WomenGO! Beyond Grantmaking

WomenGO! Beyond Grantmaking

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Norma Alvarez is a member of the WomenGO! giving circle based in Silicon Valley. WomenGO! is one of six giving circles in our network. In this post, Norma describes an experience that transformed the way she thinks about her philanthropy and her contribution to the economic and gender justice movements.

Somos Mayfair
WomenGO!’s grant partner Somos Mayfair recruits neighborhood residents to serve as peer mentors (promotores) and trains them to develop leadership, communication and advocacy skills. Photo: Public Advocates/Jeff Hosier

When I joined WomenGO! I knew that I would be excited about the work of our grant partners and I expected our monthly meetings to be quite rewarding. Fast forward two years and I was right: we are all passionate about women’s issues, we all want to take action and we all want to see positive change in our community.

But I never dreamed that I would become a bridge connecting two grassroots organizations.

When you belong to a giving circle you know that the best part of the work starts when you invite organizations to submit grant proposals and, of course, that work gets even more exciting when you start conducting site visits.

This is totally true for WomenGO! During the site visits we meet face to face with the real needs of girls and women as well as the nonprofits that are addressing those needs on a daily basis. As we learn about their programs, we start admiring the staff and members of these organizations and we begin appreciating everything they do—and often with incredibly limited resources. As we hear the stories of how our hosts are transforming the lives of girls and women in their communities, we rapidly fall in love with their ideas, efforts and hearts. Ultimately, we leave inspired because we’ve seen girls and women transformed into true leaders and because we’ve witnessed the closing of systemic gaps that prevent many from reaching their full potential.

Another exciting time at WomenGO!, is when we bring our grant partners together and give them the opportunity to get to know each other, talk about best practices and funding sources and share personal stories. We know our work as a giving circle has more impact when we make these important connections.

Sister Organizations: Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa Sur

This past summer, I encouraged two of our community-based grant partners to get together. I invited and attended the meeting between the executive director of Somos Mayfair in San Jose and the executive director and staff of Puente de la Costa Sur in Pescadero.

In my mind, Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa Sur are sister organizations. Surely, the immediate problems of the women in San Jose are different from the ones that women are facing in the farms a few miles from the ocean in Pescadero.

Their geographic location, work environments and context separate Somos Mayfair from Puente de la Costa, but both are trying their best to increase reading skills and secure reading proficiency for the children in their school districts.

How could they not be sister organizations? Both of them offer their communities the space and means to work together. Taking women out of isolation is their shared strategy.

These two incredible organizations had heard of each other—and maybe even attended the same event once or twice—but they had never had a chance to actually meet and spend time together. I saw an opportunity and I jumped on it.

Connecting Two Grassroots Organizations

During our two-hour meeting, I was in awe of the openness and generosity of Somos and Puente.

Connecting these organizations allowed them to compare notes on how to implement Abriendo Puertas, an educational curriculum designed to prepare Latino children to enter school ready to learn and succeed; they talked about their experiences with government funders and their efforts to expand their bases of support; Somos explained how its bottom-up Promotores Model is based in collective action and how it asks the community to pinpoint its most urgent problems and craft its solutions.

Lastly, the meeting allowed Somos and Puente to share their successes: Somos’ advocacy secured full-time community liaisons and translators at all Alum Rock schools. And Puente is breaking a glass ceiling for one young Latina woman: for the first time, Puente is sending a former student from its Summer Youth and Employment Program to attend graduate school!

Driving back from Pescadero, I could not stop thinking of the times I visited a few farms in the area with my mom and dad some years ago. Visiting from Mexico City, my parents tagged along with my kids and me, and enjoyed seeing their grandchildren pick strawberries on the farms and choosing vegetables at the farmers’ markets.

But what I remember most vividly is the time my parents spent talking with the migrant workers on those farms and markets: they were eager to learn about their work conditions and the hardships they faced.

Is it possible that connecting Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa will produce positive change for girls and women in Mayfair and Pescadero? Can the meeting between Somos and Puente provide the fuel necessary to explore and expand successful models of change? I believe it’s possible and I believe that it will! And two years ago, nobody could have told me I would become part of that change.

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