Photo by: Chastity Lord

Tamara wilds Lawson

25th Anniversary Reception Remarks
October 11, 2023

Hello and welcome to Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s 25th anniversary celebration! Our theme for the evening is “Honoring our past and empowering her future,” and we are excited to do something different this year as we bring everyone together and celebrate this incredible milestone. 

Our Founding Mothers will tell you that 25 years ago, it all started with a tea, and that gathering turned out to be a transformative moment for this city and region. The Women’s Foundation’s very existence made a bold statement, that the challenges facing women and girls were so significant, a Foundation dedicated to addressing them specifically was needed. Our Leadership Council, which includes former board members and leaders of the organization, were championing the Foundation over a decade ago when the video you just saw was first produced. “Be that woman” highlighted the Foundation’s core belief that women who cared to be informed about the hardships other women and families were experiencing, could not look away and it was a reflection of our origin story. 

Washington Area Women’s Foundation was started by a special group of women who felt a sense of responsibility to support other women whose basic needs were going unmet in one of the wealthiest regions in the country. Those present at that tea and the convenings that followed felt a sense of collective responsibility and used it as a call to action. Following that fateful tea, the Foundation became a real organization with a powerful lineup of leaders who grew its budget and capacity, crystallized its three areas of focus, and positioned it as a serious player in the philanthropic space in which the formation of the Early Care and Education Funding Collaborative and release of the first portrait project were game changers. 

Eighteen years after it started, the organization embarked on a journey that led to another transformative moment when it declared that it would begin explicitly naming what the data had been showing for years, that women and girls of color were disproportionately impacted by inequities across the board in education, the workforce, housing and healthcare.

It was really the logical evolution of the Foundation’s origin story, to say that the challenges facing women and girls of color were so insidious and grounded in systemic and institutional racism and gender discrimination, that working to disrupt those systems should be part of our mission. In short, if we shine a light on the root causes and fight for the lives of those women, girls and gender-expansive folks of color who are overrepresented in all the devastating regional data points, then we’re truly working towards a better outcome for all women, girls and families.

The lion’s share of our funding had already been going to women and girls of color but applying an intersectional lens to our internal and external practices and naming it in our mission was powerful. Just as the tea was transformative for its time, and the journey that began in 2016 to interrogate how racial justice should intersect with the Foundation’s focus on gender justice was transformative, in 2023, we are doing our critical work while recognizing the massive undertaking required of our nation and region to address those intersecting inequities doing harm to and in some cases killing women, girls, and gender-expansive folks of color.

So what does the Foundation’s transformative work look like in 2023?

  • – We are community informed and centered;
  • – We believe our commitment to gender and racial equity must be reflective & iterative and;
  • – How we do our grantmaking must be collaborative and bold

With the support of our funders, individual donors and corporate collaborators through our amazing grantee partners, we continue to:

  • – Source joy and possibility for our girls and gender-expansive youth;
  • – Support early care and education practitioners, institutions, and advocacy organizations and;
  • – Ensure women, girls, and gender-expansive folks can live safe and healthy lives to move from survival      to thriving.

Our board and host committee understood that this evening would also be a celebration of our re-emergence after four years without coming together, and we thought it would be fitting to commemorate this awesome milestone on the International Day of the Girl, which brings increased attention and resources to key areas that enable girls to realize their rights and achieve their full potential.

In 2019 we launched our Rock Star Fund in order to help girls and gender-expansive youth of color live into that potential and own their power via grants awarded through a participatory process. Tonight, I am delighted to introduce two of our Rock Star recipients, Stephanie Villanueva-Villar and Eris Busey, who, after sharing a bit about their projects, will introduce our 2023 Visionary Award honorees.

…it’s not lost on me that many of you are here because you respect and love our honorees. Doreen and Carol, I hope you felt that love and know how much it means to the Women’s Foundation that you allowed us to honor you as part of this celebration. 

So we started the program by talking about our origin story and highlighting our journey leading up to this significant milestone. You’ve just witnessed two of our grantee partners, our Rock Stars, who are the embodiment of why we show up every day to do this work at The Women’s Foundation. They very much represent a key barometer of our success as an organization 25 years in. We have been and are doing our part to continue progressing: we’re collaborating whenever possible, cultivating national relationships, and reimagining our corporate partnerships.

We strive to be a model of what responsible and equitable philanthropy looks like because we are committed to breaking the cycle of asking nonprofits to do more with less. That requires not just more funding but a transformation of how all of our funders (including so many of the individual donors in this room) think about our value and work.

In addition, we are embarking on new initiatives including shining a light on the alarming  crisis of Black women’s leadership that is impacting both our foundation collaborators and grantee partner organizations. That project is asking the question: what does building a better infrastructure for Black women leaders look like so they feel respected, supported and trusted to their jobs. This region cannot afford to lose their expertise and energy. 

We also aspire to expand our program areas and welcome more emerging women and gender-expansive leaders into our Foundation’s community of supporters through smaller events.

Although the pandemic significantly hampered our fundraising efforts, thanks to our talented team, we are poised to deepen our impact. We are ready to make some very strategic moves and our critical work ahead is tied to your belief and investment in us. Thank you for your generosity which is providing the valuable unrestricted funding that is necessary for our financial stability and health. Tonight is just one important marker on our path to ensuring we’re able to sustain, thrive, and eventually build an endowment that will enable us to be here 25 years from  now.

As we close out, I want to proudly highlight how intentional we were about centering women in the run-up to and throughout this evening in meaningful ways. Our volunteers who welcomed you this evening were from Trinity University, and women and people of color-owned businesses made up 90% of our vendors. 

Finally, we promise to keep you updated on our work but will also be enlisting your involvement as we create other opportunities to engage and broaden our base of support. On behalf of the Women’s Foundation, thank you again for celebrating with us, and good night.