1996 – 2000
From a $100,000/year fund created by Peter’s parents, we began to research and learn about local Milwaukee non-profits and the people they served. Jennifer oversaw most of this work as Peter was continuing his career as a composer and music producer.
2000 – 2006
Another thing we learned in this time was that general operating, multi-year support and minimal reporting with trusted partners was a way to minimize the foundation’s “footprint” on how an organization was able to do its work.
Peter was focused on mounting his Native American theatrical show, Spirit—The Seventh Fire throughout most of these years. Much of the Foundation’s focus was born out of a clear sense that humanity was at a crossroads (Ojibwe Seventh Fire prophecy). Few will question that now. Having resources to help foster a change towards a better world for those most marginalized by the current one demanded curiosity, humility and patience.
June 26, 2006
NoVo (Latin: change, alter, invent) continued with the same ethos, but with the knowledge that our work would require building a small team internally. We hired slowly over time as we continued to listen and learn. Having that amount of resources (not surprisingly) gets attention. We saw that as a gift and invitation to widen our view with experienced voices and extensive travel.
What we saw was a violent world. Driven by a system built on centuries of power through a 21st century lens, we knew our initial instincts were correct. Humanity was at a crossroads and the violence against girls and women was the indicator of just how depraved our global market driven economy had become.
*Payout = value of stock received
Dispersed = total grants paid out
Committed = total grants awarded
NoVo also increased our funding to a wide variety of organizations focused on ending violence, giving voice and generally lifting up the truth about systems that have and continually oppress girls and women—Black, Brown, Indigenous, cis, trans and gender non-conforming.
We also recognized that small, local communities, with supply chains to match, would be necessary in the coming century. With ongoing education work focused on learning environments aware of the “whole child” and through multiple entry points and specific work in Indian Country, the Foundation continued to grow with dedicated staff and resources.
As “root causes” were a continual quest, it became clear that trauma from many sources was something to acknowledge and further understand. This talk explaining Adverse Childhood Experiences from 2015 affirmed NoVo’s investment of $3 million in the Ms. Foundation to carry out grantmaking and capacity building programs to address child sexual abuse.
Move to End Violence grew out of the NoVo Foundation’s continual hope for a future in which girls and women are free from violence, act as agents of change, and are leading the way to a more balanced world. Knowing that social transformation of this magnitude would require a powerful group of well-resourced leaders from strong, healthy organizations, NoVo launched Move to End Violence, a 10-year “movement building” program for social change.
NoVo invested further—and more deeply—in work to bring “social-emotional” practices into schools (“SEL”). Our partnership with CASEL created a collaboration of school districts to create system-wide changes that support optimal social and emotional learning opportunities in schools and classrooms across the country.
With a second trip to India, NoVo invested more deeply in ending the sexual exploitation of girls and women and the violence that accompanies it.
As the Foundation grew, the world changed. It seemed more necessary than ever to make a noise, both on behalf of the fields of work we were closest to and the wider world of philanthropy. We were caught between recognizing how quickly the world was changing and being a part of the problem in working to “change” it.
It was difficult for a large foundation like NoVo not to take part in what Peter identified as the “Charitable Industrial Complex.” As with any industry, growth seemed to be the imperative, and indeed, social, economic and political issues were becoming more acute. The term “movement” became commonplace.
Through supporting The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Peter and Jennifer gained a much deeper understanding of our failing food system. NoVo purchased the Gill Farm near Kingston, New York to create the Hudson Valley Farm Hub.
Peter and Jennifer began to sense that the various streams of work that currently lived in “silos” at NoVo were naturally coming together. And that “right relation” was at the center.
The Indigenous Communities initiative launches, building on many years of work with the Indigenous Peoples’ Fund at the Tides Foundation.
NoVo helps create and supports the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, which continues today. The program exists to elevate the lives, voices, and dreams of Indigenous elder women who heal, strengthen, and restore the balance of Indigenous communities. Our goal was to honor and support elder indigenous women who desire to intentionally transfer their knowledge and experience to younger women.
NoVo began negotiations to acquire the former Bayview Women’s Prison with the vision of transforming the space into a Women’s Building.
NoVo announced a $90 million commitment to support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color in the US. It was launched purposefully without a predetermined strategy, and with a team dedicated to listening and learning from girls throughout the country.
NoVo formed Grantmakers for Girls of Color and successfully convened 100 funders from around the country for the first Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) Funders’ Convening. This first convening of many to come, focused on the particular ways anti-Blackness impacts girls of color and created space to hear from advocates and activists about the urgent need to center the voices and lived experiences of girls of color in grantmaking while strategizing a path toward long-term systemic change.
NoVo provided emergency funding for basic needs to the water and land protectors at Standing Rock Reservation and Indigenous environmental justice efforts.
NoVo developed a key relationship with Education First to support and monitor the Collaborating Districts Initiative and establish the SEL in Action Fund. In 2016, NoVo, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and Education First hosted the first annual SEL in Action convening for awardees to engage and learn together. NoVo’s investments in SEL grew to include additional grant programs and support for grantees. Beginning in 2017, the SEL in Action fund was expanded to include awards to school districts and charter schools, along with teacher awards.
NoVo launched the Radical Hope Fund with a global call for projects grounded in new partnerships, bold experimentation, and responding to a growing global crisis of inequality, violence, and hate. NoVo resourced $34 million in grants to 19 organizations from among 1,000 applicants doing transformative social justice work in the United States and around the world.
NoVo launched the Girls Funds—a partnership with six global funds that work across different movements, including women’s rights in the U.S., global south and in contexts of war and disaster; youth rights; climate justice; food sovereignty; and movements prioritized by young feminists.
NoVo launched The Life Story: Moments of Change, a powerful online tool that centers survivors’ experiences of commercial sexual exploitation as it explores pathways for reducing girls’ and women’s vulnerability to Commercial Sexual Exploitation. This effort was years in formation and represented both a different way of working for NoVo and a different way of communicating about this issue for the field. Throughout the entire project, our work was guided by, informed by, and accountable to survivors.
NoVo also challenged foundations and philanthropists to think critically about their own work and practices. We were honored to support the launch of Decolonizing Philanthropy, a book written by Edgar Villanueva. The book, which included a foreword from Jennifer and Peter, analyzes the colonial dynamics at play within philanthropy and offers a path towards balance based in the guidance of Indigenous leaders.
NoVo continues to fund across all initiative areas and takes a deeper and more comprehensive look at future commitments as more signs point to cultural upheaval.
The extremely difficult decision of halting The Women’s Building development is made. As the project progressed, the budget grew to over 400 million dollars with no clear end in sight and no finalized ownership structure.
Novo transitions to a shared leadership structure and begins to assess ways to remain visionary in the work, while becoming more organizationally nimble.
With increasing social and political unrest and deep ideological soul searching, NoVo made a decision to re-orient its work.
We found ourselves in the center of a cultural inflection point and had always made a pledge to do our best to stay at the margins. The margins are still made up of the same populations. But with continuing reminders that the current system loves a fight—it was built on it—and generations of trauma are making most efforts to “bend the arc” cede to anger and pain, we had to focus on building as collapse became more imminent.
NoVo made a significant financial commitment to girls and young women of color globally. We know that this commitment, backed by the promise of dedicated dollars, is as important and critical as ever to the movement. While we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, NoVo remains committed to supporting and funding grassroots girl-led, girl-driven, and girl-designed programming and advocacy. After much thought and consideration about NoVo’s role going forward, in 2020, NoVo transitioned the Adolescent Girls Initiative grant-making portfolio and its future management and direction to our long-time partner, Tides. One of Tides’ important goals for this fund is to attract more funders to this critical issue area of philanthropy. NoVo staff pioneered a necessary emphasis and approach to supporting the critically underfunded needs of girls and young women of color. Building on this strong foundation, Tides wants to solidify and expand the fund so grantees can continue to create the conditions needed for truly transformational change.
The Hudson Valley Farm Hub distributed over 300,000 pounds of food into local communities.
NoVo committed 50 million dollars to the community of women impacted by the ending of The Women’s Building development. An advisory group has been formed to decide the best use of these funds. In addition, we understand the importance of physical space and have offered our former Brooklyn office space on State Street as a women’s building that is ready for occupancy as of 2021.