WFN Announces Regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hub Cohort

Women’s funds partner with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote economic mobility for women and girls in wake of the COVID crisis

SAN FRANCISCO — Women’s Funding Network today announced the cohort selection for its Regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hub project, as part of an 18-month effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase support and resources necessary to advance economic mobility among women and girls. The project is being launched at a pivotal time when economic mobility is essential to surviving the financial uncertainties resulting from the COVID crisis. The cohort includes Chicago Foundation for Women, Maine Women’s Fund, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, Iowa Women’s Foundation, Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Western New York Women’s Foundation and Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis.

“Women’s foundations have a long history of addressing women’s economic security and mobility within their communities. This project multiplies each organization’s individual impact while increasing our Network’s intelligence by facilitating multi-year, multi-foundation collaborations across the United States,” said Women’s Funding Network President and CEO Elizabeth Barajas-Román. “This work is critical now, more than ever because of the economic devastation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The gender lens approach that women’s foundations apply to poverty alleviation and economic security is effective because of its grasp on the drivers of complex systems. We’re excited to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the creation of these nine regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hubs.”

The Regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hubs will create local environments that identify and connect community assets toward market demands that will build lasting livelihoods for women and their families. Hubs will focus on the critical range of social, economic, health and environmental conditions necessary for women to thrive within their regional ecosystems. The newly-announced cohort will go through a learning and organizing process, with an aim to launch their Regional Women’s Economic Mobility Hubs in October 2020.

The Chicago Hub will build from the success of three collaboratives established by the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), in order to engage organizations across the Chicago metropolitan area in an intersectional approach to moving women out of poverty.

The Maine Women’s Fund will collaborate with Wabanaki Public Health (WPH), a tribal organization created in 2011 by tribal chiefs, which will participate deeply in the planning and activities of the Hub, while the women’s foundation will use its state-wide convening power to engage other funding, government and nonprofit leaders to learn and participate. A key focus will be food insecurity, as Maine ranks 9th nationally for food insecurity and 1st in New England. The Maine Hub seeks to integrate mainstream and cultural frameworks that are founded on tribal community values, perspectives and priorities.

The Birmingham Hub, led by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, will engage partners in launching a student-parent success model to help women achieve academic and career goals. The vision is for the Student-Parent Success Model to be implemented at half of Alabama’s community colleges by 2022.

The Arkansas Hub will center on Women Owned, a model developed by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas in response to COVID-19. Recognizing that the entrepreneurial ecosystem has historically and systematically disadvantaged women and people of color, the model will educate the ecosystem on how to collaboratively and uniquely support women-owned businesses, serve as a bridge and create a fund from which women business owners can access critical capital.

To address Iowa’s growing poverty problem, the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF) completed a year-long community research and listening process that identified the shortage of child care as the key barrier to women’s economic self-sufficiency. In response, IWF launched the Building Community Child Care Solutions (BCCCS) Collaborative to increase efficiency. The Iowa Hub will engage additional organizations to test BCCCS strategies and practices, with a goal of being in 40 communities throughout Iowa by November 2021.

As a result of current research and proven practice, the Southern Arizona Hub will focus on the intersection of education, childcare and income, as it seeks to move single mothers onto a path of self-sufficiency. The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona launched its targeted effort for women’s economic mobility in January 2020. “Pathways: Elevating Self-Sufficiency for Single Mothers” will engage partners in providing access to both educational and economic opportunities. Current partners include Arizona Governor Ducey, Pima Community College (PCC) and its IBEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program which provide basic literacy and math skills while students pursue one-year certificate programs in fields selected for having high local demand and wages above the self-sufficiency standard.

The Colorado Hub will build on The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO)’s existing statewide partnerships and collaborations to ensure the state’s pandemic relief and recovery efforts are women-centered and community-led. These include a working group of more than 50 workforce development and early care and education cross-sector and statewide stakeholders to identify actionable solutions to improve access to high-quality, affordable child care for working families, Governor’s COVID-19 Relief Fund and The Kresge Foundation’s Human Services Strategy, for which WFCO applies an intersectional, community-driven approach to improve economic outcomes for women of color and single mothers, as well as impact Colorado’s gender and racial wealth gap. Findings from the WFCO’s own COVID relief fund will be shared with its statewide network to inform relief and recovery efforts in the business, nonprofit and government sectors.

The Western New York Hub, led by Western New York Women’s Foundation, will build from effective strategies incorporated in its MOMs: From Education to Employment® program, which works on seven community college campuses. This data-driven program has received state and national attention. The Hub will expand the successful MOMs model to a new workforce training partnership, Buffalo’s Economic Empowerment Collaborative for Women, with two respected nonprofits on the east side of the city, Harvest House and Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology. While the MOMs program has been successful for many women, for some women, a college education is not the right fit and is too burdensome while raising children. A workforce development model has the potential to benefit even more women and their families. The Hub will convene partners from community support services and various collaborations, including PowHer New York, a statewide network committed to securing economic equality for all New York State women.

Despite decades of federal and public programs and locally focused interventions, the poverty rate in Memphis persists as a community problem. The Memphis Hub will build on the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis’ extensive network and the relationships developed during the executive director’s 20-year tenure. It will include elected officials, public agencies and community members. The Hub will review quantitative and qualitative data, identify community services and gaps, engage additional stakeholders, update key leaders and make strategic decisions about Hub process and priorities. A focus throughout will be promoting the leadership of women of color and providing training for public speaking.

“The only way to respond and rebound effectively to the new barriers to economic prosperity is to ensure that women are heard and empowered to design and implement programs and policies,” said Barajas-Román. “Those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions; that means we need to ensure that the women who experience the deepest economic impacts are seated at the tables of power.”

Strategy Development