Completed in 2020, the Prosperity Together project was a coalition of public women’s foundations dedicated to improving the economic security of low-income women and their families in America.
Low-income women face many obstacles to economic security. They are balancing jobs and families, raising kids and supporting family members. Barriers women face to economic security include a lack of education and job training opportunities, good-paying and stable employment with benefits and access to affordable and quality child care.
We envision a future where women are economically secure. We know that in order for America to be truly prosperous, there must be economic security for all, and not just for some.
The Prosperity Together project provided ongoing leadership to create a sea of change in America’s response to poverty—from complacency to equal opportunity.
From 2015 – 2020, public women’s foundations invested more than $100 million, collectively, in innovative programs and strategies within communities across the United States to create pathways to economic security for low-income women and their families.
Prosperity Together was founded in 2015 by a group of six public women’s foundations. Over the course of the year, their group expanded to include 29 organizations. On November 13, 2015, at The White House, Prosperity Together partners announced a $100 million collective commitment over five years towards supporting women’s economic security.
Prosperity Together’s coalition partners used their respective experience and knowledge to fund programs that were proven to be effective in their communities and states. Examples of the types of programs that were be funded included:
Job Training: Job training programs that are customized to address the cultural and educational needs of low-income women need in order to secure a higher-wage job in a stable work environment.
Child Care: Programs that create access for low-income women to culturally appropriate, affordable, high-quality childcare, so they can be successful in the workplace and give their children a strong academic start in life.
Research: State and national research to inform promising best practices and policies that increase economic security for low-income women, particularly women of color.
For more than 30 years, public women’s foundations and women’s funds within community foundations have targeted their programming and resources to create pathways to economic security for low-income women and their families in America. With demonstrated expertise and leadership, women’s foundations are uniquely positioned to lead this work at the state and national levels.
Prosperity Together catalyzed resources and partnerships around women’s economic security, increased awareness of the impact and influence of women’s foundations, and demonstrated the investment, experience, and leadership dedicated to women’s economic security.
Following the collective investment announcement at The White House, the Prosperity Together Advisory Committee identified several pillars of work to advance its collective goals. These pillars of work were then carried forward by workgroups composed of Prosperity Together partners and their staffs.
Prosperity Together Partner Stories
Too often women face barriers to securing jobs in non-traditional sectors – fields that can offer an opportunity for women and men to earn almost equivalent wages. