Celebrating All of Our Naana's on International Women's Day

JB_GrandmotherI was born and raised in Ghana in a society where, traditionally, a woman’s role in the community was limited to motherhood. Only a few had the audacity to transcend social expectations and affect the lives of other women around them. My grandmother was one of them.

I saw my grandmother lead and inspire. I saw a great teacher who devoted her life to transforming the lives of young women in her community. As the leader of the women’s group at her local church, Naana, as everyone affectionately called her, became the mother many people wished they had. She counseled women of all ages with various life issues – some coming from low-income households, single-mothers, and teenage mothers. For them, she offered hope. As a young girl, I could hardly understand what she talked about, but I grew up with a constant reminder of the smile that wiped the tears off the women’s cheeks and carefully tucked it onto my memory.

My grandmother took care of her family and worked as a volunteer pastor. And though she had no formal training, most people considered her a teacher and a counselor. I became convinced that hers was the most important profession; no matter how informal the setting, she was still very effective. My grandmother’s counseling sessions did not end in her makeshift office at the church premises. Women in our neighborhood sat next to her for hours in my family’s living room. She prayed with those who needed prayer, she shared her Christian faith and offered hope. Some women needed to learn vocations like cooking, sewing and handmade crafts. My Naana taught them all of that and so much more.

As a young girl, nothing made a bigger impression on me than my grandmother’s ability to connect with other women from different ethnic and tribal backgrounds, social and academic statuses, and with religious differences. When I was old enough to understand the wisdom in her words, I found out how the best teaching moments are in sharing one’s life lessons and the wisdom gained from those experiences. Also, Naana not only shared lessons learned, through her connections she helped some of the women gain apprenticeships and work with local traders who found their skills very valuable, thereby helping them gain economic security. For them, this teacher didn’t only impart knowledge to them; Naana had given them a lifelong desire for hard work and dignity. Most importantly, she had given them hope.

Since joining Washington Area Women’s Foundation, I’ve learned that there are many Naanas right here in our community. They teach every day. They inspire in every moment. They challenge us all to commit ourselves to our vocations – any vocation – and give it our best effort. They give us the audacity to believe in our own futures, and to contribute to the community around us. They validate the Ghanaian proverb, “Obi nnim a, obi kyere,” which means: “If one does not know, another man teaches him.”

My grandmother’s work and impact were all the more impressive because she was redefining her role in our community and getting other women to think about theirs, too. My mother, for instance, opened her own business, a story that I shared last year on International Women’s Day. And as it turns out, Naana was ahead of her time. Now, when I go back to visit Ghana, I’m amazed by all of the progress. The women I grew up with are lawyers and engineers in addition to having families – or choosing not to. We are Naana’s legacy; the result of her investments in our community.

Mother Teresa once shared her thoughts about seemingly insignificant actions: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” My Naana understood her value even as a “drop”. The Women’s Foundation celebrates the value of women like my grandmother Naana. We celebrate the commitment that women all over the world make to positively impact someone else’s life in spite of their own challenges.

Julliet Boye is the development associate at The Women’s Foundation.

WPI releases personal reflections from giving circle founders, including African American Women's Giving Circle!

Personal reflections from women founders of the early giving circles are included in a new booklet just released by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Among the 18 interviews in Women’s Giving Circles: Reflections from the Founders is Lynn McNair’s story of her involvement with the African American Women’s Giving Circle at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Check out all the stories and learn more about Lynn’s personal experiences with the giving circle here.  These stories complement existing information about giving circles and add a personal connection to this vibrant form of giving.

Andrea Pactor is Associate Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  She has worked with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute for four years and helps to further understanding of women’s philanthropy through research, education, and knowledge dissemination.

Who says social change is slow? I blinked and nine powerful, inspiring years went by.

I blinked and nine years went by.

Okay, my eyes were open most of the time, but it is truly hard to believe that it has been nine years since my first Washington Area Women’s Foundation board meeting in 2000.

As I roll off The Women’s Foundation’s board – and onto the Board of the global Women’s Funding Network – I look back with a feeling of privilege and pride and still envision the promise yet to be realized by this dynamic organization and community.

When former president of The Women’s Foundation, Anne Mosle, asked Jane Fox-Johnson and me to join the board, we were both enthusiastic, but cautious. 

I told Anne, “Sure, I will join your board, but I will not ask anyone for money.”

What a difference a decade makes.

As she predicted, it soon became second nature to want to invite others into The Women’s Foundation’s big tent, because I was confident that our work was both effective and necessary. 

From Community Bridges in Montgomery County, to Tahirih Justice Center in northern Virginia, to FAIR Fund in D.C., The Women’s Foundation has had the privilege to support more than 100 organizations through grants, technical support, convenings and more. 

