Authors Posts by Cynthia Foster

Cynthia Foster


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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

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.

Cindy Marroquín is a member of the WPI interpersonal violence advocacy team, as well as education program manager at Rape Trauma Services in Burlingame. We asked Cindy to share a bit about her story.

You are a member of the Interpersonal Violence team. How did you come to be so committed to sexual assault and domestic violence work?
I began doing this work in 2002 as a volunteer, after moving to a new city. My original “plan” was to finish school and obtain my teaching credentials, however, as I took the state-required training needed to volunteer, I learned so much about the epidemic of violence against women, specifically women of color, including learning to identify personal experiences that, before the training, I never knew how to identify, define or describe. After completing the training, volunteering, and eventually working at the agency, I knew this work is what I want and need to be doing. I’ve learned so much about myself and have grown immensely in this work!

What drew you to the WPI program? Why did you apply?
I’ve learned so much from my direct services work. I’ve also learned that as much as I love working directly with survivors, change needs to happen on a larger scale, a policy scale specifically. The work we do at local agencies is amazing, however, we can only do so much within the existing structures and laws we have to navigate in order to help support survivors. I was drawn to the Women’s Policy Institute for its specific focus on interpersonal violence and its commitment to creating spaces for women specifically. Public policy always seemed like it was “not for me”, mostly because it’s rare to see women of color in that space. I applied to WPI for personal growth opportunities as well as to bring all my direct service experiences to help inform policy changes that will improve services and support for survivors.

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?
Incarcerated survivors are criminalized for being victimized and that has to stop! Hurt people will go on to hurt other people. If we continue to criminalize survivors for surviving trauma, we are perpetuating the violence. Creating additional barriers for survivors does not help reduce violence.

Daisy Ramirez, pictured in the yellow hat, is a health educator and fellow from the Women’s Policy Institute-County Class of 2016.

For the last ten months, Daisy’s WPI-County team has fought tirelessly to erect bus shelters that would protect families waiting for public transportation under the blistering sun of the rural Eastern Coachella Valley. (This photo was taken at a temporary shelter erected by advocates during a demonstration.) In the process, Daisy and her teammates have become experts in county-level government structures and budgets, policy research, community organizing, and public speaking. Now, nearing the end of her WPI-County fellowship, Daisy is equipped to tackle this urgent public health issue, train others in local-level policy advocacy, and become an even more powerful leader in her community.

“The Women’s Policy Institute has helped me obtain a greater understanding of policy development and implementation. The support WPI provides is a great resource as we continue empowering communities,” said Daisy.

For the past 13 years, our WPI program has trained nearly 400 community-based leaders like Daisy in advocating for policy change at the state and county levels in California.

WPI-County is a year-long policy advocacy fellowship program for pre-formed teams of 3 to 5 women and trans leaders based in the same county. These teams are ready to roll up their sleeves and learn how to shape real policy solutions to the complex challenges that their counties and communities face. Because we believe in investing in diverse and grassroots leaders, our WPI-County program is bilingual—English and Spanish.

Applications are now open for WPI-County Class of 2017-18. We’re recruiting pre-formed teams from Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Monterey counties. If you have questions, sign up for one of our January 2017 informational webinars. Applications are due January 24, 2017.

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One year ago, at the White House, Prosperity Together announced a $100 million commitment to women’s economic security over the course of five years. Partners of Prosperity Together are excited to announce an over $29 million commitment to increase women’s economic security in 2016. The first-year totals are 46% higher than projected, supporting 996 unique organizations in 23 states and Washington, DC.

Prosperity Together, a collective effort of U.S. women’s foundations seeks to help women in their communities and states acquire living-wage jobs, educational training and support, and affordable and high-quality childcare through funding groups focusing on low-wage women and girls around the country.

“The Women’s Foundation of California is proud to be a part of the #ProsperityTogether movement,” said Surina Khan, CEO of the Foundation. “In the inaugural year, the Foundation exceeded its $2 million commitment by more than 10%, because we believe in the power of investing in women. When you invest in women, you invest in communities, and real solutions to challenges in those communities.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last eight years for low-income women, women and girls of color, and women from marginalized communities, but so much more work remains. It’s an encouraging sign when communities work together and commit to increase opportunity and access for all women and girls in our country,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

“As a lead founder of Prosperity Together, we have witnessed the transformative power of inclusive alliances created by women’s foundations. The 29 women’s foundations of Prosperity Together have surpassed the year one goals and we intend to keep up that momentum. Now more than ever, local and regional solutions are needed to protect gains we have made and to influence greater local and national change for women. We know that when a woman uplifts herself, she takes her family and community with her. Prosperity Together is yet another great example of how investing in women makes our country stronger,” said Ana L. Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation and Lead founder of Prosperity Together.

