Authors Posts by Cynthia Foster

Cynthia Foster


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Three bills aimed at strengthening the economic security and wellbeing of women and trans people across the state and championed by fellows in the Women’s Policy Institute—Women’s Foundation of California’s capstone public policy training program—were signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown this month.

“Public policy is a powerful means to solving social problems, and we are honored to work with a diverse group of advocates to move forward policy change that will improve the lives of all Californians,” said Surina Khan, Chief Executive Officer at the Women’s Foundation of California. “At a difficult time for our democracy, and women’s rights especially, the far-reaching results our Women’s Policy Institute fellows have achieved will increase the health, safety and economic wellbeing of communities in our state.”

The Women’s Policy Institute, the Foundation’s leadership and public policy training program, amplifies the voices of women and transgender people in policymaking and provides them with hands-on experience in navigating the complex legislative process. Beyond capacity building and leadership development, the Women’s Policy Institute also serves as a trusted ally and strategic connector across the state, helping to build coalitions and create a comprehensive policy agenda to empower and serve low-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color. The year-long program brings together women and transgender people of diverse backgrounds and experiences to work in teams to implement important legislative projects.

“The Women’s Policy Institute has been an invaluable partner for many of us serving our communities from Sacramento,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell. “Women and trans people are important leaders in our state. Through the Institute, the Women’s Foundation of California has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands by harnessing and refining the power of this leadership and driving policy change that increases opportunity and security for our communities.”

Since 2003, 32 of the policy projects from Women’s Policy Institute-State fellows have been signed into law. In 2017, Women’s Policy Institute teams introduced important legislation to make possible a California where low-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color are economically secure and can thrive. Governor Brown signed three of these bills this year:

Assembly Bill 523: The Equity in Clean Energy Investments Act, authored by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, allocates 35 percent of California’s renewable energy fund to projects located in and benefitting disadvantaged and low-income communities.

Assembly Bill 273: Unlocking Opportunities for Families, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, increases access to opportunities for families across the state by allowing parents to qualify for subsidized child care during the time they take English as a Second Language and High School Equivalency courses. This eligibility is currently being unevenly enforced throughout the state.

Senate Bill 310: Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Trans People, authored by Senator Toni Atkins, makes it easier for incarcerated trans people to petition for a legal name and/or gender marker change. As the first piece of legislation written by currently and formerly incarcerated transgender people, the passage of the Name and Dignity Act is a historic victory for transgender people’s rights in California.

“The Women’s Policy Institute fellowship is a brilliant and proven method for developing the necessary experience to move policy that effectively addresses the issues that bar communities in California from thriving,” said Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy at the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Women’s Policy Institute Mentor. “The significant wins coming from this group of powerful community-based leaders during and after the Institute is a testament not just to the perseverance of these advocates but also to the efficacy of the Women’s Policy Institute training model.”


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The graduation of the Women’s Policy Institute-State Class of 2017 is upon us. Each of the five teams have worked incredibly hard to craft legislation that will have real impact on their communities, learning about and familiarizing themselves with policy advocacy in the process. We’re so proud of each of their successes, including the four teams whose bills are still alive, three of which are on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Assembly Bill 273 (Aguiar-Curry) would help families maintain their state-subsidized child care by clarifying that English as a Second Language (ESL) and High School Equivalency (HSE) education programs are acceptable types of training courses. This bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly and the Senate, and you can sign a petition urging Governor Brown to sign this bill into law.

Assembly Bill 523 (Reyes) would ensure that low-income communities and those most impacted by pollution have access to funding for, and benefit from, renewable energy projects. This bill will allocate a minimum of 25% of the money administered by the California Energy Commission for renewable energy funding for sites located in and benefitting, disadvantaged communities. An additional 10% will go to low-income communities across the state.

Senate Bill 310 (Atkins) would ensure that incarcerated transgender people can more easily petition for a name and/or gender marker change. You can sign a petition urging Governor Brown to sign this bill into law.



Lastly, Senate Bill 320 (Leyva) will ensure that students at California public higher education institutions have access to medication abortion and scientifically accurate abortion counseling on campus, removing the time and cost barriers that currently exist. This bill will be taken up again in January 2018. The Women’s Foundation of California is spearheading a coalition of funders to ensure campus health centers will have everything they need to implement this service.