And, in the course of doing so, has established itself as an anchor in the Washington metropolitan area.

As I prepared for my final board meeting and reflected on where we are today, I found myself drawn back to the values and attributes that have made The Women’s Foundation unique and special.  When I reflected on our  “first principles,” and remembered that the common denominator of our success and growth has been our intense and purposeful attention to them, the core values that came to mind were:

  • In Washington, it is easy to define “diversity” merely on racial terms. But our commitment has always been, and will always be, to inclusion in its broadest – and constantly changing – sense. We can always make the tent bigger, but come to the Leadership Luncheon on October 20th and you’ll see what I mean in one room;
  • Collaboration – sometimes with unlikely allies – and true partnerships have been hallmarks of our work. We call our grantees “Grantee Partners” and we mean it.  From a philosophical standpoint, we believe we find better solutions through partnerships. And in this tough economic time, leverage is a key and necessary element of our impact;
  • I lost track somewhere around 2004 of the number of times people shook their heads and said, “But how can you do that, you are such a small organization?”  But from day one – and with Anne and Marjorie’s steadfast leadership, and now with Phyllis and the current team – one of the most exciting aspects of being part of The Women’s Foundation has been a willingness to step into uncharted territory, experiment wisely, and create breakthroughs because of it.  I hope this never changes;
  • Honoring the past and those who paved the way for this stage of our work has always been a core component of who we are. From our founders to former board and staff leaders, to the early funders who took a chance on us – inspiring women and men have provided outstanding leadership.  I thank them personally and say it has been an absolute honor to work side by side with you to make a difference for women and girls in our region; and,
  • Finally – and for those of you who know me – humor and fun have been integral to the spirit and, I believe, success of Washington Area Women’s Foundation. We take our work extremely seriously, but we can’t take ourselves the same way. Some of my strongest memories are of laughing with girls at one of our Grantee Partner’s programs…and dancing with my fellow board members at our retreats.

It has been an awesome privilege to call myself a member of this board – and I am excited to remain part of this community as it continues on its amazing journey.

Donna Callejon served on The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors from 2000-2009.  As of July 2009, she is a board member of the Women’s Funding Network and also serves on the boards of Nonprofit Village in Maryland and GlobalGivingUK.  In her professional life, she is the Chief Business Officer of GlobalGiving.

Playing on girls' sports teams is part of why I can hold my own on a guys' team now.

This morning I got up at 5:10 a.m. and drove to the Potomac river to hang out with a bunch of boys.

I’m a coxswain for Thompson Boat Club’s U-23 Men’s Development Camp, a summer rowing program for college rowers.

Male rowers. Big, tall boys.

So what am I, a young woman, doing on a team with young men?

Coxswains need to be small and light and it’s a lot easier to find small, light girls than it is to find small, light boys on a college campus, which is how I ended up coxing for Columbia University’s heavyweight men’s program.

It’s an interesting situation to be in. 

I’m in charge of steering the boat and often running practice, calling drills, and executing strategy during races. 

But I’m as much as a foot shorter than some of the rowers in my boat. 

And I’m a girl. 

But my gender is never an issue for my teammates. I’m their coxswain and they trust and respect me as another one of their teammates.

That isn’t to say that it’s always easy.

Coxing is hard.  I have good practices and bad practices just like anyone else on my team.  And, although it is a strange experience being a woman on a men’s team, I love it. 

It’s like having 20 brothers.

Lisa recently wrote a blog post about Title IX and athletic opportunities for girls, which got me thinking about my own experiences.  I was a four-year varsity athlete in high school where I played field hockey and rowed.

Being on a team with other young women was a lot of fun, great for my self-esteem, my discipline, and for building leadership skills.  I think that part of the reason I’m able to hold my own among guys who weigh twice as much as me is because of the skills I learned while playing on all-female sports teams.

While my experiences don’t necessarily mirror those of other female athletes, (And, for the record, I do consider myself an athlete; I regularly run and lift weights in addition to coxing.), I think they have been equally important and empowering. 

A year after the U.S. women’s 8+ won a gold medal in Beijing, and a month after the University of Washington Huskies (whose coxswains are all female) swept the IRA national championship men’s heavyweight 8+ events, I can’t help but feel optimistic about women’s athletics and the future of women and feminism in general.

SaraEllen Strongman is a summer intern at The Women’s Foundation. Raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Sara is a junior at Columbia University majoring in women’s and gender studies. In addition to rowing, she likes to read, run, and do yoga.

$1.1 million in grants: We couldn't do it without you!