“On behalf of the 29 women’s foundations that comprise Prosperity Together, we could not be more thrilled with our outcomes in year one. In the coming four years, we anticipate that our collective work will be more important than ever. Our investments to increase education and job training opportunities, good-paying jobs with benefits, and access to affordable, quality childcare will continue to benefit thousands of low-income women and families across the country – ensuring pathways to prosperity, not poverty. This is what Prosperity Together is all about,” said Lee Roper-Batker, President and CEO of Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and lead founder of Prosperity Together.

About Prosperity Together

Prosperity Together is the collective effort of women’s foundations to raise awareness of their role in improving the economic security of low-income women and their families. Prosperity Together envisions a future where women are economically secure. Children, families, and communities will thrive when we ensure access to childcare, education, and employment and earnings opportunities that promote pathways to good, stable jobs and leadership advancement. Prosperity Together formed in 2015 to ensure that all women and girls have access to the jobs, education, and family supports needed to be economically secure.

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“Child care is not just a poverty or investment issue – it is about fundamental human rights.” – Clarissa Doutherd

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.

clarissaClarissa Doutherd is a member of the WPI child care advocacy team, as well as executive director of Parent Voices Oakland. We asked Clarissa to share a bit about her story.

You are a member of the child care team. How did you come to be so committed to child care advocacy work?

My advocacy and organizing work for affordable child care came out of pure survival. I was going to lose my child care subsidy for my then-2 year old son, and maintaining my services was the difference between my family eating or not. As I began to learn more about how other families like mine were impacted, I became deeply committed to lifting up those experiences to create a movement around child care and early education that centers families. I’ve been fortunate in my work at Parent Voices to have the community truly lead my work, inform my decisions, and transform my perspective – this inspires me to get up and keep going every day.

What drew you to the WPI program? Why did you apply?

I’ve heard many colleagues talk about how much they’ve learned in WPI, and I was part of a project funded by the EDJe fund of the Women’s Foundation of California that looked at the experiences of mothers waitlisted for child care. We discussed having a child care team over the last couple of years to specifically work on legislation that would support families through what is a complex system to navigate. There’s been some momentum at the state and federal level to address child care and preschool access, so the timing felt right to participate.
On a personal level, having in-depth knowledge and access to the Capitol through WPI is a critical part of my journey as an advocate. I feel it’s time to deepen my understanding of policy, and engage elected officials and their staff from a different angle than what I’ve been exposed to.

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?

All children and families across economic, legal, and social circumstances deserve the opportunity to work and build the foundation for a good education that child care provides. Child care is not just a poverty or investment issue – it is about fundamental human rights. We cannot build a sustainable economy without families that can work, and without children who are able to successfully enter and complete school from K-12. Our families depend on those we elect to look at our communities holistically, and not create piecemeal solutions to issues that should be thought about and developed from the grassroots up.

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This post was written by Foundation CEO Surina Khan.

For many of us this seems like a different nation than it was just a week ago. Confederate flags shocked viewers at a Veterans Day parade in Petaluma. In Redding, a student at Shasta High School handed out “deportation letters” to Latino classmates. A college student in San Diego was robbed as her attackers made derogatory comments about Muslims.

As a woman of color, first generation immigrant, lesbian and Muslim, it’s been deeply painful. But I have found comfort in my family, friends, colleagues and you, the Women’s Foundation of California community. We have been kind to each other, comforted each other and protested together.

In the last week, many of us have asked each other and ourselves, “What can I do?”

women-in-the-capitolAt the Foundation, we are determined to preserve the progress we have made. The organizations and leaders we support will have many challenges in this current reality and the philanthropic sector’s role will be increasingly important. We will be called upon to replace governmental services that will be cut, to safeguard the most vulnerable among us and to challenge violations of civil and human rights.

You can be assured that the Foundation will continue to train effective leaders through our Women’s Policy Institute at the state and county levels.

We will continue to make grants to community-based groups who are working for the health, safety and economic security of Californians.

California is powerful — and now Californians have a greater responsibility to show the world our commitment to dignity, respect, fairness, inclusivity, compassion and patience. No matter your political affiliation, your gender or your faith, if you share these values, stand alongside us. Raise your voice with us as we demand civility and justice.

Here are three things you can do today.

1. Contact California Senate President pro tem Kevin De Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to thank them for their commitment to protecting California’s values of inclusivity and fairness. We’ll need that commitment in the years ahead.
2. Contact your congressional representatives to voice your concerns. Ask them to denounce white supremacy and ensure that rights for women, LGBT people, immigrants and members of the Muslim and Jewish communities are not rolled back. Ask them to work for policies that advance economic security for all.
3. Invest in organizations and leaders who are advancing gender, racial and economic justice. If you need help identifying organizations, here is a list of our grant partners, or you can give through us and we will ensure that your donation supports community-based leadership.

We remain committed to a better future and we will lead with courage, compassion, and conviction. If you have other ideas about what the Foundation community can do, please share them with us. We are always listening at

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