Please join us in congratulating the class of 2017 on all they’ve accomplished, and don’t forget to contact Governor Brown and urge him to sign AB 273, AB 523, and SB 310.

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Eight Women’s Foundations Honored for Young Women’s Initiatives

The awardees are women’s foundations and their CEO’s that launched Young Women’s Initiatives in their communities. The LEAD award celebrates outstanding risk-takers and innovators in the philanthropic community who, through their determination and leadership, have increased funding for programs that promote gender equity and diversity.

Naming the eight organizations acknowledges women’s foundations roles as donors and catalysts for change. “This year, we are presenting the award to each of the eight women’s foundations that have pioneered Young Women’s Initiatives (YWI), said Cynthia Nimmo, Women’s Funding Network CEO, “because the presidents of these foundations have shown ingenuity and fortitude in their vision of young women and focus on young women of color as advocates, and spokespeople with direct access to legislators and other decision-makers.”

Each of the foundations have demonstrated a commitment to social change while actively addressing gender, race, class, (dis)ability, age, and sexual orientation when making grants. They are also mobilizing philanthropic resources to support programs that benefit women and girls. The YWIs were spotlighted at the 2016 United State of Women summit, hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

2017 LEAD Awardees:

  • Jeanne Jackson, Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham
  • Surina Khan, Women’s Foundation of California
  • Roslyn Dawson Thompson, Dallas Women’s Foundation
  • Ruby Bright, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis
  • Lee Roper Batker, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota
  • Ana Oliveira, New York Women’s Foundation
  • Irma Gonzales(CEO) and Elizabeth Barajas Roman (former CEO), Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts
  • Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, Washington Area Women’s Foundation

The LEAD Awards were presented Wednesday September 6th in San Francisco during Women’s Funding Network’s #WomenFunded2017 global conference.


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Calling all reproductive justice policy advocates! This is a special application to recruit advocates for a Women’s Policy Institute-State team which will work on Senate Bill 320, the Student Right to Access Act, an audacious effort to ensure that college students in California will have on-campus access to medication abortion.

WPI-State is a policy advocacy and leadership training fellowship for women and trans people who want to build their skills to influence public policymaking at the state level.

Extended Online Application Due: Friday, August 18, 2017, Noon PST
Application Status Notification: No later than September 1st, 2017

Women and trans people of color strongly encouraged to apply! Download instructions now.

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We’re accepting applications for the 2018 class of the Women’s Policy Institute-State now! 

Are you an advocate or activist in the areas of criminal, economic, reproductive, trauma or health justice?

Over the course of one year we’ll train you to advance policy change in our state capital on behalf of your community. We’ll show you how the policy process works—how to conduct research, develop messaging, mobilize supporters, build relationships with legislators, staffers and allies, and create and advocate for  bills.

2017 Women’s Policy Institute-State trauma justice team


The WPI is stronger and more effective than ever: over the last 14 years, we’ve trained more than 400 people. By applying to join the 2018 class, you’re giving yourself a chance to learn and benefit from this tremendous network of alumni, trainers, and peers.

Want to know more? We’ve set up a series of informational webinars, where you’ll have the chance to hear from a current fellow as well as WPI staff and ask questions about the program and application process.

Sign up for an informational webinar now! The next one is happening on Monday, July 10th. Don’t wait, the deadline to apply to the 2018 WPI-State class is Friday, July 21, at 12pm Pacific time.

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CEO Surina Khan appeared in the Philanthropy News Digest on March 30, 2017:
Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a new administration work daily to roll back rights our communities have fought hard to win, putting in jeopardy everything from immigrants’ rights and economic security to educational equity and women’s health.

At the same time, and despite the increasingly politicized climate in the country, we are heartened to see people stepping up and taking action in the streets, online, and in the corridors of power. In record numbers, more and more of us are becoming engaged in the political process, participating in protests, organizing our communities, and communicating with our elected officials.

Philanthropy, too, must answer the urgent calls to take action and support programs, initiatives, and tools that can help protect communities from draconian changes in policy while advancing the values we hold dear. By tools I mean policy advocacy and organizing. If we truly hope to create a just and equitable society for all Americans, we need more funders in California and around the country to invest in advocacy and organizing efforts that help vulnerable groups and communities withstand the attacks directed against them while taking proven solutions to scale. We need community leaders who know how to work with legislatures at the state and local level to shape more just policies. And those leaders need the knowledgeable and strategic support of philanthropists willing to be partners in their work.

