It’s hard to find the words to adequately describe the energy and enthusiasm of last week’s United State of Women Summit. More than 5,000 women from across the country packed into the convention center in Washington, DC, all there to celebrate how far we’ve come while committing to changing the #StateofWomen for tomorrow. As I stood on stage with eight women’s foundation representing Prosperity Together, I wondered how we can bottle the passion and hopefulness that was so palpable that day. There was a very different feeling in the room, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until further reflection, and then it hit me–voices.
This Summit showcased the voices and experiences of an incredibly diverse group of women—from Mikaila Ulmer, the 11-year-old African American girl entrepreneur, who introduced the President of the United States to Bamby Salcedo, the President and CEO of TransLatin@ Coalition to Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of MuslimGirl.net. Their voices spoke volumes as we collectively came together to serve as champions for the countless women and girls who have yet to be heard.
Standing on stage next to Ana Oliveira, President of the New York Women’s Foundation, as she announced our joint commitment to young women and girls of color through the Young Women’s Initiative, I could not have been prouder of the work at Washington Area Women’s Foundation. It is a privilege to spark and guide philanthropic investments that will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of the Washington region’s most vulnerable women and girls. This initiative will focus specifically on women and girls of color and will put their voices, experiences, and needs front and center.
The day-long event, organized by the White House, included so many inspiring moments. President Barack Obama opened his speech by pointing to himself and saying, “This is what a feminist looks like,” to a resounding round of applause. And by now, everyone has probably watched the video of First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, in one of the most open, honest and powerful discussions about women’s empowerment and gender equality that I have ever seen. “I think as women and young girls, we have to invest that time in getting to understand who we are and liking who we are,” said Michelle Obama.
For the Young Women’s Initiative, we are investing our time in young women, and they themselves will be at the heart of our effort. This week we kicked off a listening tour to lift up the voices of local women who don’t often have an opportunity to share their personal stories. We watched a production by Empower DC, where six women shared their experiences living in public housing, and discussed the challenges they face and solutions they want to see in their communities, the places they call home. When I asked one of the women why she chose to tell her story, she answered, “I just wanted to be heard.”
And so we will listen. Over the coming months, we’ll continue to host sessions to empower women to become powerful advocates for themselves and their communities. But it’s not enough to listen. We must also take action.
At the end of the Summit, the First Lady said, “We can’t afford to be ignorant. We can’t afford to be complacent. So we have to continue the work.” We’re ready to work, and I hope you’ll join us.
About Prosperity Together:
Seven women’s foundations announced their commitment to launch a Young Women’s Initiative in 2016, which will invest and catalyze resources to improve equal opportunity and the prosperity of young women, with a focus on young women of color and those experiencing the greatest disparities in outcomes in our communities. The Young Women’s Initiative will be built on cross-sector partnerships, including: government; philanthropies; nonprofits; corporations; and, most importantly, the young women themselves. The foundations announcing this commitment include the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, California Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. The New York Women’s Foundation previously launched a Young Women’s Initiative in 2015. Read more here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/13/fact-sheet-government-businesses-and-organizations-announce-50-million