Authors Posts by Surina Khan

Surina Khan

Surina Khan
Surina Khan is a leader in philanthropy, women's rights, gender justice and LGBT rights. She is Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Foundation of California.

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Do you remember where you were a year ago today? I do. Like many of you, I woke up stunned by the results of last year’s presidential election. The first thing I did was write the following words to our Board and Staff:

We must hold on to our most cherished values of inclusion, respect, patience, and joy. We have to work in community with one another and continue our work to dismantle oppressive systems and work for equity and justice. I stand alongside every one of you. Together, we will resist misogyny, resist bullying, resist bigotry, and resist racism.

With last night’s encouraging results from Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina and elsewhere, we want you to know that our collective commitment to dignity, fairness, inclusivity, compassion and patience is buoyed, but also it was never in doubt.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate democracy, civility, and justice. These values are still alive. We know this, regardless of voting results. We are happy that today we wake up feeling less crushed and more resolved than ever to do our work of investing in local organizations that are building community power across issues, training community leaders to be effective policy advocates, and connecting our key partners so that we are coordinated in our efforts.

We are proud to be Californians and to live in a state that inspires hope for the rest of the country through the power of our community leaders. Thank you for standing alongside us.

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The Women’s Foundation of California advances gender, racial, and economic equity by investing in, training and connecting community leaders.

As I begin my fourth year as CEO of The Women’s Foundation of California, I know I’m not alone in having conflicting emotions about the state of the world, and specifically the lives of women and girls, LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, and people of color. Like you, perhaps, I am so sad for all those who have lost so much in the wildfires across California. I am grateful for the firefighters, many of whom are incarcerated people. And I’m outraged by the daily and even hourly attacks on our community, yet amidst all these challenges, I still find reasons for hope.

This is certainly in part because I have the great honor of leading a powerful Foundation that works daily to resist these attacks and find solutions to the challenges our communities face. And it is also because the vision, resilience, and drive of our partners in our multi-issue movement relentlessly sets a bold agenda that refuses to stand down. Just this past week, the Governor signed three of our Women’s Policy Institute bills. These groundbreaking pieces of legislation will increase access to child care and renewable energy funds for low-income communities and expand rights for transgender people.

When other parts of the country are fending off unyielding attacks on basic rights, we in California are advancing significant change and keeping pace with the march of progress.

I am encouraged that, over this past year, the Foundation team and Board took time to reflect deeply on our core strengths, both to bolster us all during this current political moment and to strengthen our position for the years ahead.

As a result, we have a refined program strategy, focused on the three things we do best: invest, train, and connect. These three pillars will be our strategic focus in the years ahead, and I’m excited to describe how we are activating around them – but first, let me share the larger context within which this work is being done.

You may already know that women’s foundations play an essential role in the global philanthropic and social change landscape. Yet, there remain many gains to be made, and incessant headwinds that work to push us backwards. Women continue to earn less than men, experience disproportionate discrimination and gender-based violence, and struggle to find adequate health care.

Even as headlines decry the rank unfairness of the “old boys club” from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, it’s not only the business sector where women are held back. Women are as acutely underrepresented in positions of public leadership as we are in the private sector. Consider how these disparities of who is at the table effect how decisions and policy are made. Now compound this equation for queer and transgender people and communities of color. Indeed, our activism, nestled in a proud legacy, is as crucial today as ever.

Women’s foundations, like women everywhere, achieve great things with a dearth of support. The underfunding of women’s rights and gender justice organizations remains a stubborn hurdle. In the 1970s, when the women’s funding movement began, only 1% of all philanthropic dollars were going to specifically fund women and girls. Shockingly, four decades later, only 4% of all U.S. foundation support goes specifically to women and girls – and even less to support queer and transgender people. This is not nearly enough progress to redress the gender inequities and misogyny our communities experience every day in this country.