Have you ever noticed that when someone wins a Grammy or an Oscar, they always thank the myriad of people who have supported them along the way?  Sometimes they go on a bit too long and the music begins to play, but they almost always utter, “I just want to thank my mom.”

Well, that’s how I’m feeling this week.

We’ve just announced that The Women’s Foundation hit our goal of granting $1.1 million this year to organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls—a major milestone in this economy.

And we certainly didn’t do it alone!

There are countless individuals, organizations, foundations, and corporations who helped us along the way.

So here are my thank you’s (and please don’t play the music until I finish):

  • Our donors, who fuel this important work and enable us to make our dreams a reality;
  • Our volunteers, who spent hours of their time reading proposals, conducting site visits and agonizing over the final decisions;
  • Our current and former board members, who have extraordinary vision and commitment to our mission;
  • Our staff, who poured over hundreds of proposals and had the difficult task of sometimes saying no;
  • Our Grantee Partners, who are on the frontlines every day striving to improve the lives of women and girls; and,
  • Of course, my mother, who inspires me each and every day.

Thank you!  We couldn’t do it without you!

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is The Women’s Foundation’s Vice President, Programs.

Congratulations to the Catalogue for Philanthropy Greater Washington's 2009-2010 Class!

Every year, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington chooses our region’s best, brightest and most promising nonprofits to feature. 

The list is a prestigious one given that organizations are vetted by a diverse, knowledgeable group of stakeholders throughout the community who know our region, its issues and the organizations and work that is making a difference–much like the volunteer committees and giving circles that participate in The Women’s Foundation’s grantmaking processes.

Not only is The Women’s Foundation proud to have a number of staff members who volunteer on the review committee, but each year, we are always thrilled to see our own Grantee Partners make the list!

Last year, there was a lot of overlap, and this year is no different.  Today, when the Catalogue of Philanthropy: Greater Washington Class of 2009-2010 was announced, we were proud to note the following Grantee Partners listed:

Centro Familia, which engages immigrant families in early care and education
Urban Alliance Foundation, which facilitates year-long professional internship opportunities for at-risk youth
ASHA for Women, which empowers South Asian women to live free of abuse
Through the Kitchen Door International, which provides life and employment skills training that changes trainees’ lives
Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), which provides legal, economic, counseling and educational services for domestic violence victims
Pregnancy Aid Center, which provides prenatal and health care for women and newborns in need
Doorways for Women and Families, which provides shelter and services for homeless families and domestic violence survivors
Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition, a transitional and supportive housing program serving homeless and low-income people
Tahirih Justice Center, which protects immigrant women and girls who are fleeing gender-based violence
Computer C.O.R.E., which provides job-readiness training in computer and life skills for low-income adults
Jubilee Jobs, which provides compassionate, skilled job placement and ongoing support
STRIVE DC, an employment program transforming the lives of disadvantaged people in Washington, D.C.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to partner with these organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of our region’s women and girls, and congratulates them and all of the 2009-2010 Catalogue Class, which represents the effective, innovative work The Women’s Foundation is proud to support throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

DCAF honors the memory of Dr. Tiller, a trusted partner and ally in supporting women.

The DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) is devastated and appalled to know that our most skilled and intensely dedicated late-term abortion provider, a beloved partner to DCAF, Dr. George Tiller, was fatally shot in the lobby of his church in Wichita, Kansas on Sunday morning, May 31, 2009.

In the past eight months, DCAF pledged financial assistance to four uniquely challenged women—from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, as well as in Omaha, NE, to obtain a third-trimester termination from Dr. Tiller at Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita.

Two of the women were taking medications considered harmful to fetal development.  One attempted to self-abort countless times before reaching out—terrified because she came from New Guinea, where abortion is illegal.  One spent 10 weeks trying to raise money to afford her abortion before finding DCAF.
One patient was a fifteen-year-old sexual assault survivor who didn’t know she was pregnant until the beginning of the third trimester.  One of the women had diabetes and a fetal anomaly.

While heartbroken for the women we assisted, we found solace in knowing Dr. Tiller was willing to provide comprehensive care when there was no other option.

DCAF is eternally indebted to the legacy of boundless courage and compassionate health care offered whole-heartedly by this man who gently and faithfully urged us to trust and support women.  He truly exemplified reproductive justice for all by working tirelessly to accommodate struggling families all over the country.

In accordance with our respect for Dr. Tiller’s profound service to women, DCAF is grateful for our partner clinics and heroic providers–true warriors on the front lines, ensuring access to quality abortion care in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

In memory of our angelic and wise doctor and beyond the shadows of opposition, we remain determined in our mission to provide our neighbors with dignified health care regardless of what’s in their wallet.

