International Women’s Day has blown up my news feed. I guess it means something? I’d feel better if we didn’t need a day to celebrate the fact that we are all worth celebrating. I mean, can we imagine an International Men’s Day?
Still, I’m a huge fan of women and a true believer that with every year, we get closer and closer to the freedom to be whomever and whatever we want, irrespective of our gender.
In the 100-second film below, part of Microsoft’s “Make What’s Next” campaign timed to International Women’s Day today, we get a sense of how the world looks to young girls today. When asked, they struggle to come up with the name of a female inventor. I have to confess, as I watched this, I struggled as well. It would seem the world looks much the same to them as it did to many of us at their age. The difference, I guess, is we’re talking about it and striving for better. And in many cases, we’re picking up the mantle, alongside other women, and creating change.
That makes it a good day.
Thank you, Microsoft, for allowing us to celebrate International Women’s Day, through the eyes of these girls:
If I had a pledge card for every woman who said that to me after our event with Brooke Shields last month.
Each year, we invite a dynamic, accomplished, not-often-heard-from-but-pretty-well-known woman to speak at our big fall Women United in Philanthropy membership event. (Note: not a fund-raiser. It’s maybe the only non-fundraiser event with a top notch speaker you’ll get invited to all year!)
We do it for two reasons: 1). We have to have a meeting so the members can come together to vote on our annual grant; and 2). We want to get to know other women who might be interested in joining the circle, and no one would come if it was just to meet us!
This year, our speaker was Brooke Shields and she knocked it out of the park, in so many unexpected ways.The minute she walked into the room, I knew this wasn’t going to be like our other evenings. Usually, I’m really nervous about providing the proper green room experience, or protecting a speaker from fans wanting to take selfies. But Brooke entered the room carrying an over-sized martini glass we’d place on our registration desk for the purpose of collecting business cards. She was ready to join a party. She jumped in front for our group photo, looked from left to right, and promptly squatted her 6-foot frame for the next ten minutes and became one of the girls.
Having lived in Bergen County for some of her school-aged years, her appearance seemed more like a homecoming than a speaking gig. Women with whom she’d attended Dwight-Englewood School came rushing to see her, and she threw back her head with roaring laughter and delight at being together with them.
It was Brooke’s idea to scrap the canned speaker-speech and replace it with a one-on-one, ask-your-questions format which, in her words, “is a much more intimate way for everyone to be part of it.” She was right. Sitting at a high-top table in front of an audience of 240 women, with our guest moderator and journalist Marie DeNoia Aronsohn, Brooke told stories of what life has been like for her, growing up in front of a camera, often the focal point of public controversy, and as the only child of a single mother who’s alcoholism and lifestyle defined how she lived for so long. She was at once charming, comical, and heartbreaking. All of us fell out laughing at her stories about early auditions and her famous exchange with Tom Cruise, and we were moved to tears as she spoke of her love for her mom and her reliance on her girlfriends–including those in the room–who helped her through difficult times and have always loved her.
We never know when we ask someone to speak to at a WUIP event if they will resonate, or connect, or share something that moves us to appreciate our lives, live more boldly or give of ourselves more completely. But somehow, it always seems to happen. I think its one of the wonderful things about our group. We seem to draw remarkable women from all walks of life. We come together, inspired by our commitment to creating solutions to the problems that face women in our community through our own philanthropic investment, but we end up leaving this event each year feeling as we are the true beneficiaries. I guess, the truth is, we are.
Brooke Shields is the first speaker to ever waive a speaking fee for Women United in Philanthropy. She did it because someone she loves asked her to do this.
Just one big circle of women, showing up to help one another. It may have been our best night ever.
There is a lot of conversation about this now. Perhaps its the Pre-Election Season and everyone is looking to rally around a hot button. Or maybe its because celebrities are beginning to have something to say about it. Did you see Sienna Miller’s story in Vogue about her decision to turn down a role on Broadway once she discovered that her co-lead male counterpart (in a two-person play, mind you) was going to be paid twice what she was offered?