While many foundations have made recent commitments to addressing racial and economic inequity, the philanthropic sector must also make a commitment to foreground gender justice. You can be assured that the Women’s Foundation of California will continue to address all forms of gender, economic, and racial injustice and the compounded challenges faced by women and transgender people. And here are three pillars we will use to get there: Invest | Train | Connect.


The Women’s Foundation of California has a track record of supporting community-based organizations working to address the root causes of inequity and advance solutions across a broad range of issues led by women and girls—especially women of color, low-income women, immigrant women and LGBTQIA+ people.

We are often the first funder of organizations that go on to play a critical role in movement strategies to advance gender justice. We were, for example, the first funder of the Young Women’s Freedom Center (formerly the Center for Young Women’s Development), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Community Water Center, ACT for Women and Girls, and the California Healthy Nail Salons Collaborative. We have also incubated emerging organizations, including Essie Justice Group, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Alliance for Girls, and La Cocina. We are honored to remain in coalition with many of these organizations who are major forces at the local, state, and national levels.

Within our new strategic framework, and through our new multi-issue Community Power Fund, the Foundation will continue to invest in strategies that advance gender justice along the continuum of power-building, including community organizing, policy advocacy, civic participation, integrated voter engagement, and culture change. These efforts will coalesce around three core issue areas: health, safety, and economic justice. Our grantmaking will support organizations working on pay equity, affordable childcare, ending gender-based violence, workplace protections, ending exclusionary school disciplinary policies, criminal justice reform, reproductive health and justice, and environmental health and justice.

Photo by Matt Radick

Our new, responsive grantmaking guidelines and practices reflect our trust in community-based leaders as the experts, because we know that people closest to the problems in their communities are best situated to design the solutions. The Community Power Fund will model for the philanthropic sector a simplified application and reporting processes that will remove burdensome requirements and liberate our partners to focus on building community power.

Given the urgency of many of the issues our partners are dealing with, we have opted to prioritize general operating support, and to streamline the grant decision process from months to weeks, and, in some instances, days. We value relationships with our partners, so the application process will accommodate multiple formats; in addition to the written request, we will accept applications by video, and in some cases, through phone interviews. Progress reports will also be simplified, and we will accept them in multiple formats. We’ve heard our partners’ feedback and observed trends in the foundation sector, and are excited to deploy this simplified and more direct process in the coming year.


Now in its 15th year, our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) will keep the Foundation focused on policy leadership development, because we know that grassroots community power is realized when community leaders help shape laws, regulations, ordinances, and allocations. Removing real and perceived barriers to shaping policy will directly alter the course of our democracy, economy, and shared future.

Because, as I’ve noted, women and transgender people—particularly those from communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, and queer communities—are often a critical voice missing in policymaking, WPI will continue to increase the number of grassroots community leaders who actively engage in this process. This work is deliberately inclusive of the groups who are most often shut out from the halls of policy and power.

Since 2003, 32 of the policy projects of our WPI fellows have been signed into law. Just last month, three of our WPI teams sent their bills to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. As of October 15 all three of these bills have been signed by the Governor.

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

The second, Assembly Bill 273: Unlocking Opportunities for Families, authored by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, expands access to subsidized childcare by clarifying that English as a Second Language and High School Equivalency education programs are acceptable types of training programs.

Senate Bill 310: Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Trans People, authored by Senator Atkins is one of two groundbreaking bills signed into law by Governor Brown last night that addresses the rights of trans people. This piece of community-powered legislation ensures that incarcerated transgender people can more easily petition for a name and/or gender marker change.

A fourth WPI bill, Senate Bill 320: College Student Right to Access Act, authored by Senator 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 and will be a game-changer for California, and a model for other states in expanding reproductive health services.

Built on an intersectional feminist perspective and social justice framework, WPI’s experiential training is delivered at both the state and local levels, transforming community advocates from concerned individuals to confident policy and budget changemakers. I’ll highlight just one more of WPI’s wins: the 2017 Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which expanded labor protections to more than 500,000 domestic workers, (the majority of whom are immigrant women).

Over this decade and a half, WPI has trained almost 500 community leaders who are connected to millions of people across California. The potential for the WPI network to advance change in California is tremendous, essential, and—as activist leaders from other countries pointed out to me at the September 2017 Women’s Funding Network global conference, inspiring well beyond our borders.

Given the state of the world today, I am encouraged and honored to know we are shining a beacon that other regions and nations find valuable. With trainees coming from across the spectrum of social justice movements: reproductive justice, criminal justice reform, economic equity, relationship abuse and gender-based violence, and environmental health and justice, I am gratified to know WPI serves as a model for people power changing the world.


The Foundation was founded on the ideal of the power of the collective. The third pillar of our strategy connects nonprofit and grassroots leaders, WPI fellows and alums, donors and policy leaders, advocates, grant partners and grantmakers in a variety of convenings and learning opportunities that will collectively build and advance gender justice in California.

One of our important continued partnerships is with the California Budget and Policy Center, with which we launched the California Women’s Well-Being Index in 2016. This first of-its-kind online resource provides data on women’s health, safety, economic security, employment and earnings, and political empowerment for all of California’s 58 counties. In the coming months, with support from JP Morgan Chase Foundation, we will host a series of gatherings to share and use the data to advance system-level change.

Also in the coming year, we will continue our partnership with the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose to host the next Bay Area Women’s Summit in June 2018. This action-oriented convening will gather 1,500 people to explore solutions to the most pressing challenges for women and girls in our local region.

Looking across a broader geographic scope, we enjoy a powerful role in the women’s funding movement. This work builds on recent alliances including the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., held in 2016, at which eight women’s foundations came together to launch the National Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives. This collaborative, modeled on the successful initiative led by the New York Women’s Foundation, has already moved women’s foundations in Dallas, New York, Memphis, Minnesota, Birmingham, western Massachusetts and Washington D.C. to develop innovative solutions with and for young women, girls, and trans youth of color.

In California, we recently forged a partnership with Alliance for Girls to launch a Bay Area Young Women’s Initiative and are rapidly bringing on funding partners, including the Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation to join us in increasing resources to young women, girls, and trans youth of color.

It is not lost on me that our role as a public community foundation gives us a unique position between funders and activists. We will leverage this position to deliver the second year of the WFC’s Philanthropy and Public Policy Institute. Modeled after the Women’s Policy Institute, PPPI is an experiential convening that trains funders about the public policy process and helps them be more effective grantmakers in advocacy efforts.

Finally in the year ahead, with The California Endowment, Blue Shield of California Foundation, and Fondation CHANEL, we will co-convene the first-ever California Gender Justice Funders Convening. The convening will be a diverse gathering of funders and donors who will collaborate, coordinate, and leverage our respective investments for greater effect.

Given the contemporary political, economic, and social climate, with both critical challenges and extraordinary opportunities, we are confident that the Foundation’s program strategy: Invest | Train | Connect will achieve the greatest results for building community power and position us to continue defending progress and advancing justice in California.

When I was appointed CEO of the Foundation in 2014, I was thrilled to be coming back home to an organization and a state I care so deeply about. Advancing gender justice has been my life’s work, and doing it here in California alongside so many powerful community leaders and colleagues is the greatest privilege of my life. I hope you share our sense of purpose about this work, and are encouraged to continue to engage with, act upon, and join our growing base of funders who are supporting this agenda.

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Recently, our country witnessed events fueled by racism, hatred and bigotry in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis, waving flags and torches, marched through the streets chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Heather Heyer, protesting peacefully against these hateful messages, lost her life, as did two Virginia State Police officers.

Heyer, who died standing up for racial justice in Charlottesville, Virginia, is being remembered as strong, capable, and passionate about fighting against oppression and for equality. But, on white supremacist websites, writers and commenters taunted her grieving family members calling her derogatory names and writing that she was a “useless” woman because she, at 32, had no children. This is just the latest example of the clear link between white supremacy and racism and sexism, and why liberation for all requires both gender and racial justice.

