and started seeing the impact that The Women’s Foundation was making in the lives of women and girls, it gave me the support I needed to transition to full time."

As a staff member of The Women’s Foundation, and a Leadership Awards Volunteer this year, I was very much struck by this–by the power of a relatively small award ($10,000) and public recognition–to completely transform an organization.

Deb isn’t the only organization I’ve heard this from.  One of the nonprofits I visited as part of the Leadership Awards evaluation process this year (the 2007 awardees will be released soon!!!) hardly mentioned the money when I asked what the award would mean to them. 

Instead they talked about access to this community, to its learning, and to the public recognition and acknowledgment that would really make them feel that the work they’re doing matters, and give them the credibility they need to build even more support.

Looking at some of our amazing Grantee Partners, it’s always hard for me to imagine them questioning their value to their community.  That it wasn’t always just blatantly obvious.  The quality of their work is so astounding, and the impact they’re making is so significant–in terms of changing lives and communities.  It’s hard to imagine a time when they could ever doubt their impact, their importance, their contribution. 

But for many, The Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Award–or another grant–is the first time anyone really acknowledged their work and said, "Thank you.  What you’re doing matters."

Deb’s blog post, and the conversation I had during my site visit, are reminders to me of the value of programs like the Leadership Awards, that illuminate, showcase, recognize and give credibility to the amazing work going on around us that may be too "small," too unique, too hidden in a neighborhood or county we don’t tend to hear much about, to really be well known or well invested in.

And to encourage it–by bolstering those organizations themselves, and by encouraging others to adopt the unique, successful models that are working around them.

In many ways, it really is like cheerleading, I guess (Though I must admit I don’t know, as I’m not one of the staff members who ever was a cheerleader [far too lacking in coordination; also, fear of falling down]). 

It’s looking out over the field and having faith in the players, even when they’re doubting themselves.  It encourages them to play better, to stay in the game, and to keep their heads up when things look rough or it’s raining, and all the spectators have gone home.

It’s a constant reassurance that yes, someone is watching, someone is seeing, someone cares about the outcome.

It’s fitting, really, that The Women’s Foundation can play this role for nonprofits in our area-and particularly for those serving women and girls, which tend to be under-recognized anyway in terms of funding priorities. 

It’s fitting that we can serve as their cheerleaders, because that’s the role so many of them play for the women and girls–and families–that they serve.

Learn more about how you can become a Leadership Awards Volunteer and search out great organizations like VEINC, Inc. throughout our region.  Or, contact Lisa Kays for more information.

Phyllis reflects the values, vision of The Women's Foundation.

For the past six months, I’ve been working with my fellow members of the search committee to find The Women’s Foundation’s next president–a search we understood under the guidance of the executive search firm, Isaacson, Miller.

I shouldn’t be surprised that after all the searching (and we talked to a lot of people!), our new president ended up coming from within our own community! I am so pleased to welcome Phyllis Caldwell as president of The Women’s Foundation.

I’ve been a part of The Women’s Foundation’s community for about seven years—basically since the beginning. Before there was an office or staff, before there was a Web site, and certainly before we were granting more than $1 million a year and raising that much at one luncheon!

And because of this, I know a little something about the power of this community, and its members, to come together and make things happen.

The people that make up The Women’s Foundation community share a number of traits, from a deep commitment to investing in women and girls to a strong dedication to service to their community.

And, they’re also doers. These folks get the job done.

This is not a group that says, “What if?” It’s a group that says, “Why not?” and then makes it happen! And they’re why, as we approaches our 10 year anniversary, The Women’s Foundation is doing more and having a greater impact than probably any one of us ever thought possible.

So it shouldn’t surprise me then that the second president of The Women’s Foundation comes from that community, from its foundation in social change, in the Washington metropolitan region and in a strong capacity to really make change happen.

And from a place of true commitment and dedication to the power of investing in women and girls.

Phyllis represents all of these elements of our community. She brings a results-oriented business perspective, expertise and knowledge along with the sense of passion, vision and ambition that make up the true spirit of The Women’s Foundation.

As a long-term supporter of The Women’s Foundation, and someone who has watched it “grow up,” so to speak, I look forward to seeing it flourish even more under Phyllis’ leadership and to what this next exciting phase might bring.

Congratulations Phyllis, and welcome to The Women’s Foundation!

Rubie Coles is a long-time supporter of The Women’s Foundation and was co-chair of the search committee for a new president.  Rubie is associate director/program director with The Moriah Fund.

What difference do nonprofits make in our community?