At the Women’s Foundation of California, we know we can’t create opportunities for our communities without an explicit focus on policy change aimed at both dismantling barriers and expanding rights. As the only statewide foundation in California focused on gender equity, we work every day to advance the leadership of women in public policy. Over the past fourteen years, our Women’s Policy Institute has worked with more than four hundred women leaders to advance gender equity through policy change. And those women, in turn, have helped pass twenty-nine laws that have improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of millions of people living in California.

Read more at Philanthropy News Digest.

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The 2016-17 Women’s Policy Institute-County San Bernadino team


You are a 22 year old woman with a child, and you just got convicted of your very first offense. At this point, you’re unaware of how much your life is going to change due to this conviction. You persist and do everything the court and the district attorney asks of you in order to avoid incarceration. Once everything is complete, you put your “convicted life” behind you, and never re-offend again. You feel that you still have a chance at life.

So, you decide to educate yourself and get your Master’s degree. You are so proud of your accomplishment, and begin to apply for jobs for which you know you are highly qualified, educated, and experienced. Eventually, all the hard work pays off, and you get a call for the position that you are interested in. During the call, everything goes well, until you are asked about past criminal convictions. With confidence and courage you respond: “Yes, I have a conviction, but it was 13 years ago.” However, education and experience still do not trump a conviction, and you are left hearing the dreaded words: “We can’t hire anyone who has or had a felony, misdemeanor, or DUI.”

At that moment, the feeling of devastation overcomes you.  All your hard work goes unnoticed for a mistake that was made while you were young, many years ago. This leaves you questioning: “Why do I feel like the ‘sentence’ for my mistake never ends, and you still have to do the time if you’re not incarcerated?”

Fair hiring practices, which involve evaluating job applicants based on their qualifications and who they are today, rather than focusing on their criminal record, are good for families and good for the community.

AB 218: Ban the box

As part of the growing effort to address the rampant blanket discrimination in hiring against people with convictions (despite the existence of federal law making it illegal to categorically refuse to consider or hire someone on the basis of the existence of a conviction without further analysis), California took an important step in passing Assembly Bill 218 in 2013. AB 218 is “ban the box” legislation that requires all public employers in California to remove the conviction question from the initial job application and delay inquiry about conviction until a later stage of the process. Employers still get to make all hiring decisions, but consider the candidate’s initial qualifications without the stigma of a criminal record, putting blanket biases aside.

This is important because meaningful access to employment reduces recidivism among formerly incarcerated more than any other intervention or service.

San Bernadino County project

All of these factors impact San Bernardino County especially because San Bernardino County ranks 2nd in the state and 3rd in the nation in number of people coming home from prison.

Discriminatory hiring practices based on criminal records affect large numbers of people in the United States and, in particular, San Bernardino County. An estimated 70 million people living in the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 adults, have a criminal record. One in 8 American men living in the U.S. have a felony criminal record, and 1 in 9 of California’s children have a parent who is incarcerated. Over 40 percent of employers would probably or definitely not be willing to hire someone with a criminal record.

Recidivism goes up when people coming home from incarceration can’t get a job. The number of children growing up in poverty or being separated from their parents and entering the foster care system rises. Companies struggle to fill all positions with qualified candidates and spend more on unnecessary hiring practices. Overall economic growth stagnates.

Unfair and discriminatory employment practices are detrimental to society. Fair chance employment opportunities for people with criminal convictions could decrease the number of people incarcerated in San Bernardino County (and throughout California) due to recidivism. Employment is the most effective tool to decrease recidivism. Increased employment also decreases the poverty rate, and criminal justice and public safety spending, all while increasing the income base tax base throughout the County of San Bernardino and California.

San Bernardino County has been a leader with respect to criminal justice reform and reentry, working toward creating equal opportunity for all residents. In that spirit, the County has the opportunity to increase protections for those returning home and seeking work by enacting policies that: 1) improve adherence to existing employment law; 2) create a mechanism for analyzing County hiring data to determine impact and identify areas for improvement; and 3) expand County hiring policies to those who do business with the County. We’re calling on San Bernadino County to take action and implement policies that do all three.

