From Turbulence to Transformation

By Kyla Bender-Baird

Yesterday, more than 300 audience members flocked to lower Manhattan to join dynamic experts exploring public/private partnerships, capitalizing the women’s movement, and nothing less than changing the world. Jacki Zehner, founder of the Circle Financial Group and former Goldman Sachs partner, led the charge, asking how to take hold of this transformative moment and push for gender equality. Jacki Zehner truly believes that with “greater gender equality, this world would be a better place.”

NCRW President Linda Basch brought the stark reality of these turbulent times into the room, reminding us that 100 million people have been trapped in poverty in 2010 and many may be out of work permanently. And not everyone has been impacted by this Great Recession equally. Immigrant women, single women, women with disabilities, veteran women have born more than their fair share of the economic downturn while simultaneously being left out of policymaking conversations. The good news is “women are increasingly being viewed as the solution to many of today’s woes,” said Linda Basch.

Chris Grumm, President and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, seconded Linda’s call saying that “there couldn’t be a more appropriate time for women’s leadership to take hold and for us to capitalize the movement.” Research has consistently proven that narrowing the gender gap is a tremendous source of economic growth. But as Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large of Global Women’s Issues, pointed out, women need training, mentoring, capacity building, and access to credit. Letty Chiwara’s work at UNIFEM is an example of building partnerships and working at multiple levels to make effective progressive change for women around the globe. In the past five years, UNIFEM has partnered with the World Bank to empower women by using community level work to inform policy and ensure that the community level work is relevant to the policy framework established by UNIFEM and the World Bank. Through this effort, they used income generation projects in conjunction with business skills training for women to develop sustainable livelihoods (such as beadwork) that are portable during times of crisis.

It takes this kind of purposeful planning to bring about meaningful change. As Chris Grumm discussed, the Women’s Funding Network emerged out of the recognition that philanthropy funding was not going to women and girls. Even though women and girls are the “investment of choice” and time and again demonstrate high payoff, it has taken thirty years of constant pressure from women’s funds to get the rest of the philanthropy community on board and start funneling money into things like domestic violence, trafficking, and economic security for women. The first step to transformation, said Edith Copper, Managing Director and Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, is representation at all levels of society of the true diversity of our society.

What the conversation set out was no small agenda. As Edith Cooper said at the end “my head hurts.” We must start recognizing the common issues women face whether they are in the Global North or the Global South and move past the false dichotomy of domestic vs. international work. We must sideline the bifurcation between women and girls and recognize that our work is most sustainable in the nexus of issues such as economic security, health, education, and violence. For too long, the woman’s movement has been fragmented and women have been used as a cheap source of labor for social change movements. We must learn to capitalize the movement and build strategic partnerships. Everyone agreed that working in silos simply does not work. “Business can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone. The NGO community can’t do it alone. [But if we] work together in a collaborative way, we can bring about change,” said Melanne Verveer.


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