NoVo in the Media

How Philanthropy Can Advance the Urgent Needs of Women and Girls of Color

08 March 2019
BY By Tynesha McHarris and Ada Williams Prince

International Women’s Day gives us an opportune moment to pause and recognize the achievements of girls and women across the globe. In philanthropy, we must celebrate the fact that women of color are an ever-growing force to be reckoned with — representing nearly one fifth of the philanthropic work force.

This is a moment to pause and reflect on all we must still achieve to create a world where every girl and every woman is able to realize her potential and tap into her innate powers. We also believe it is a perfect time for all of us in philanthropy to deepen our accountability to the people we seek to serve in the name of equity and justice.

Girls and women of color as well as those who are indigenous are brilliant and powerful, fighters and leaders who have been at the center and forefront of movements for social change since the beginning of history. That is all the more remarkable given the violence these women experience and the lack of access to health care to heal from that violence, as well as the rate at which they are pushed out of the education system and into low-wage work.

From an early age, girls of color learn survival skills to overcome the barriers that are placed in our way, and it makes us wiser, more grounded leaders as we become voters, entrepreneurs, activists, and philanthropists.

Yet in the majority of places we enter as black women in philanthropy, we rarely see our community represented, and we know indigenous, immigrant, and other women of color share this experience.

One Woman Expected to Advance All

There are very few pathways for women of color to break into our field, and those of us who make it here are often put in the difficult position of being “the one” and therefore the representative voice of all other girls and women of color.

We are often the leaders of uphill battles to bring racial justice and understanding of how gender, race, and so many other issues intersect. Yet it is a missed opportunity when our advocacy efforts are treated as tangential pet projects rather than an essential philanthropic strategy.

It is far too rare that decision makers in philanthropy put at the forefront the experiences and expertise of those most affected by harmful policies, high hurdles to success, and oppression. Philanthropy’s current approaches render girls of color and their experiences nearly invisible. We assume we know what girls need, but the data paints a different picture. Luckily, we have an opportunity to expand the conversation and be more accountable.

A report released today by Grantmakers for Girls of Color, titled “Start From the Ground Up: Increasing Support for Girls of Color,” opens a window into opportunities for philanthropy to be more equitable and accountable to them.

It also shines a light on the paucity of grant money now awarded to organizations led by women of color or whose focus is on girls of color.

For example, in 2014, $168 million in grants was awarded to organizations for girls of color, but only 20 percent went to the issues girls themselves identified as critical priorities, such as mental health and affordable housing.

Listen to People We Serve

Because of the mismatch between available grants and what girls need, nonprofit leaders are forced to develop time-consuming workarounds to secure funding.

We know that when we listen directly to the people we want to help advance, the result is transformative. When we host listening sessions in the communities we invest in, we get feedback that helps us adjust our priorities and make our strategies more accountable to the organizations we support.

When we put money into research about the experiences of women with loved ones who are in prison, it helps us understand the consequences of mass incarceration so we can make wiser grant-making decisions. When we invite the people we serve to join our strategy conversations, they shine a light on perspectives and solutions we would have otherwise missed.

Being more accountable to communities that bear the brunt of unjust systems begins with an open dialogue. As part of Grantmakers for Girls of Color’s work with “Start From the Ground Up,” we’ve created a tool kit that we urge our colleagues across philanthropy to use to spark conversation and action about equity and accountability. We can no longer afford to let girls of color be invisible in our movements to fund and push forward social change, and we hope these resources will begin to reverse that trend.

When we listen to girls of color and invest in their needs as well as their dreams, they become the strong, powerful women leaders we need. At last month’s Oscar awards, Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King commented that she is “an example of what it looks like when support and loved are poured into someone.” All of our girls deserve and need the same. We just have to listen and start from the ground up.

Tynesha McHarris is a program officer at the NoVo Foundation. Ada Williams Prince is program strategy lead at Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates.