NoVo in the Media

NoVo Foundation Looks to Girls as Change Agents


In Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected By Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw WITH Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda


Girls and young women of color have made important gains in education, health and economic security in recent years. There is cause to celebrate increased graduation rates, higher participation in post-secondary education, reduced rates of teenage pregnancy, and even lower rates of unemployment. However, philanthropy must not assume that their progress means society has effectively addressed the persistent and pervasive nature of the challenges faced by women and girls of color.

Girls of color still lag behind their peers in their performance on standardized tests, and in far too many cities across the country they are more likely to be suspended from school or become involved with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, even when they perform well in school, education simply does not pay the same dividends for women and girls of color—even when their credentials qualify them for full-time, year-round work. For example, Census data reveals that white women make more than African-American and Hispanic women regardless of what degrees they have obtained.

Similar data is available regarding health and economic security. Women of color still have some of the highest rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions, and they experience high rates of domestic violence. Women and girls of color still face higher rates of poverty and receive lower wages for their work than their white peers. And because women are the primary or sole breadwinners for nearly half of all households of color, these disparities do not just affect them, but their families and communities as well.

The NoVo Foundation is at the leading edge of an effort to begin to address these inequities and dismantle the structural “…sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression that prevent their full participation in our country’s future.”

Pamela Shifman, NoVo’s Executive Director, was kind enough to share some of the details on their investment in young women and girls of color. This exciting new initiative is an extension of their global efforts to support women and girls.

NoVo recently launched a new initiative on girls and young women of color in the U.S. Why now?

NoVo has always included a strong focus on adolescent girls, going back to our inception in 2006. We are a social justice foundation, with a deep commitment to addressing the structural barriers that perpetuate inequality, so it was clear from the beginning that we needed to focus on girls.

Much of our work has focused on girls in the Global South, and that work will continue. But the need is also great here at home. As a result of pervasive racism and sexism, girls of color in the U.S. face unique and deep-seated structural challenges, including barriers in completing school, finding employment and living free from state and interpersonal violence. These disparities combine and deepen into new disparities in adulthood, such as the shocking wealth gap we now see for women of color. Latina women, for example, earn just 56 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

By interceding in the critical period of adolescence, philanthropy can help to unlock tremendous leadership potential and foster a whole new life trajectory for the next generation of girls and young women of color. In the process, we can ensure that girls of color finally move from invisibility to investment.

You’ve talked about narrative change as a necessary part of this work. Why do you think this is important?

There is a widespread myth, in philanthropy but also far beyond, that all girls, including girls of color, are doing relatively fine. Too often that means that girls of color are left out of important efforts to address gender disparities as well as racial disparities among youth.

We’ve seen the importance of shifting this narrative in our other work. In partnership with the Nike Foundation and others, we launched the “Girl Effect,” a global movement that sought to awaken the world to the power of girls to reduce poverty and strengthen their communities. We were surprised and thrilled at the sheer energy and momentum it released, both in creating a positive global narrative for girls and in sparking a new appetite for investing in them.

In the United States, girls of color also hold tremendous potential and power to act as agents of change.  Investing in that potential is incredibly important for girls of color in their own right, but also for the future of our communities and country. That’s the narrative we hope to spread.

In order to do that, you highlight the need to “kick-start an urgent nation-wide conversation about the structural inequities facing our girls and young women of color.” How does NoVo plan to facilitate dialogue and action within philanthropy to dismantle structural issues particularly damaging to girls and young women of color?

First, for NoVo, we are clear that this is a long-term struggle. In order to dismantle structural barriers, we in the philanthropic sector need to make sure we are in this for the long term.  Fortunately, we can take action now to pave the way for that long-term change.

As one immediate step, we’ve partnered with the Foundation for a Just Society and the Ms. Foundation to launch – a shared, online learning space for funders of all kinds who can benefit from the latest insights and research. We expect the site will grow and evolve to serve as a platform for collaboration, shared learning and dialogue across and beyond our sector. We’re also planning a national conference for funders in 2016, with more details to share soon.

Ultimately, lasting success will require the participation of many additional foundations, and we’re beginning to see a lot of new momentum. Building on a successful series of listening tours with girls of color hosted by the African-American Policy Forum, Girls for Gender Equity and others, the White House is now joining with Open Society Foundations and other philanthropic partners to host a national listening tour with women and girls of color.  At last month’s session in New York City, eleven youth advocates gave testimony about the challenges they face in education, economic security, juvenile and criminal justice, health and safety. Similar dialogues are now planned across the country—and they offer a great chance for other funders to learn more and join this effort.

What advice would you give to your foundation colleagues contemplating a similar effort?

At every step, look to girls and young women of color themselves. They are the experts on their own lived experience, and they hold the best solutions for the challenges we seek to address. Simply listening to girls—and then building our strategies based on their wisdom—is the single greatest way we can create initiatives that will have a lasting impact.

Also, join the discussion. Visit, suggest additional resources, and share your questions. There is a tremendous amount we can accomplish by working and learning together.


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