Promoting Economic Security for Senior Women

Last month, the National Institute on Retirement Security reported that women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 or older.  Women’s longer lifespans partly account for this disturbing statistic, but a lifetime of disadvantages in educational and career opportunities, unequal wages, and caregiving responsibilities are behind the retirement insecurity that many senior women face.  Their late-in-life economic prospects are dismal, and they are much poorer than men.

In 2014, The New York Women’s Foundation  released a report, Blueprint for Investing in Women 60+, highlighting the challenges faced by New York City’s older women, who make up much of the 31 percent of its seniors living in poverty.

The report found that older women – particularly low-income older women of color and immigrant older women – represent a significant and growing segment of New York City’s population. The City is home to 1.4 million seniors with women outnumbering men three to two at age 60 and two to one at age 80. They play vital roles in tens of thousands of families across some of the poorest communities of the city – managing housekeeping and child-minding duties so adult children can put in grueling work hours, single-handedly raising some 100,000 grandchildren, and caring and providing for dependent relatives of all ages.”

These burdens have severely impacted the ability of older women to address their own needs, leaving them particularly vulnerable to health and financial difficulties.


Unsurprisingly, the report also found that older women’s health issues tend to increase with both age and poverty.  For most of their lives, they have had inadequate access to appropriate health care services, fitness options, and nutritious food.  For most of their lives, they have neglected their own health issues while providing for the needs of others.

Older immigrant women and women of color are particularly vulnerable to conditions of poverty, with 40 percent of NYC seniors identifying as non-white and 46 percent born abroad. This is in stark contrast to the demographic of the NYC senior population in 1965 when the Older Americans Act was first passed. At that time, 85 percent of older New Yorkers were white, US citizens, and English speaking. The current aging structure, shaped by OAA, largely operates under the assumption that this population is relatively small; ethnically, racially and linguistically homogeneous; free from child-raising and family support responsibilities; and largely protected from poverty and ill-health thanks to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid programs. This shift in population reflects a dire need to re-examine the services available to seniors to meet their needs as they exist today.

The report offers experts’ four key strategies to help address the critical needs of this population: (1) expanding access to affordable housing; (2) increasing access to currently-available entitlements; (3) supporting financial management capacities; and (4) expanding employment options.


It also offers guidance for direct service providers, philanthropy, and government agencies as to how they can better support the healthy aging and financial security of this population.  Recommendations include: continuing to build effective and innovative appropriate nutrition and fitness programs;  expanding support  for care providers—both older women caregivers and those that care for older adults; and promote collaboration across sectors, cultures and generations in order to reach more underserved groups including LGBT, immigrants, and women with disabilities.

Financial insecurity is the high price that too many women pay, particularly as they become seniors.   Attention must be paid to older women, whose worth far exceeds the value of their prime employment and childbearing years. Our grantee partners, including LiveOn NY, GRIOT Circle, MinKwon Center for Community Action, Center for Family Life/SCO Family Services, and United Community Centers, advocate for better policies, and develop and carry out programming that improves the quality of life for New York City’s senior women, but with greater, broad-based stakeholder engagement, so much more could be done.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 8/27/2016.

NYC Commission on Human Rights Takes Another Step Forward in Providing Greater Protections for New Yorkers

Innovation requires bold leadership. Just look at Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis and her team at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, who are constantly pushing the boundaries of how government agencies can serve and protect the most vulnerable populations. In speaking with a group of our grantee partners at our office in March, Malalis explained that when she was offered the job, one of her non-negotiables was that she wanted to turn this agency on its head and equip it with the tools necessary to expand and implement what was already one of the most comprehensive Human Rights Laws in the country. It is with this vision that two years in she has made major headway including increased protections for caregivers and transgender individuals, banning employment discrimination based on an applicant’s criminal record, and making the Commission the first civil rights agency in the country to be a U and T visa provider, which allow undocumented immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking to remain in country during an investigation and provide pathway to legal permanent residence

Last week, the Commission added another important accomplishment to its list: protecting survivors of domestic violence against housing discrimination. Domestic violence is a major contributor to homelessness for women and children, and survivors of violence far too often face discrimination from landlords when seeking a safe new environment. This new law, effective as of July 26, makes it illegal for landlords to evict, reject housing applications or make repairs to an apartment due to one’s status as a victim/survivor of domestic violence, sex offenses, or stalking. For more information on this new law, click here.

We are proud that bold women leaders, like Commissioner Malalis, are leading the way in making our city one where everyone can thrive. There is much work to be done, which is why we remain committed to partnering with leaders like the Commissioner, and investing in the vision of women leaders city-wide who are enacting community-led solutions to meet the needs of women, families and communities.

You can learn more here about the work of the NYC Human Rights Commission and all of the rights afforded to you in NYC.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 8/5/2016.

Intergenerational Food Justice in Action

The Food Justice movement is critical to improving the health and overall well-being of low-income communities across the country. The goal is not only to increase access to nutritional food, but also to provide nutrition education, strengthen social networks, and create jobs.