Of course, good for her. But the bigger issue is, why is this still happening? Thanks to all the women who went before me, I expect to be paid the same as any other person of equal experience, training and ability. When I read or hear of first-person accounts of clear-cut wage discrimination, I’m always a bit flabbergasted.
Truth of it is, not only do women experience a wage gap, we have a wealth gap. To quote a recent report by Asset Funders Network entitled Women and Wealth: Insights for Grantmakers, “The women’s wealth gap has been largely overlooked in discussions of women’s economic security, yet wealth is the most comprehensive indicator of financial health. Without wealth, families are one paycheck away from financial disaster.
Here are the major findings from the report:
—- Women have less wealth than men. Single women have only 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by single men.
—– Women of color are in a more difficult situation as they experience both a gender wealth gap and a racial wealth gap.
—– The wealth gap exists throughout women’s life cycle, with Millennial women hit particularly hard due to education debt and the costs of parenting.
—- The difference in wealth between men and women continues to increase as education increases.
—- Closing the wage gap does not fix the gender wealth gap. Women at every income level have less wealth than men.
—- Women also experience higher debt, with a debt-to-income ratio almost twice that of men.
At Women United in Philanthropy, we’ve been investing in program to help women achieve economic security specifically because know so many women are living paycheck to paycheck. This report suggests that, as funders, we can also invest in programs and activities that are “catalyst” for reducing women’s wealth gap. Three of the recommendation, in particular, intrigue me:
—- INVEST in timely and relevant financial education coupled with coaching
—- PROMOTE and increase opportunities for women to build assets
—- ADVANCE two-generational strategies that target women and their children
All of us in the grant-making, philanthropy-investing business can do this! We can look to support programs that educate women about finances and coach them on money management. We can fund activities that help women to build assets, strengthen savings, buy homes or start businesses. And we can place a higher value on those proposals with two-generational strategies that lift up women now and provide greater access to economic mobility and wage and wealth equality for the next generation.
For 10 years, WUIP has been focused on this issue. We seek to put supports women need in place so they can lift themselves out of poverty and begin to see the possibility of economic independence and strength within their reach. I’m proud of what we’ve done. All the same, every celebrity stories or a hot-button rally brings this conversation to the top of the newsfeed, its OK by me. We’ve got work to do.
You can read more from the report at http://assetfunders.org/educate/womens-wealth-gap/
I’ve been doing a good bit of reading lately about how foundations, corporations and individuals do their grant making. It’s an art, really, and there are as many different ways to invest in good causes as there are good causes in which to invest.
After 10 years of grant making, the members of Women United in Philanthropy are taking this year to consider ways in which we might change our process in order to be relevant and impactful for the next 10 years. We are a giving circle, made up of women committed to collective giving. That means we agree that we can do more, together, with our gifts than we can do separately. We believe in making big impact grants, a major investment in an important effort to improve the lives of women in our local community each year.
Still, in the course of reading, I come across some great examples of innovative philanthropy that, while different to our mission, are remarkable. In my last blog, I told you about the group of young women in Austin, Texas who formed their own giving circle, called Girls Giving Grants. This week, I’ve got another one for you!
Ariel Nessel is a successful real-estate businessman in Dallas, Texas. In 2013, he decided to start giving away $1,000 each day to individuals who demonstrated to him a need for his help. Today, he has formed a foundation called The Pollination Project. Last month, they gave away their 1,000th grant for a total of $1 million given in small grants to people in need in 57 different countries.
Its incredible to me what he’s done. I love the fact that people just design ways that work for them to help others, and that they are successful at it! In a recent article for Philanthropy Today, Mr. Nessel reflects upon what he’s learned in these past 1,000 days. I thought it was well worth a read, and for those of us interested in grant making, perhaps some insights we can use, as well.
What a Donor Learned After Giving $1 Million, $1,000 a Day
By Eden Stiffman
On January 1, 2013, the real-estate developer Ariel Nessel started giving out $1,000 a day, mainly to individuals with big ideas for projects that wouldn’t qualify for grants from larger foundations.