This is the question that we tried to answer in our recently released report, Beyond Charity: Recognizing Return on Investment, on how the nonprofit community impacts Greater Washington.  Beyond Charity reveals some of the many ways in which local nonprofits raise the quality of life for all of us, and are the lifelines to our most vulnerable neighbors.

What I would like to write about, however, is not our findings, but rather the reasons why we even launched the inquiry.

We already knew that when people give, they give with their hearts. But, does doing the right thing also make economic sense? Is an investment in a local nonprofit an investment in your community?

When the Nonprofit Roundtable first raised these questions over a year ago, we could not find any reports that attempted to document and add up evidence of nonprofit return on investment. The data that was available was either on the impact of a single organization or of a group of organizations on a single issue.

So, in partnership with the World Bank Group, we embarked on an effort to create a fuller picture by recording the return on investment of a wide range of nonprofits. We reached out to our 175 members – to more than a dozen area foundations and to dozens of other nonprofit organizations and experts. We imagined the power of a report that would sincerely begin to answer how nonprofits make a difference.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation was a big help and many of the examples in the report are of their Grantee Partners.

Of course, no one sets out to issue a report that sits on a bookshelf. Our hope is that Beyond Charity has multiple uses:

  • To create a baseline picture of the difference nonprofits make across the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
  • To deepen the nonprofit community’s own understanding of our value and the importance of tracking return on investment. 
  • To create a common understanding among government, business, nonprofit and community leaders about the impact of nonprofits in order that we may work together more effectively on our region’s problems and aspirations.

We hope that as you read Beyond Charity, you are inspired to act.

Do you see a new opportunity to work collaboratively?  Are there community leaders who you believe really need to understand the impact of nonprofits and the expertise of nonprofit leaders? And, do you have your own example of nonprofit return on investment? If so, let us know!

Here’s our punch-line: when government, business, and concerned citizens partner with nonprofits – everyone profits!

Chuck Bean is executive director of The Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.

Phyllis will lead with purpose and passion!

I’m so thrilled to welcome Phyllis as the next leader of The Women’s Foundation!

Phyllis and I share a number of common grounds, from careers in the banking industry, to long-time residency in the Washington metropolitan area, and our personal dedication to the women and girls of our region.

That’s why we’re so proud to welcome her as our new leader!  Success in this role requires talent, experience and expertise—which Phyllis has in abundance.  With more than 20 years of professional experience in sales and management and a decade of focus on community development and housing initiatives in low and moderate- income communities, Phyllis is the perfect fit to lead The Women’s Foundation.

Moreover, Phyllis has that crucial spark that defines The Women’s Foundation: passion.

Her membership in Washington 100 predates her appointment to President, as does her long-standing history with personal philanthropy and dedication to social change.

Phyllis gets it. She understands giving, our community, and the importance of investing in women and girls. Her passion, combined with her knowledge and expertise of how to bring partners together and generate community investments that build long-term social change, are sure to inspire us all!

Welcome, Phyllis! We all look forward to working with you to change the lives of women and girls, our community, and ourselves!

Deb Gandy is the chair of The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors and a director with Citi Private Bank.

Announcing our new president, Phyllis R. Caldwell!

The Board of Directors and Staff of Washington Area Women’s Foundation are pleased to announce Phyllis Caldwell as our new President.

Phyllis comes to us from Bank of America where she was President of Community Development Banking. She has broad professional experience in creating pathways of opportunity for low-income people and communities.

A philanthropist in her own right, Phyllis is a member of the Washington 100 and shares our fundamental belief in the Power of Giving Together.

View our press release to learn more about Phyllis’ background and her personal commitment to investing in women and girls.

Please join us in welcoming Phyllis as The Women’s Foundation enters our tenth anniversary year!

Reponse to D.C.'s HIV epidemic must focus on realities of women.

HIV has reached epidemic levels here in Washington, D.C., reports Susan Levine in today’s Washington Post.

Levine writes, "The first statistics ever amassed on HIV in the District, released today in a sweeping report, reveal "a modern epidemic" remarkable for its size, complexity and reach into all parts of the city.  The numbers most starkly illustrate HIV’s impact on the African American community. More than 80 percent of the 3,269 HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 were among black men, women and adolescents. Among women who tested positive, a rising percentage of local cases, nine of 10 were African American."

Combine this with what our Portrait Project found in 2003, and it’s clear that D.C.’s HIV epidemic has a lot to gain by looking specifically at strategies that impact women.  The Portrait Project found that the District of Columbia has a higher incidence (new cases) of AIDS among women than anywhere else in the country. The rate of new AIDS cases among adolescent and adult women in the District of Columbia is 10 times the national rate." 