The New York Women’s Foundation’s grantee partner, East New York Farms! (ENYF), an urban agricultural project of United Community Centers, an organization that has served East New York, Brooklyn for over 60 years, has been a key leader in this movement nationwide. In partnership with EcoStation: NY of Bushwick, they have led the organization of a Northeast Youth Food Justice Network. They recently convened over 150 youth from 10 different food justice projects, in an effort to continue building out the youth leadership of this movement.

Last fall, I visited ENYF and met with David Vigil, the Project Director of ENYF as well as a fellow gardener, Pauline, and the youth interns that assist the gardeners. It was incredible to see East New York Farms’ intergenerational model in action. Elderly gardeners are partnered with local youth to sell their harvest, increasing access to affordable urban-grown food for local residents. The program generates supplemental income for older gardeners, provides local youth with a paid internship and the opportunity to engage in a hands-on learning about farming and food justice. Watch the video below to see ENYF in action!

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 7/29/16.

From the Grassroots Up: Leadership Lessons From Women Community Leaders

Women working in the nonprofit sector are not the first source that business people would look to for advice, but they should be.

Community leaders, especially women, do some of the hardest work under the least forgiving circumstances. And they get results. At The New York Women’s Foundation, we know because we’ve been investing in women-led, community-based organizations for 29 years, seeking high returns on our investments.

Our strategy for sustainable growth is successful and replicable.  In 2015, we invested $520,000 in 12 women-led organizations offering training and job placement. More than 1,700 women received services with 413 gaining new employment with projected annual wages of $8.5M—a 15-fold return on initial funding.

We consider our grantees to be our partners.   They are catalysts for new economy models and traditional initiatives with the power to transform communities in increments – one woman, one family at a time.  They are visionaries who develop and provide services like small business development programs, workforce development training, financial literacy, worker cooperatives and more in neighborhoods that need it most.

Together, we have accumulated years of experience regarding how best to promote powerful leadership, robust entrepreneurship and wise investment in a world that does not always support women’s efforts.   After nearly three decades, this is what we have learned:

Take risks and take them early

The Foundation prides ourselves on being early investors. This means that we’re meeting with newly formed not-for-profit organizations that are still at the early stages of their work. For some funders, this is an uncomfortable predicament in which they are often unable to take the risk. But our ability to listen to plans forged at the grass-roots level—and to step in before other investors and before extensive advance evaluation—has invariably produced impressive results.

We know that problems and solutions are found in the same place, and we shape our grantmaking strategy from a community-driven approach. Time and time again we have seen that the most impactful and innovative solutions are born of risk-taking courage combined with ground-level knowledge of what is at stake.

Start from a place of strength


Our grantee partner Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK), for instance, works with low-income, immigrant women and women of color, helping them break into the male-dominated culinary industry where they can earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. HBK asks nothing more from those women than a passion for cooking, a commitment to hard work, and a determination to help themselves and their families achieve a better life.

In return, HBK offers them training in English language, financial literacy, business planning – training in skills that can serve as further stepping stones in their careers.  This training also removes an initial lack of those skills from serving as a barrier to joining the program.  HBK’s approach works.  It has successfully equipped cohort after of cohort of women to earn good livings, move on into new positions, and even launch their own enterprises.   Their focus on the strengths that women possess, allows them to get started right away on their path to success.

Embrace challenges because they lead to innovation

Among the challenges facing women, particularly low-income, immigrant women, are the poor working conditions with low wages and without appropriate protections against exploitation. In the face of these conditions, The Foundation’s grantee partner, Center for Family Life (CFL) has propelled a progressive business model, worker cooperatives, that allows for more ownership and economic independence for the women that they work with. CFL supports their community through training and technical assistance to incubate businesses such as cleaning services and child care centers.

The solution that such bold women forged proves that with grit, vision – and a willingness to listen – the most difficult of challenges can be overcome.  The business model they have created holds the potential for extensive replication and has helped to shift the landscape of New York City’s marketplace for immigrant women, proving that every problem has a creative solution.

Leverage your network, especially in times of crisis

Times of crisis demand quick thinking and broad cooperation. Thanks to years of working in diverse communities, we have the capacity to marshal extensive collective resources on very short notice. After Hurricane Sandy, we leveraged our network of nearly 300 grantee organizations and were able to quickly disperse funds to communities that were already facing terrible conditions of poverty and violence. These conditions, exacerbated by the storm, required an immediate response and  working with our network, were able to respond quickly—already having an understanding of what support was needed and where.

Over the past nearly 30 years, astutely seeking out and funding women-generated entrepreneurial ideas has produced clear results for The Foundation – and it can for others.  The lessons we have shared here are just a few examples of the power of investing in women. Their leadership is effective and meaningful because they are resourceful, innovative, and measured without being risk-averse.

When a woman is uplifted, she brings her family and community with her.  It is in this spirit that we continue our commitment to the vision and leadership of women in communities across New York City.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 7/13/2016.