This post was written by Kim Carter, Porscha Dillard, Renea Wickman, Sharon Green, and Sarah Glenn-Leistikow, all members of the 2016-17 Women’s Policy Institute-County cohort.


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This post was written by Coral Feigin, a member of the 2016-17 Women’s Policy Insitute-State criminal justice team.

How will you #BeBoldForChange this International Women’s Day? Honor the dignity of incarcerated trans people.

Our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) operates on one guiding principle: transforming communities across California by empowering grassroots leaders to boldly address inequities at home. This year, the Criminal Justice WPI team has partnered with State Senator Toni Atkins (San Diego) to introduce legislation to make it easier for trans people to legally change their name and gender marker on their identification documents while incarcerated.

Transgender people face violence and discrimination because of their identities and often struggle with housing, employment and healthcare access. As a result, we often find ways to survive inside criminalized street economies; this exacerbates the over-criminalization we face from law enforcement, known as the “walking while trans” effect. Transgender people across California are regularly and systematically denied the dignity that we all deserve.

Our bill, Senate Bill 310, empowers incarcerated transgender people to submit their legal request to change their name and gender the same way as non-incarcerated people do – leveling the playing field and allowing all people to access the necessary mechanisms to live their gender identities.

Without this legislation, incarcerated transgender people struggle to change their names and legal gender through bureaucratic dead-ends, flat-out denials and overly burdensome lawsuits. If passed, this bill will be an important win for the dignity and well-being of transgender people: it will make re-entering society after incarceration easier and more safer for individuals, as well as reduce recidivism.

The Women’s Foundation of California is proud to introduce you to the 2016–2017 class of Women’s Policy Institute–State (WPI) fellows. This visionary group of grassroots and community leaders is embarking on a year-long intensive training program that will enable them to effect change at the center of California’s policymaking: the Capitol in Sacramento.

Abigail Ramirez is a member of the WPI environmental justice advocacy team, as well as policy advocate at the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability. We asked Abigail to share a bit about her story.

You are a member of the environmental justice team. How did you come to be so committed to this work?
At a young age, I became interested in policy advocacy work. My mother was an undocumented farmworker for most of her life. We lived on the most impoverished side of town, and in high school I began to realize that poverty, immigration status and race directly correlated to environmental injustice and health impacts in my community. I realized that my community looked different than other, more affluent communities, and because of this, low-income communities of color like mine were burdened by higher levels of pollution and pesticide exposure.

What drew you to the WPI program? Why did you apply?
I was drawn to the WPI program because it offers a safe space for professional women to directly engage in the policy process. It gives women the opportunity to be in political spaces that are often not available to us. The WPI program also gives women the opportunity to develop useful skills that can be taken back to the communities we work in.

If you could tell Governor Jerry Brown one thing about your issue area and the people most impacted by your work, what would it be?

Low-income, communities of color are the most affected by pollution. Safe land use and investment in these communities is vital in creating safe communities to live for all.


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Public policy is now more important than ever. We need community leaders who know how to use the legislative branch of state and local government to shape policies that will make their communities stronger and more just — and they need the knowledgeable and strategic support of philanthropists who can be partners in their work.

The Women’s Foundation of California is excited to announce the launch of the Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute (PPPI), designed to build on the transformational success of the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI). Since 2003, WPI has transformed the lives of over 400 community-based leaders. And those leaders have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands more.

In 2017 we are expanding this program and making it available to foundation leaders and philanthropists. Just like the WPI, the Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute is a hands-on experiential learning program focused on capacity building and network facilitation. Participants will attend a three-day experiential Institute on May 9 – 11, 2017 in Sacramento where they will learn the ins and outs of policy advocacy work, connect with other funders committed to effective policy-based grantmaking and meet with policymakers and policy advocates to hear how this work is being done on the ground. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend the Women’s Policy Institute Legislative Reception on May 9, 2017.

In order to share more details about this new program, we’ve recorded an informational webinar.

“Southern California Grantmakers is proud to partner with the Women’s Foundation of California on the Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute. The Institute teaches the skills that today’s philanthropy leaders need to leverage their resources for tangible, systemic impact in our communities.” – Christine Essel, President and CEO, Southern California Grantmakers

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