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A Seat at the Table: Ensuring the Voices of NYC’s Women and Girls of Color are Heard

Ana L. Oliveira President & CEO
June 30, 2017 News

The women and girls of New York’s communities of color and immigrant communities, more than almost any other group in New York City, comprise the core workforce for the city’s service sector – providing the homecare, childcare and cleaning, security and health care services that enable hundreds of thousands of their more affluent neighbors to go to work every day. They are also the foundation of the city’s retail and food service sectors, responsible for preparing, selling or serving practically everything a consumer could want.

Yet these women – young and old – serve as major or sole wage-earners and caregivers for their own families, often working without with the recognition, protections, advancement opportunities and compensation they merit.

In 1987, a group of intrepid women gathered in a living room to create a philanthropic entity that could begin shattering these unjust paradigms. These were mostly women of wealth who hadn’t had much contact with the City’s low-income communities, but they were willing to listen and to learn. They went into the community; they went to prisons and housing developments; and they asked people to educate them about the issues and what needed to be done.

The foundation they created – The New York Women’s Foundation – would be solely dedicated to elevating women’s economic security, safety, health and overall empowerment. This would be a foundation whose radical philanthropic decisions would be guided by the very voices, expertise and perspectives of the women whose wellbeing it was seeking to promote.

The New York Women’s Foundation’s Board Alumnae at the 30th Annual Celebrating Women Breakfast.

The New York Women’s Foundation’s Board Alumnae at the 30th Annual Celebrating Women Breakfast.

In the thirty years that have followed, The Foundation has honored these core principles. It has consistently supported the solutions of women-led grantee partners working to solve problems in their communities because we know that problems and solutions live in the same place. Indeed, the thing that grantee partners mention when they talk about what they have received from The Foundation is “respect.” Put in the works of a grantee partner” The Foundation doesn’t think of the organizations it funds as agents of their mission. It counts on us to be to true to what we are seeing.”

The Foundation has included grantee-partner leaders in its own internal decision-making activities and it has worked with philanthropic, public and private sector allies to increase the participation of women, girls and gender-fluid individuals of color at the decision-making tables. The Foundation has given voice to these women and given them the respect they deserve.

The New York Women’s Foundation’s grantee partner, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).

The New York Women’s Foundation’s grantee partner, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).

Not surprising, these principles and practices have consistently produced outcomes that promote equity, productivity and justice for all of us. Over the past three decades, the victories achieved by The Foundation and our grantee partners include:

  • The creation of a burgeoning group of women entrepreneurs and women-owned worker cooperatives that are concretely improving the employment paths of thousands of immigrant women and women of color.

  • Workplace reforms that are ensuring better compensation, conditions and leadership opportunities for women across the city’s food and construction industries.

  • Legislation that expands the rights and protections of domestic workers; creates protections for girls who are commercially sexually trafficked; and ensures better sick leave and paid family leave for working parents across all sectors.

  • The launch and growth of youth development efforts that enable thousands of girls of color to successfully develop their talents as scientists, athletes, community leaders, writers, actors, entrepreneurs and scholars.

Another stunning advancement was the creation of the Young Women’s Initiative, done in partnership with the New York City Council. This is the nation’s first-ever cross-sector campaign working to close disparities that young women of color experience and ensure equal opportunity. Created with the leadership of young women of color at the center, the Initiative also mobilizes additional investments from other sources. For instance, when the City Council committed $10 million of funding, NYWF and our philanthropic partners matched it, creating an unprecedented new investment of $20 million in groups that serve NYC’s young women of color.

As Ana Maria Archila, Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said,

“I wouldn’t be here today if The New York Women’s Foundation had not bet on me when I was the 23-year-old executive director of a small immigrant rights organization. When the likelihood that I would fail was much higher than the likelihood of success, they bet on me and helped me find my voice and my power.”

Our society clearly has far to go before it can truly claim to offer women and girls of color the respect that they deserve. But at The New York Women’s Foundation, we’ve taken an important and a very smart first step. We will continue to seat more of wise, hard-working and eloquent women and girls at our key decision-making tables – tapping into their expertise, strengths and their uniquely powerful motivation.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 6/30/2017.

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