Since then, his foundation, called the Pollination Project, has made small grants in 57 countries for projects involving the environment, social justice, education, and community health. In late July, the organization gave out its 1,000th grant and its millionth dollar.
Mr. Nessel and Alissa Hauser, the foundation’s executive director, shared some of the lessons they’ve learned and their plans for the future (responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity):
You’ve been making $1,000 grants every day for two and a half years. What have you learned?
Mr. Nessel: When we started off, it was hard for us to find evidence of this being done successfully. Now it’s been verified to us. We’re getting all those superstars we hoped to find, and we’re not having this incidence of fraud, or of people who aren’t living up to expectations. That was a possibility with something like this.
Ms. Hauser: One of the primary things that we’ve learned is how to fund the right people at the right time for the greatest impact. So that the money goes so much further than $1,000.
What you do consider your biggest successes?
Ms. Hauser: We’ve been seeing a lot of projects that are scaling. With one project, Lava Mae, they’re taking old municipal buses and turning them into mobile showers that go around to different agencies in San Francisco. When homeless people go to their appointments with a social worker or food bank, there’s nowhere to take a shower. There was barely a prototype when we funded Lava Mae, but they just completed their second bus after getting a $100,000 through the Google Impact Challenge last year. We just funded the first $1,000 to a sister project in New York City that Lava Mae is mentoring.
How has your grant-making strategy changed over time?
Mr. Nessel: When we started off, our board and a couple of other people evaluated all the grant dockets. As we got further in, Alissa really wanted to stress this idea of democratizing giving and pushing power to the edges, to people who normally don’t have access to capital, and having them help decide who gets the money.
Ms. Hauser: We now have nine teams focused on different issue areas around the world. We have about 60 grant advisers, and about 45 of them are grantees whom we’ve trained over time. The grant-award decisions are mostly made by other grantees.
Mr. Nessel, you started by giving your own money. Now the project has a daily giving program for outside contributors. Why did you decide to start that?
Mr. Nessel: Our emblem is pollination, which is considered one of most synergistic relationships in the natural world because it’s indecipherable who’s giving and who’s receiving. And that is the model for the way I want philanthropy to move. Bringing in more people who are givers allows them the opportunity of feeling the sense of contribution and connection that I felt when we got started.
Ms. Hauser: We didn’t necessarily set out to create a daily giving program, but someone approached us and said “I love this idea of giving every day” and wrote us a check for a dollar a day. Before we knew it, other people were wanting to do the same thing. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 people who are giving between $1 and $20 per day. Within the last year, larger givers and foundations have started to approach us. For example, we just did a project with Levi Strauss & Co. doing youth environmental grants around the world.
What are your plans going forward?
Mr. Nessel: One funder wanted to do a Pollination Project in East Africa, so we’re moving in that direction. We just had our first evaluation by Kenyans for grant applications in Kenya, with a little guidance from us in the beginning. We’re ready to do the same thing in other areas of the world, like Cameroon and India, where we have the capacity, the know-how, and the relationships on the ground.
Ms. Hauser: This year [the author and real-estate investor] Alan Fox, through his family philanthropy, gave us $50,000 to start making impact grants — second-round funding of up to $5,000 each to grantees who’ve proven themselves. We want to expand into doing even more work to add value to these grants. We network the grantees with each other. We do a lot of promotion — every grantee ends up in the Huffington Post. We’ve also done a few Webinar trainings. We see a lot more potential to really develop some of these grantees as leaders.
This fall we’re going to start offering a “hidden gems list,” a semi-annual newsletter in which we’ll handpick our top projects ready for investment from outside funders.
What advice do you have for others who want to make grants on this scale?
Ms. Hauser: This requires building a network, especially if you’re doing one a day. More than anything else, the richness of our organization is absolutely not in the money we’re giving away. It’s in the relationships we build and the people we nurture; it’s in our community partners who help us identify grantees and applicants. When you’re doing small grants with people who’ve never applied for one before, they might be entrusting us with a dream that they’ve never told anyone about, and that’s a really fragile, vulnerable position. We’ve created an applicant’s bill of rights about how we want to behave as funders and what our applicants can count on us for. When you’re doing small grants, you’ve got to respect your applicants.