White supremacists will assemble in the Bay Area this weekend, flying banners of terrorism that purport that people with “white blood” have a birthright claim over United States soil. This is not new – nor is it a problem in some other area of the country. In fact, this story is as old as the United States. White supremacists have long tried to lay claim to land that was never theirs, and in California alone there are 79 hate groups organized to terrorize and eliminate people of color, women, and transgender people, and those who would defend our humanity and our right to exist.

It is particularly ironic for this moment that August 26, when white supremacists are planning a rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco, is also Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates an early moment in women’s suffrage when women secured the right to vote after decades of organizing. Even as we mark this occasion, however, we cannot ignore the impact of white supremacy on this historical milestone. Back in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, only white women could exercise that right to vote. Many women, black, brown and white, fought and died — not for the Nineteenth Amendment to be passed, but for meaningful participation in the political process. But it wasn’t until another 45 years, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, that Black women finally earned the full right to vote. With voter suppression and systemic racism still standing in the way of true equity, this work continues today, especially since misogyny and sexism are a core organizing principle for the white supremacist movement.

Although best known for its white nationalist brand of racist ideology, patriarchal politics are central to the white supremacist movement, which advocates not just white supremacy but white male supremacy–where women are subordinate. White supremacists believe that gender roles are based on innate differences between males and females and need to be aggressively enforced. They believe it is natural and right for men to hold power over women, and that a woman’s main function is to provide men with support, care, and to bear and raise children.

That’s why it is critical that in this resurgence of white supremacy, we carefully examine the way race and gender intersect to produce deep structural and systemic barriers to safety, health, and economic security for women, trans people, and families across this country. We must call on white women, women’s organizations, and the gender and racial justice movements to truly advance racial and gender justice by calling out racism and sexism when we see it.

We must band together as a community to show the power and necessity of our hard-won multicultural and diverse society. We must show the world that the values of freedom and equity are paramount. We must work toward a day when there are no further victims of white supremacy. That is why the Women’s Foundation of California is marking Women’s Equality Day by co-sponsoring the Bay Area Rally Against Hate in Berkeley on August 27 with more than 100 other social justice organizations. If we aim to end white supremacy, we must all stand together, acknowledging the intersectional nature of our experience. Only by being united in resistance across issues and identities will we succeed in making sure we are all treated with the respect and dignity we deserve. Together, we can, and we will end white supremacist patriarchy.

Join us at the Bay Area Rally Against Hate on August 27.

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Surina Khan traveled and listened
We are your statewide women’s community foundation and we are accountable to you. Illustrator: Marissa Klee-Peregon.

Last month I celebrated my first year as CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. Since 1979, this statewide community foundation has been strengthening the economic wellbeing of women and families and I am honored and humbled to build on that legacy.

This first year, I have logged thousands of miles traveling the state and meeting with many of you. I’ve been to San Diego, San Bernardino and San Francisco. Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Sacramento. Riverside, Long Beach and Fresno. Sierra Foothills, Monterey and Silicon Valley. And pretty much everywhere in between. I’ve driven through what seems like every town and townlet in the Central and Inland Valleys and flown up and down the coast more times than I could remember.

(A really big thank you goes to our official airline, Southwest Airlines, for helping me stay responsive and connected.)

I met with hundreds of you: advocates and community leaders, policymakers, donors, foundation and corporate leaders. Everywhere I went I asked questions and listened deeply to the answers: What are our true strengths? How do we best support our grant partners? How do we best make a difference in the lives of California women? What role should we play in policy advocacy? What could we be doing better, why and how?

The answers I got were honest and thought-provoking, kind and encouraging, challenging and at times difficult to hear. I welcomed and cherished them all. You reaffirmed our core value that those who are closest to the problems in their communities are best qualified to develop solutions to those problems. You asked us to continue investing in women and girls through grantmaking. You encouraged us to focus on training grassroots women leaders in policy advocacy. And you asked us to focus on strengthening the culture of philanthropy in California.