In response to the new report, Levine reports, "The administration said it wants to use the report to begin asking and answering, "What next?" Given the scope of HIV and AIDS in the District, health leaders say they can’t focus on just one aspect of the disease or one at-risk group."

I hope that this means that they will be focusing on multiple at-risk groups, and designing targeted strategies for each–and that among the top priorities will be strategies to address the growth of the epidemic among women, and particularly African American women. 

Because, as is evident from previous work focusing on women and girls and teen pregnancy, investing in strategies that address the specific needs of women and girls works–particularly when it comes to matters of health.

According to the National Institutes of Health, HIV isn’t just a problem for women in terms of the statistics and their risk to infection.  It also poses different, and specific health threats to them once contracted.  Just some of the factors that mean that HIV impacts women differently than men in terms of exposure to the virus and health risks afterwards:

  • Women are particularly vulnerable to heterosexual transmission of HIV due to substantial mucosal exposure to seminal fluids. This biological fact amplifies the risk of HIV transmission when coupled with the high prevalence of non-consensual sex, sex without condom use, and the unknown and/or high-risk behaviors of their partners.
  • Women suffer from the same complications of AIDS that afflict men, but also suffer gender-specific manifestations of HIV disease, such as recurrent vaginal yeast infections, severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and an increased risk of precancerous changes in the cervix including probable increased rates of cervical cancer. Women also exhibit different characteristics from men for many of the same complications of antiretroviral therapy, such as metabolic abnormalities.
  • Frequently, women with HIV infection have great difficulty accessing health care and carry a heavy burden of caring for children and other family members who may also be HIV-infected. They often lack social support and face other challenges that may interfere with their ability to obtain or adhere to treatment.

Further, Advocates for Youth, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization, cites specific behavioral risks to African-American women that put them at greater risk for acquiring HIV.

The additional risks and realities relevant particularly to women in curbing this epidemic are therefore biological, social and economic–and must be addressed that way. 

We have the information to do so.  Now we just need the will to dedicate the resources to using that information to develop strategies that truly address the needs and challenges facing women–and putting them at risk of contracting HIV. 

We have to see this not only as a health issue, but as a social and economic problem.  As a reflection not only of behavioral factors, but of often unseen and little understood power dynamics and pressures.   Pressures that can often only be seen through the eyes of the women facing them. 

There are a number of organizations throughout our region who are looking at HIV in this way, and addressing the specific needs of women who are at-risk of, or have been exposed to, HIV.  Organizations like the D.C. Women’s Collective (a Grantee Partner). 

We can only hope that this latest study will lead to an increased motivation on the part of our local government and other actors to do the same, and to approach the HIV epidemic in this area from a true gender lens.

This is, perhaps, the most efficient, and surest way to turn back the epidemic.  For if women are at the most risk from it, they are most likely the best people to put at the front lines in fighting it.  It’s our job to see that they’re properly armed.

Voice and Vision Forums inspire discussion, direction.

As The Women’s Foundation’s Stepping Stones Phase 2: Voice and Vision forums come to an end, many wonderful, enlightening thoughts on the future of Stepping Stones and women and girls in our region have been shared.

One thing I’ve observed about the forums as I’ve compiled the evaluation forms from many people–from different regions and communities–is that people from all over echo the same concerns and insights on issues related to what keeps women from succeeding economically and financially.

When you hear the concerns and worries at different points in time from different people, it helps to legitimize things and ensure you that they are, in fact, issues to address.

What are some of the discussion topics that continue to generate rich, interactive conversations?

Attendees always engage in a rich dialogue around the area of the targeted income range. The insights as to why we should consider lowering the floor from $15,000, or heighten the current bar from $35,000, are varied and you get to hear excellent different points of view of people from different walks of life. 

Our current geographic target population (Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties in Virginia) is another hot topic.

Thirdly, the role of advocacy in the Initiative remains a question widely debated. Should we increase advocacy efforts? What strategies could we engage in to do so?

So, why should you consider attending the last forum on December 1? Because if you don’t already know what Stepping Stones is and why it came about, this is a great chance to learn more!

Stepping Stones is so great because it takes a comprehensive look in the long-term at the economic and financial well being of women. You also get an opportunity to share your voice on some of the hotly debated issues such as the ones listed above.

The grants given from the Stepping Stones fund nonprofits directly impacting the community.  They are not grants to provide a handout; they are hand-ups.  These funds and the technical assistance that come along are literal stepping stones that assist women in reaching their full potential.

These forums are a relaxed environment.  It’s only two hours, and after you learn about Phase 1 of Stepping Stones you get a chance to share your input with staff and other community leaders on what Phase 2 might look like.