While researching how giving circles around the country are handling their grant making programs, I came across this example of grant innovation from a group called “Impact Austin” in Austin, Texas. A women’s giving circle very similar to Women United in Philanthropy, Impact Austin started a giving circle program for young girls, inviting them to experience the benefits of strategic philanthropy and grant making at a very young age.
We talked about this example a little bit at our recent Tea Gathering in May. Several of our members felt it would be a wonderful addition to our circle. The idea of introducing young women to the giving circle model may be the best way to ensure that circles like Women United in Philanthropy continue to be viable and impactful agents for change in the community for years to come.
Congratulations to Impact Austin for having developed and launched such a successful, innovative giving model. What do you think?Let us know on Facebook if you support WUIP starting something similar. Here’s a little bit of information from the GIRLS GIVING GRANTS page on the Impact Austin website:
“GIRLS GIVING GRANTS (g3) is the youth initiative of Impact Austin. We believe in teaching the next generation of women the importance of thoughtful giving. The purpose of g3 is to improve the lives of youth in our community through a grant-making process that relies upon cooperative giving, research and analysis.
“g3 is made up of young philanthropists – our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces, and neighbors – who are learning to be generous and informed givers. g3 creates philanthropic opportunities for girls in the Austin area in grades 8th-12th, and provides up to 30 hours community service credit.
“HOW WE WORK Each member of Girls Giving Grants (g3) contributes an annual donation of $100. We then combine all of our donations and award that sum in the form of a grant to a local nonprofit organization that we select.
“The g3 membership requirements are to be female, in grades 8th-12th, and to donate $100 each year. All of the $100 donations go toward the grant we award. Through our cooperative giving model, we are able to give more as a group than we could as individuals. Our grants will go to fund specific programs that directly touch and benefit the youth of our community.
“We are committed to running g3 like a business by keeping our total overhead costs to 10% or less of annual members’ donations. Separate funds are raised to cover administrative expenses.
“Our grant application process is designed to help us learn about needs in our community and the nonprofit organizations that serve those needs. As we review grant applications, we learn how to assess the capabilities and credibility of nonprofits. We evaluate proposed projects for feasibility, sustainability and importance to the community. We conduct due diligence reviews and site visits of our finalists. Then each g3 member gets one vote in choosing which worthy program will receive our grant each year.
“TIME COMMITMENT Your participation commitment begins in October and ends in April when you give your grant to a local nonprofit. We meet twice a month on Sunday afternoons, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Plan to participate in other activities, such as conducting a site visit to a nonprofit finalist and attending the grant award event where you will announce which local nonprofit will receive your grant money. See our application for our membership policy.
“Community Service Credit Through your participation with g3, you are eligible to receive up to 30 hours community service credit.”
One of the highlights of my professional career was introducing Gloria Steinem to a packed audience of Women United in Philanthropy members and their guests at our 2007 Annual Fall Gathering.
Her bio, and the list of her accomplishments, awards, recognitions, appointments, prizes and published works, was three pages long. As I reached the halfway point in citing her extraordinary career, I was struck by the magnitude of what I was doing–of who she is and all that she has done. I remember pausing, and sort of shaking my head in astonishment, and I looked over at her, seated at the table in front of me. In a very affirming, almost apologetic way, she said aloud to me,
“I know. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”
No. It is breathtaking.
The life and career of Gloria Steinem, and the role she’s had in shaping the world as we know it makes it hard to see her as just another woman, making a difference. She’s a courageous woman, a brilliant mind and a beautiful and gentle spirit, generous with her attention and fierce in her convictions. She is remarkable.
In October, her new book–the first in 20 years–will be released. It’s bound to be a great read, and for all of us who care about the rights of women and children throughout the world, an important one. I vote we all read it and invite her back to Bergen County.
Here’s an announcement of the publication on Makers.com ( http://www.makers.com/blog/gloria-steinem-book-my-life-on-the-road )
GLORIA STEINEM TO RELEASE NEW BOOK
“My Life on the Road” will be the activist’s first book in more than 20 years.