Back home, the Foundation’s staff, board and I reflected on thousands of hours of conversation, our expertise, experience and strengths and we refined our program strategy as a result.

Our mission—to advance economic wellbeing of women and our communities—remains unchanged. But to achieve our mission, we’re focusing on women’s leadership and two clear, unequivocal approaches: philanthropy and policy. We are investing in and training women to be leaders in philanthropy and policy advocacy because we know that together these two powerful groups will ignite and fuel social change in California.

Mission and Approach
We’ll achieve our mission by focusing on women’s leadership in policy and philanthropy.
The crisis facing women in California

As you know only too well, California has incredible wealth and yet too many women in our state live in poverty. Ours is the seventh largest economy in the world and yet we have the highest poverty rate in the nation: one in four Californians lives in poverty. The poverty rate is especially high among women of color and single mothers. At the same time, retired women in our state are much more likely to live in poverty than retired men.

Consider the wage barriers women face in our state. In 2014, women in California made 84 percent of the wages of their male peers. The gap is even larger for women of color—Latinas in California make 44 cents for every dollar that white men make, which is the biggest gap for Latinas in the nation.

44 cents for every dollar? That’s not only unjust but unforgivable.

Wage Gap California
The wage gap is just one example of women’s economic insecurity in California, especially women of color.

Far too many women and families in California are living month-to-month and paycheck-to-paycheck, never knowing when one financial setback—a trip to the emergency room, an unexpected car repair—will push them to the brink of poverty and homelessness.

Like you, I want to live in a California where every woman and her family has a stable and safe place to live. Where she can put healthy food on the dinner table every night. And in the morning she has childcare and reliable transportation so she can get to her job. A job that pays her a living wage and allows her to provide for her family and save for emergencies and retirement. And if she or her kid gets sick, she has health insurance and paid sick leave so that she doesn’t have to choose between keeping her job and the wellbeing of her children.

I want to live in a California where every woman has the opportunity to decide where, when or if she is going to have a child. And if she chooses to have a child, she won’t be pushed to the brink of poverty for making her decision.

Focusing on women’s leadership

I know that together we can make this vision possible. I know that together we can solve the most complex problems and remove some of the most pervasive barriers that women and families face in California.

At the Women’s Foundation of California our solution is to invest in women’s leadership at all levels and especially as policy advocates and as philanthropists.

Women leaders in policy advocacy

We know first-hand what extraordinary feats women policy advocates are capable of.

Over the years, we have trained more than 300 grassroots women leaders through our Women’s Policy Institute and those women have helped pass more than 23 bills into state law. One of those laws is the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which provides overtime pay to an estimated 100,000 California housekeepers, child care providers and caregivers. We trained the talented immigrant women workers who made this groundbreaking law possible and we gave them the tools they needed to gracefully kick down the doors of the Capitol and win state recognition for their dignity.

This year, we doubled down on our investment in women policy leaders because we know that they’ll use their new skills and networks to double—no, triple, even quadruple—their policy impact on our state. In partnership with The California Endowment, we expanded the Women’s Policy Institute and trained 20 more women in county-level policy in Riverside. What’s more, we’ll soon start training women in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

When it comes to policy advocacy, we know that our role is to be a supportive partner to the advocates who are best situated to bring about policy change. We are steadfast in our belief that the people closest to the problems in their communities are best positioned to develop solutions to those problems. A grant partner once said it and we cannot agree more, “We are the experts of our experience.” At the Foundation, we exist to identify, support and ignite the experts.

Leaders in policy advocacy
Our role is to identify, support and ignite the experts in our communities.
Women leaders in philanthropy

As the only statewide women’s community foundation in California, it’s our duty to support women’s philanthropy in California and foster a culture of giving in our state. We’re committed to our six giving circles and are determined to grow the overall number of women philanthropists in California.