I’m glad that this series of regional forums was launched.  It exemplifies how much The Women’s Foundation values input from our own community.

We want to hear from you, because we are all agents of change.  We’ve had Grantee Partners, leaders of nonprofit organizations in our communities, governmental officials, and friends from the general public attend and learn and share a great deal.

It’s an inspiring process that we welcome you to be a part of.

Learn more about the final Voice and Vision Forum on December 1.

The sister next door, in Prince George's county.

Deborah Avens asks us to take a thoughtful, real look at our sisters next door on her new blog, Sister Table Talk.

Avens is the founder and president of Virtuous Enterprises, Inc., a Grantee Partner that provides programs and services designed to give women and girls of all walks of life the skills they need to succeed in academic, business, and work environments.

With its inaugural post put up yesterday, Avens invites us to consider how poverty seems to weigh more heavily on women than men, and how, in particular, this is due to the insufficient lack of access to affordable housing and healthcare.

And she’s doing so to provide a unique perspective on these issues–that of low-income women in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

A welcome voice and perspective, given the recent efforts to bring nonprofits, government and citizens in Prince George’s County together to build relationships, forge collaborative strategies and advocate for policies and practices that work for this unique area where only four nonprofits have budgets of more than $25,000 per year.

Avens’ new blog is therefore a much needed and welcome one to contribute to the discussion around the realities facing women in Prince George’s County, which are unique and often lesser known, as Donna Callejon found out during a forum there earlier this month.

Avens’ asks a serious set of questions in her first post, writing:  "What will it take to decrease or eradicate the growing ‘trend of poverty among low-income, headed families in particularly in Prince George’s County, Maryland? What will it take for the economical gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ to close? What will it take for policy makers to increase the livable wage so that people can live the true American Dream without constantly working to simply pay bills and taxes. What will it take for the general public to move with more compassion and less criticism?"

She reminds us that it will take a true understanding of the realities facing the sister next door–and surely Sister Table Talk will serve as a great resource for those interested in getting to know their sisters next door in Prince George’s County.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to have Virtuous Enterprises within its Grantee Partner community and applauds the addition of their voice to the important dialogue about how to make investments in women and girls work for the women and girls they work with every day.

Giving thanks by giving, or, some Thanksgiving reading recs.

On this final day before the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems appropriate to look at ways to give thanks by, well, giving. Buddha says, "Wise [wo]men appreciate and are grateful. Wise [wo]men try to express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else."

Sort of a pay it forward approach to gratitude. 

So, for your Thanksgiving pleasure, a few resources related to reflection on giving.

Julie Jensen, a great supporter of The Women’s Foundation, recommends Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why it is Necessary to Give.  "Salamon provides a thoughtful exploration of each one of Rambam’s steps, from the lowest kind of charity-giving (begrudgingly), to the highest form–the gift of self-reliance, so that the recipient, through a loan or a job, will not have to ask for help again," Julie says.

Speaking of paying it forward, Pay it Forward, the book and the movie, provides a unique perspective on the power of giving as an expression of gratitude.

Caitlin Duignan, our stellar office temp, said that one of her favorite giving inspirations comes from Little Women.  Caitlin writes, "I have always loved Little Women, not only for its progressive messages on women and society…but [also] I have always enjoyed how daily life in the March family revolves around giving back to the community, but also to one another and supporting one another through their dreams. The bond between the sisters and their parents, and even between the parents is such a driving force of the film, which can only imply that the success of this frugal and socially conscious family flows from their love for one another.  Besides this social justice as motivated by love theme, I just think it’s a really heartwarming concept that shows whether you’re a writer, a mother, a teacher, or an artist – both your perspective on the world and your abilities within it help formulate your sense of responsibility to the world, which for the March family is to help make it a better one." 

The Nonprofit Literature Blog has a post this week on selected resources related to giving circles and giving.

I, for one, have always been partial to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, with its touching approach to the complex nature–the costs and sacrifices, and joys and benefits–of giving.

Earlier this year, Tactical Philanthropy invited bloggers throughout the phlanthrosphere to recommend books on phuilanthropy and giving.  The results are here.  Among The Women’s Foundation staff’s recommendations were The Giving Family, The Prophet and Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan.

The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving looks like a fun resource for young people to tap into their own power to change the world, and how they can best apply their strengths, interests and talents to contributing to meaningful social change.

There you go, now you’re all set for reading recommendations for that long flight, drive or boat ride (as applicable) home. 

And, if you’re stuck on your blackberry waiting on a flight delay, be sure to leave us a comment with your favorite giving book recommendation.

After all, the holiday season is upon us, and there is still a lot of airport, driving and snowside reading to do!

Happy Thanksgiving!