Groundbreaking writer, lecturer, editor and activist, Gloria Steinem has been looked to as the popular face of the women’s movement for over four decades. She was a buzzed-about journalist in the late-60s, when her political conscience compelled her to join the growing feminist movement, and made her one of its most visible and effective leaders.
She co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, and has spent decades crisscrossing the United States and the world as a speaker and organizer. She has been a controversial, good-humored, and inescapable public conscience on issues of equality and social justice. She has expanded the women’s movement to celebrate non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organization across socioeconomic boundaries.
Steinem probes and lays bare the workings of gender roles, of sex and race caste systems, and of child abuse as roots of violence. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College and an Inductee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Gloria Steinem is a 2005 Founder of the Women’s Media Center.
In 2013, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
Steinem is the author of, “Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem” and “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.” Her most recent novel, “My Life on the Road,” is slated to hit bookshelves October 2015.
Barbara Lawrence, Executive Director at The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation
Last week, members of Women United in Philanthropy and their guests came together for a fabulous evening of discussion about grant making, foundation giving, and how best to make a difference by giving money. That may not sound exciting to everyone, but for members of our giving circle–all of whom vote to “give away” our collective money and many of whom lead organizations that write grants for other people’s money–it was fascinating.
With guest speaker Barbara Lawrence, Executive Director at The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, we explored ways in which we might change our thinking about grants and about grant making. Here’s a few interesting thoughts I came away with:
* Before we make decisions about what cause to support or to which organization to give funds, we should consider carefully our own values and do the research to see if the things we care about match up with what is needed by the community you seek to serve. We may find that something we think is important is, in fact, no where near as urgent and necessary as something else we’ve never considered.
* There is a continual struggle to measure impact in the world of philanthropy — it’s not just us! How do we find qualitative measurements that evidence how we are improving lives? We tend to measure outputs—how many people did we serve? How many training classes did we hold? How many women ended the program with jobs? But we never really know, did our program change their lives and put them on a path to success? If we don’t know how to do it, why to we hold agencies to the task? Is it really that important? Don’t we want to try new ideas, even if they don’t work?
* Agencies need operating funds but we (donors and grant makers) want to fund “shiny objects.” We ask them to use our funds for programs, specific programs, not just for general operating expenses, not to just fill the budget holes. But the truth is, that’s what they need in order to keep helping the people we want them to help. Shouldn’t we change the way we think about this?
* Maybe we should have a much more collaborative process. Maybe we should work with an agency, help them develop a terrific proposal, allow them to tell us how much they need, and over how many years. And maybe we develop giving policies that are tailored to each grant award—in this case, its operating funds; in this case, its capacity building funds; in this case its one-time, in this case, its multi-year. Maybe we should partner with those we fund in a way that makes us in-service to them, rather than the other way around!
These are just the points that resounded with me. There were SO many more, and I hear from members who were there that they, too, found the discussion to be fabulous. As WUIP members, we are philanthropists. Its why we join this circle. We donate our annual membership contribution to the “collective pot” and we ask organizations that address the issues we care about to bring us their best proposals. We vet those proposals, and the agencies asking for our support, and take the strongest proposals to our entire membership for a vote. We give our entire “pot” away each year, to one proposal. Our thinking is we’re doing something big, making a big impact with a large, $70,000 or $80,000 or $100,000 gift.
We’ve been doing this for 10 years, and we’re proud of it. It’s remarkable and it always astonishes us to hear that we have made such a huge impact in the system of care for women in Bergen County. The question before us now is, how do we make sure that our grant making addresses the needs of this community for the next 10 years? We own this circle. It’s our money. Let’s dream about new ways to do what we do best and look back 10 years from now and say, “Can you believe it?”
My husband gave me a Fitbit for Valentine’s Day. He’s written inside a blank card, “Let’s live together.” I thought it was one of the most romantic things ever.
Here’s the problem. I”m embarrassed to wear the darn thing because I don’t walk and don’t have a chance of reaching the American Heart Association’s recommended 10,000 steps a day. I keep thinking I need to get in shape in order to wear the Fitbit and not look silly.