Today only seven percent of all philanthropic dollars goes to support women and girls’ causes. When we started out in 1979, that number was one percent. We have a lot to be proud of and, yet, we have a long way to go. We need to activate more women of all socioeconomic backgrounds to use the power of their purse string to ignite social change.

Over the last fifteen years, our giving circles have collectively awarded $10.4 million to more than 500 outstanding community-based organizations that are improving the lives of low-income women and girls.

We’re so proud to work with the visionary women, girls and men of the Economic Development and Justice giving circle, the Race, Gender and Human Rights giving circle, Violets’ Giving Circle, Women Give San Diego giving circle, WomenGO! giving circle and Women + Girls in CA giving circle.

Our goal is to grow our giving circle model and engage more women in collaborative community philanthropy. We believe that our giving circle model of philanthropy—philanthropy that’s deeply respectful, engaged, collaborative and supportive of the grassroots leaders and organizations—is gamechanging. One giving circle member captured our philanthropic philosophy best when she said: “We are not the leaders. The advocates are the leaders. And they’re leading with such hard work, strategic thinking and dedication.”

In addition to the giving circles, we’re supporting individual women philanthropists through our donor advised funds. We provide these ambitious women’s rights activists with administrative, financial and programmatic support so that they can best support the women’s rights organizations and leaders in California.

Our philanthropists are deeply respectful, collaborative and supportive of the grassroots leaders and organizations.
Strengthening women’s economic wellbeing through grantmaking

In addition to training women to be leaders in policy and philanthropy, we are committed to supporting women’s rights movements, organizations and leaders through grantmaking.

Many incredible groups are using intersectional approaches to advance women’s economic wellbeing in California and we’re committed to supporting the most innovative and effective among them through timely and responsive grants. The issue areas we support may change over the years, but we’ll never stray from our focus on strengthening women’s economic wellbeing.

This year in partnership with leading Foundations in California, we collectively awarded $300,000 to six organizations that are strengthening the civic engagement of low-income women and women of color in the Inland Counties of Riverside and San Bernardino. We are proud to host the California Civic Participation Funders Collaborative and partnering with our colleagues at the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation and the Progressive Era Leadership Project.

We awarded $500,000 in grants to six organizations that are helping women get and stay in jobs that provide a living wage. This initiative, Bridge to Living Wage, supports women’s employment and career growth in the ever-expanding healthcare sector.

In September, we awarded $450,000 to 20 reproductive justice organizations in California because we needed to ensure that California continues to lead the nation in advancing women’s reproductive rights. You saw what happened in Congress in September: A bill that would limit women’s reproductive rights passed through Assembly. Luckily for us, it died in Senate. But we cannot rely on luck. More than forty years after Roe v. Wade, we still need to fiercely defend women’s hard-won right to control our own bodies.

I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish this past year…and we have a lot more in store. In particular, I’m proud of our incredible staff and board who work tirelessly every day to bring our mission to life. And I’m proud of you for continuing to learn and work with us in support of women’s rights in California. We hope you’ll continue sharing with us your opinions and ideas, both encouraging and challenging. Because we are your women’s community foundation and we are accountable to you.

Here’s to growing and improving, without fail or fear.


P.S. A big thank you to our intrepid illustrator and current Wellesley College student, Marissa Klee-Peregon. You’re brilliant!

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Here's a sneak preview of all the exciting things that have been happening at the Foundation since Surina Khan became CEO. Stay tuned for more blog posts about our Women's Policy Institute, giving circles, grantmaking initiatives and advocacy work we're doing through the Stronger California coalition.

Surina with Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson and Assembly member Cristina Garcia at our Legislative Reception.
With Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson and Assembly Member Cristina Garcia at our Legislative Reception in Sacramento.

Can you believe I have been CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California for nine months already? I guess what they say is true: time flies when you’re having fun!

Over the last nine months I’ve traveled all over the state meeting with many of you—community and foundation leaders, donors, grant partners, staunch supporters and allies. Everywhere I went I asked: How can we improve the lives of women and families in California? I listened and gathered your feedback and ideas.