Elisabeth Sowecke is the lead case manager at the DC Abortion Fund, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Studies show that women continue to be philanthropic movers and shakers.

Well, the Interwebs are certainly all abuzz this week with talk of women’s philanthropy.  And the talk is good.

First, a Fidelity study shows that women are shaping the future of philanthropy.

Okay, we knew that.

But still, the report shows a number of positive, exciting new trends, such as that women are growing more comfortable giving with their name attached now, are being increasingly innovative in their philanthropic choices and are increasingly making decisions for how their households will give.

Additionally, Tactical Philanthropy featured a post, "Six Principles of Women’s High Engagement Philanthropy," which outlines the six principles (well worth a read) and offers the following introductory insight from Alice Eagly of Northwestern University, who says, "Women are transformational leaders while men are more likely to be transactional leaders."

Just like we’ve known at The Women’s Foundation for years: women are all about giving "beyond the check." 

Give and Take summarizes these discussions well here.

These pieces are exciting because they confirm what those of us practicing women’s philanthropy have long known to be true, as well as demonstrating that the movement is growing rapidly and with energy, despite the economic downturn and the many challenges it brings with it.

Indeed, as the song says that is so often heard at graduation ceremonies of our Grantee Partners’ job training and other programs, "Ain’t no stoppin’ us now."

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

Why you should vote for Friends of Guest House in the online vote!

Friends of Guesthouse is the only program of its kind in all of Northern Virginia. 

We provide support and resources to formerly incarcerated women convicted of non-violent crimes, so that they may more successfully integrate back into their communities. The women work hard to progress through the program and work hard on improving themselves.

Guesthouse is a one-of-a-kind leader in the community, working with women that are on their  way to becoming leaders themselves.

You can learn more about our work at our Web site or our blog.


Jocelyn McKinley is a case manager at Friends of Guest House, a 2009 Leadership Awardee and Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation since 2000, when they won their first Leadership Award.

What the Summit of leadership looks like.

Pat Summit reached 1,000 wins last week – the first coach, male or female, in history to reach this milestone.

She has coached 12 Olympians and 18 All-Americans and has a 100 percent graduation rate of student athletes – an amazing summary of success.

What would comparative success look like in the business and nonprofit sectors?

There doesn’t seem to be numerical data that demonstrates such a level of excellence so succinctly.  Perhaps it would be stock performance or scale of outcome of work in changing lives or industry benchmark awards.

For the non-basketball or sports fans who did not get a chance to hear about Pat Summit’s remarkable achievement, feel free to review her bio for its impressive storyline. 

What I enjoy talking about as a former player, coach, and social change activist is her leadership style.  I had the opportunity to be in a meeting with Pat Summit in the mid 1990’s when we were working on the then formation of women’s professional basketball leagues.  There was much conversation in the room around the league format, potential coaches and general managers, and sponsors.

Pat was very clear that the image of the league leadership should reflect success, strength and confidence from day one.

We can learn a lot from Pat Summit’s leadership style.  While her intense and formidable presence on the sideline may deter some from modeling this type of behavior, know that her heart and mind is ultimately focused on her players: How can I make them better?  What resources or training do they need to be stronger, smarter or quicker?  What combination of people and strategies are needed right now for success in this situation?

Imagine if every leader had this type of focus every day in their work. 

Today, I bring these messages to the nonprofit clients and philanthropists I get to work with at Imagine Philanthropy.  Feel free to read these, share with your work teammates and ask one another the questions around your work together.

1. Play to people’s strengths.  Take the time to listen, observe and provide feedback on your teammate’s efforts.  Think about bringing out the potential in every person.  Provide a vision of the highest standards and success with measurable objectives and hold everyone accountable to that level.  Related question: What does winning look like?

2. Focus on fundamentals.  With all of the distraction in the work environment, it is more important than ever to bring people back in line with their job priorities. The more time we focus on a priority measurable objective, the better results we produce.  Clearly, people understand that practice produces results.  Related question: What is the quality of your practice?

3. Detail equals confidence.  Being prepared allows you to demonstrate confidence and understanding of a situation.  When you have given sequential attention to detail to a project – going through a series of steps to insure that every angle was explored and completed– your project will have a higher chance of success.  When you present your work, 70 percent of what people hear is the tone of your voice.  If you have done your homework, calm confidence will be revealed in your voice.  Related question: What is the tone of your leadership?

Tuti Scott is a point guard who still plays in a weekly basketball game to remind herself of the leadership skills learned from sport.  Her company, Imagine Philanthropy, helps strengthen the brand and capacity of organizations and provides leadership coaching for nonprofit executives and philanthropists.