Then I stumbled upon this blog entry by Beth Kanter, Beth is the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. In writing about the importance of walking–or rather, of not sitting–she’s managed to make standing up and going for a walk a strategy for getting work done and being more productive. I love her thinking, and wanted to share it with you.
Let’s get up, my friends, and take a walk together! (Here’s a picture of White Rock Lake, here in my neighborhood in Dallas, a beautiful place to walk.)
Read Beth’s blog here: http://www.bethkanter.org/take-a-walk/
Take A Walk! Work Smarter and Live Longer, by Beth Kanter
We know that sitting is bad for your health and has been dubbed “the new smoking.” Two years ago I got put on a fitbit and started walking, and haven’t stopped. It’s benefited overall physical health and boosts cognitive function.
I’ve been incorporating sitting, standing, and walking into my work and doing sessions at nonprofit conferences about walking as work. After a session at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, Lisa Colton, set up the “Take A Walk” group on Facebook for nonprofit folks who are sharing their walks and tips. It’s now has over 60 members and growing. Susan Tenby invited me and Allison Leahy, Community Manager for FitBit to do a session at the monthly online community managers gathering in July.
Over the past few months, I’ve been delighted to take walks with professional colleagues. During the Data for Good Conference, I had an opportunity to walk with colleagues David Krumlauf and Sharon Burns and recently I got take hikes with Kivi Leroux Miller and Allison Fine when they were in town. There is no better type of professional relationship building than walking shoulder-to-shoulder.
Many times I hear from people that they realize sitting for long periods is unhealthy, but they are unable to make the time to take a walk or shift their habit of sitting meetings to walking meetings. So, with the growing body of research that is telling us that sitting is shortening our lives, how to best respond?
It is easier to make some small changes yourself than trying to change your organization’s culture, although that too is possible. Here are some small steps you can take:
Stop thinking of solo walking as “exercise” it is a great time to think about challenging work task
Recognize when you are not productive sitting and take a five minute walk around your office, stretch
Hack a standing desk
Incorporate 20-30 minute solo walks during the day
Forward your calls to your mobile phone and talk while walking
Walking commute to work, if possible or park far away or get off bus a stop early
Go for a networking walk at a conference during lunch or the break
To make a change in your behavior you need shift your perspective. James Levine, Mayo Clinic, leading expert in medical research on the harmful effects of sitting suggests: ”Think of sitting a way to rest your body from standing, not the default.” In addition to thinking about how much exercise can you can get this week, also think about how little sitting you can do. When you start thinking this way, you look for more ways to integrate standing or moving into your work.
Here’s another tip. Use the 20/8/2 rule. Cornell ergonomic expert Alan Hedges recommends 20 minutes sitting, eight minutes standing, two minutes walking. Repeat. The formula also improves productivity and posture, studies show. While this may sound a little prescriptive, it is based on health research and simple to put into practice.
In fact, a recent article in the New York Times (hat tip Jereme Bivins), “A 2-minute Walk May Counter the Harm of Sitting” points to another recently released study that suggests that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of sitting.
According to the study’s author, the reduction in death risk is likely related to energy balance. Walking, even for two minutes, instead of sitting increases the number of calories that someone burns, potentially contributing to weight loss,which then affect mortality risk. The articles ends with a great suggestion: “the possible benefits of strolling more often around the office seem alluring and the risks slight, especially if you invite your boss to join you, highlighting your tender care for his or her well-being.”
– See more at: http://www.bethkanter.org/take-a-walk/#sthash.SFcUocPj.dpuf
It has been difficult to arrive at a topic for this week’s entry. The news has been filled with grief, helplessness, anger and worry and it feels disrespectful to ignore that. Regardless of our personal opinions, beliefs and politics, we can all feel sadness at how difficult life is for so many and how fortunate many of us are.
I heard Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings say something on Friday that stopped me in my tracks and made me turn to this computer quickly, before I forgot it. In response to the findings of the Baltimore Attorney General concerning the death of a young African-American man in police custody, he said:
“As we approach the evening of our lives, we want our children to have a better morning.”