At the same time, the Foundation went through an intensive period of reflection and evaluation. We asked ourselves important and honest questions such as: What are our true strengths? How do we best support our grant partners at this time? How do we best make a difference in the lives of women and their families?

As a result, we refined our program strategy so that we can continue achieving the greatest possible results as a community foundation. Our core purpose remains unchanged, while two core approaches now guide our work: policy and philanthropy.

Our core purpose remains to fiercely defend women’s right to economic wellbeing, and we’ll achieve it by training and investing in women to advocate for policy change and to fuel social change through philanthropy.

The why of our work has always been increasing women’s equity and economic security but the how has always been women’s leadership. Our new tagline, Leadership in Action, exactly captures our spirit and work and we hope you agree.

Our Women's Policy Institute graduates are fearless, dynamic and inspiring—in motion at all times.
Our Women’s Policy Institute graduates are fearless, dynamic and inspiring—in motion at all times.

And if all that is not enough, we moved! On March 1, the first day of Women’s History Month, we moved to Oakland after almost 20 years of working out of San Francisco. We love our new office and we’ve designed it for collaboration and innovation.

We want you to visit, so please save the date on your calendars for the open house we’re planning on September 17. Also, feel free to send us questions, comments, feedback and love notes.

Here’s to growing and improving—without fail and without fear!

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It’s hard to believe, but at the end of this month I will leave the Women’s Foundation of California after six wonderful years. In my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to work with leading advocates, organizers, researchers, donors and institutional funders who are dedicated to improving the health, safety, and economic security of all communities in California.

I’ve learned a lot in the last six years. To celebrate each year I’ve worked at the foundation, I offer these six lessons learned:

1. Relationship-building is worth the time. There’s nothing like face-to-face. Gatherings that bring together community-based leaders, donors and others committed to social equity strengthen our ability to work together and create lasting change. We won’t be able to create a just and equitable world if we don’t establish trusting relationships. And providing unstructured social time with music, beverages and good food helps too.

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Surina Khan, vice president of programs at the Women’s Foundation of California was recently invited to speak about the role of research in advancing social change. In this excerpt, she gives two examples of community-led research that made a difference.

As a grantmaker that funds research, in addition to funding other strategies like policy advocacy, organizing, communications, civic engagement and leadership development, I often hear community leaders talk about researchers who come into a community, conduct research that may or may not be useful to the community and then leave without doing any follow-up.

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A few weeks ago I was at a women’s leadership event in Fresno. I was asked to say a few words about when I realized that I was a leader.

As the youngest of six children, I had to exert my leadership early just to be seen and heard in my family. But I think I really discovered my potential as a leader when I was a teenager.

We were living in Islamabad, in Pakistan, where I was born, and my mother began noticing that the kids who passed by our house everyday on their way to school looked malnourished. They were emaciated with runny noses and open sores on their tiny bodies. They were in elementary school and ranged in age from about five to nine years old.

So my mother began inviting them into our driveway and offering them lunch. Maybe a scoop of lentils or masala served atop a naan (see photo). The first day one or two kids hesitantly took the food. And the next day a few more, and a few more after that until the driveway was full with forty or fifty children everyday. Within a couple of weeks they started looking healthier. The open sores went away and they put on a bit of weight. They started looking bright-eyed and cheerful. “See how little it takes to give someone a chance in the world?” my mother would say.

My mother planned the menu so they would get all the basic food groups in a week. Naan everyday, with a scoop of dal for protein, or vegetable masala another day, and meat the next day or maybe rice pudding with milk and fruit. “This way they get protein and carbohydrates,” she explained. “And we don’t need to use plates since we put the food right on the bread.”

My mother would put a scoop of food on top of the naan for the kids.

Because the kids were shy and hesitant to come in at first, my mother asked my sister and me to invite them in while she reached out to their mothers. She asked my sister and me to sit with the kids while they ate. “I don’t want them thinking we’re treating them like poor children,” she said. “They should feel like they’re eating with a member of the family.”

