How WFN Inspired SF’s Monthly Gender Breakfast

The Women’s Funding Network’s biennual conference is more than a collection of workshops, panels, and keynote addresses. Women Funded is a unique event because of the people we get in the room. When funders and advocates of gender equity come together, powerful collaborations begin and real change begins to happen.

The Gender Breakfast, a monthly gathering of gender professionals and advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area, is an example of such collaboration. Shruthi Jayaram and Lucina Di Meco met at Women Funded 2017 and decided that, together, they would create and host the Gender Breakfast series. These meetings are a chance for gender professionals to network and have a themed discussion led by an expert. To learn more about how Women Funded inspired this initiative, we went straight to the source and talked to Shruthi and Lucina.

Photo: Lucina Di Meco and Shruthi Jayaram 

Tell us more about yourselves and what brought you to Women Funded 2017.

Lucina: I’m a senior gender equality expert and women’s rights advocate, currently serving as Director of Girls’ Education at Room to Read and Global Fellow at The Wilson Center. Having just moved to San Francisco from the East Coast, I was thrilled to attend a conference and get to know like-minded professionals in Bay Area! That conference ended up being for me quite momentous, as I met Shruthi there. Right away, we started talking about our shared yearning for a community of gender equality experts in the Bay Area. A few weeks later, we co-founded The Gender Breakfast.

Shruthi: I’m a Senior Project Manager at Dalberg Advisors, a strategy consulting firm dedicated to global justice and social impact.  At Dalberg, I advise clients and develop strategies to increase women’s economic empowerment and shift deep-seated gendered norms and attitudes (e.g., around women’s role in the home and in caregiving). I moved to San Francisco in 2017 and like Lucina, came to WFN 2017 to meet like-minded gender equality advocates.   

What did you hope to achieve with Gender Breakfast? Has this goal changed over time?

Our original intent was very simple: to create space for shared learning and community-building among gender equality advocates and practitioners.  Our members have literally chosen one of the most complex and tenacious problems in the world to tackle. While there is no common definition of success, we are deeply committed to learn from each other’s work and support each other’s professional development.  We all want to move towards a world where people of all genders can reach their full potential. Over time, we’ve doubled down on this mission, growing from less than 10 members in our first breakfast to over 100 active members today across the Bay. While we all attend the breakfast in our personal capacities, we have members from non profits (e.g., Asante Africa, Oxfam, Room to Read, Career Girls, Tahirih Justice Center), private foundations (e.g., Asia Foundation, Echidna Giving, Global Fund for Women, Cartier Philanthropy), corporates (e.g., Gap, Google, Airbnb, LinkedIn), governments (e.g., the SF Department on the Status of Women), and bridge-builders and advisors (e.g., Dalberg and of course, WFN!).  We are grateful to Echidna Giving, who is our key funder, and Room to Read, where the breakfasts are hosted each month.

You are a Women Funded success story for us. Tell us about a time when gender breakfast sparked something similar, or share a Gender Breakfast success story.

It has been most fulfilling to see people from diverse sub-sectors make connections and then start to collaborate in big and small ways.  For example, two folks who met at the breakfast—one with primarily a U.S. focused organization and the other globally focused—are now planning a joint project to support girls in East Africa. Similarly, we’ve seen more seasoned members start to mentor and coach more junior members, as well as members join each others organizations and avail of group-wide opportunities (e.g., discounts to attend WFN 2019!).

Why do you think there was a need for gender breakfast? Tell us about why this work often requires us to be in community with each other.

We are both firm believers in the power of networks, a topic that Lucina in particular has researched and is passionate about. It’s through connecting with one another that people and women in particular find purpose, power, validation and initiate collaborations that truly foster change. Our network provides those working on gender equality in the Bay Area an opportunity to meet, learn about innovations in this space, share best practices, and have critical conversations on how we can speed up change across sectors and geographies. Since we started a year and a half ago, at each one of our monthly gatherings both of us learn something new, meet someone working on gender equality from a slightly different angle, and start meaningful friendships and professional relations. Examples of topics we have covered include gender lens investing, time poverty, women’s networks, addressing gender based violence in immigrant communities, and many more. We are ever more amazed by this community!

Besides having met each other and begun this collaboration, tell us one other thing about Women Funded 2017 that inspires you to come back for Women Funded 2019. If you’ve already looked at our confirmed speakers and sessions, tell us about one that has immediately captured your interest and attention.

Lucina: I’m looking forward to the opportunity of meeting wonderful friends and allies like Mary Robinson, Uma Mishra-Newbery, and Jensine Larsen, as well as to be surprised by new fortuitous encounters.

Shruthi: I’m excited for WFN 2019. Beyond re-connecting with old friends and making new ones, I’m most interested in the sessions relating to the “How Money Moves” theme. I believe we are at a pivotal moment in global philanthropy.  Issues of power imbalances and measurement of impact are being seriously discussed and re-visited. Who better than feminists to lead this conversation? At Dalberg, many of my clients are private foundations, philanthropists, and investors. I’m looking forward to bringing back the key learnings from these sessions into my work.   

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