Isn’t that true? Isn’t that what motivates all of us to step outside of ourselves and find some way to make a difference? Whether we’re helping the homeless, building programs that help women, volunteering to protect children in need, organizing disaster relief efforts, arguing for justice in our courts or our legislatures, or taking to the streets in responsible, peaceful protest, surely we are all motivated by some instinct to see our lives as having been meaningful to someone other than simply ourselves. Surely we are motivated by an instinct to bring about change in systems that leave people unprotected, unsupported, under-represented or under-resourced. In finding some way to make a difference, aren’t we all seeking the knowledge that we have made some part of the world better for those who share it with us and those who follow in our footsteps?
I”m so very grateful for that instinct. I’m certain it’s what propels us forward, as individuals and communities, I’d hate to think where we’d all be without it.
My daughter keeps me fed with good books. She works in publishing and recently came home with a delightful volume by Oprah Winfrey entitled What I Know for Sure. It’s a compilation of monthly columns by the same name that Oprah has written over fourteen years for O Magazine.
In the Introduction, Oprah retells the story of an interview she had with famed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Gene Siskel in 1998. He surprised her in the last moments of the interview by asking her the question “So, what do you know for sure?” Stumped, Oprah told him she needed time to think. And think she did; in fact, her reflection and subsequent realizations have served as the basis for much of her work ever since.
It’s an interesting question. There are those things that I profess to know for sure, the tidbits I toss out at a meeting or with my family about peripherally-important matters. Then there are the things that occur to me when I am alone, the truths that are married to me somehow and seem to spell out a pattern for most of the decisions in my life. They are the things I know for sure.
One of my truths is this: I know for sure that one person can move a mountain.
This is precisely what came to mind this morning, when I learned the terribly sad news of the passing of a good friend of Women United, Jane Fiedler. Many of you knew Jane better than I did, for her reach in Bergen County was extensive. As the director of Women United in Philanthropy, I met Jane in the early days of Zoe’s Place, as she operated without an office, driving around the county with baby clothes and car seats in the back of her car, meeting with young women who desperately needed help and had nowhere to turn. I was astonished that she seemed to be permanently on-call, her own cell phone serving as a life line for girls who’d been turned out of their homes, or were living on the streets—most pregnant, many with young babies in tow.
At that time, and for some years prior, Jane and her compatriots at Zoe’s Place were working every avenue available to secure a piece of property and build a house to give teen moms in Bergen County a place to land and get back on their feet. In the midst of that effort, they struck upon an idea—a grant-worthy idea, as it turns out: to start a social enterprise, a bakery; a cupcake bakery that would generate both funds and recognition for the need for Zoe’s Place, while giving the young girls Jane cared for a place to work and restart their lives.
Of course, Jane and her team made an impassioned plea to Women United in Philanthropy, asking for our support and our confidence. It was a big risk to take on a young organization with a pretty expensive idea. The members of Women United agreed, and in 2008, we awarded Jane and her board a $100,000 start-up grant for Zoe’s Café. For the next six years, Jane and her inseparable colleague Miriam Bloom were bakers, waiters, coffee makers, marketers, buyers, accountants, trainers and small business managers.
Under Jane’s leadership, the Café was born and Zoe’s Place opened a home in Garfield in June, 2011.
Today, teens who need a place to go when they are alone and pregnant have a place, thanks to Jane.
Today, Bergen County no longer turns its back on young women who need help, thanks to Jane.
Jane Fiedler accomplished great change that benefited the lives of so many in the brief few years I knew her. I’m sure she accomplished much more than I know. I recall how proud she was of her children. She showed all of us that it doesn’t take money or fame or extraordinary circumstances to make a difference in the world. Rather, Jane showed us what one person can do, with a commitment to action and a conviction to lead.
I know for sure that one person can move a mountain. I have seen it done.
On behalf of all of the members of Women United in Philanthropy, I offer our heartfelt condolences to Jane’s family, friends and colleagues.