For women “of a certain age,” Ms. magazine presented our voices and those of like-minded women, of our hopes and dreams for a more equal, inclusive, just society. The first issue appeared in 1972, the first periodical created, owned, and operated by women.
The Ms. Foundation for Women was conceived simultaneously, and began operating in 1973, the first women’s foundation ever. For the past five years, they have been meeting on Martha’s Vineyard, offering information for women who live or visit here about the work they do, their goals and accomplishments, and, of course, to raise money. The first year approximately 40 people gathered on the lawn outside Susie Goldstein’s house, This year, a standing-room-only crowd filled the Grange Hall in West Tisbury Tuesday evening.
Attendees were greeted by board chair Jocelyn Frye, who thanked outgoing chair Susan Dickler, and introduced president and CEO Teresa Younger. Younger spoke about the foundation’s newly published 2018–22 Strategic Plan, “Building Power, Advancing Democracy.”
Women’s organizations receive only 7 percent of all philanthropic funding. The Ms. Foundation for Women is working to change that inequity, Younger said.
The strategic plan begins with the following mission statement: “We build women’s collective power in the U.S. to advance equity and justice for all. We achieve our mission by investing in and strengthening the capacity of women-led movements to advance meaningful social, cultural, and economic change in women’s lives.” It describes a broad-based set of six core strategies, designed to build and support grassroots movements and organizations fighting for gender equality for women across the country. The strategies include grantmaking and philanthropic advocacy; capacity building; policy and advocacy; strategic communications; building connections initiative; and building political power by forming a 501(c)(4).
Grantees are “partners on the front lines,” “resilient leaders and organizations led by women,” who are working at the grassroots and have demonstrated the efficacy of their programs, according to the strategic plan. By supporting these existing and nascent organizations, the foundation acknowledges its individual missions and integrity. It propounds a “from the ground up” approach, rather than ordering “from the top down.” It also sounds more inclusive and respectful, partnering rather than directing.
Speaking truth to power is another priority. Some grantee organizations focus on empowering women to speak up and effectively communicate their message. There are grantee organizations that use technology, cogently written op-eds and personal stories, polling and message-framing data to strategize communication techniques to get their message heard, hopefully to influence public opinion. This also involves networking, innovating, connecting in new ways. If groups get together to advance commonly shared values and/or policy goals, they can promote their ideas to a wider constituency, electing more women of color, energizing more women to participate in ways that will affect their communities, lives, and families.
The second speaker was Joanne Smith, founder and director of Girls for Gender Equity. Her organization works with students, educating them to question and reject stereotypes and gender-based violence. It was hard to listen to some of the stories she told, of what many children endure every day just for being themselves.
Both speakers presented a vision for how all women can engage. Maybe it will be a financial contribution. Maybe it will be volunteering in an organization that helps women and girls. Maybe it will be coming up with and implementing an idea yourself. One of the women in the audience had started a nonprofit called the Woman at the Well, Inc., which promotes wellness for women who have been abused, who have mental health, alcohol, or substance abuse issues.
It was inspiring to see so many young women attending, some with daughters, some with mothers or older friends. They are considered the third generation of the women’s movement. It’s encouraging to see how ready they are to pick up where our generation has left off and sobering to see how much there still is to accomplish.
At the end, Younger said that when someone asks her, “What can I do?” she replies, “Do one thing. Look at the pool of inequality and drop in a pebble. Do one thing.”