My mother had only one rule. The kids had to eat at the house. “No take aways,” she said. “I want to be sure that they eat the food.”

My mother knew that just feeding the kids wouldn’t solve the problem, so she formed a committee, deciding that working through the government-run schools would be the best way to help families living in poverty. The World Food Bank was giving nutritious food to Afghan children, and my mother thought they should expand the program for Pakistani school children as well. She knew that addressing the systemic problem would be the only solution.

She worked with the village mothers as well, trying to get them involved in advocating for the schools to feed kids. “This will increase family income as well,” my mother explained, “because then families will spend less money on food.”

Through my mother’s generosity and approach to solving a problem at a systemic level, I knew that I could develop my own leadership potential to solve problems. I learned that the most effective way to do this is by seeking guidance and involvement from those most affected by problems in their communities and by getting to the root cause of the problem. That’s the way we approach our work at the Women’s Foundation, and that’s why I love it.

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Rosenda Mataka remembers a time when pesticides were used less frequently.

Now in the small California Central Valley town of Westley where Rosenda lives and works as a community activist, planes regularly fly overhead spraying pesticides on blossoming almond orchards that surround this farm town’s elementary school.

The fungicide being sprayed wards off mildew, making for a good nut crop. But parents worry that as the chemicals drift across the school playground, their kids will get sick – and they do. The chemicals make the parents sick too. The spray is visible as it floats through the air, sticking to any surface it lands on. It sticks to swing sets, park benches and car windshields, and it gets into the water supply.

The toxins in pesticide drift can cause or contribute to miscarriage and sterility, fetal developmental disabilities and other illnesses and disorders.

California’s Central Valley is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country’s most populous state, and it grows and supplies one-quarter of all the food that people in the US eat. In the Valley’s 18 counties, pesticide exposure is causing alarm among a growing number of communities, and not just among the millions of farm workers on agriculture’s front line.

In many towns across the Central Valley, pesticide drift and other by-products of agribusiness development are causing significant health problems. California’s agricultural heartland offers a bounty of crops, but its industries also contribute to water contamination by nitrates from fertilizer use and mega-dairy waste and pesticide components, such as DBCP – a chemical banned for causing cancer and harming men’s reproductive systems that still appears in Central Valley wells.

A 2007 groundwater sampling in Tulare County found that three out of four homes with private wells have contaminated water that is unsafe to drink. Susana De Anda of the Community Water Center works on water issues in the Central Valley and brings attention to the fact that when people drink this water, they consume known carcinogens and acute poisons, such as nitrates, which can kill infants in a matter of days. Read more about the Community Water Center’s work in this blog post.

There are a growing number of coordinated efforts across California and the US advocating for better regulation and increased awareness about the multifaceted health, safety and labor issues related to environmental toxins. Learn more.

Excerpted from Climate of Opportunity: Gender and Movement Building at the Intersection of Reproductive Justice and Environmental Justice.

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During the week of May 24, Vice President of Programs, Surina Khan was in residence at the University of California Santa Cruz as the 2010 Regents Lecturer. Below is an excerpt from the regents’ lecture she delivered, Movement Matters: Potentials for Transformative Change.

Last month I had lunch with a woman named Eveline Shen. Eveline is the executive director of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ), an organization that has done important work on articulating a multi-issue approach for the reproductive health, rights and justice movement.

Reproductive justice is a framework that has emerged over the last five years that looks at the range of issues surrounding reproductive freedom and expands the conversation from one that has been focused on choice and the right to an abortion, to including family supporting jobs and supporting women to have and parent healthy babies.

Eveline told me that ACRJ is making shifts in the way they talk about their work. She and the staff find that they spend a lot of time explaining the concept of reproductive justice, and that people have a hard time grasping it. Rather than explaining the framework, they would rather be moving the work forward by building coalitions, identifying policy advocacy opportunities, and engaging people.

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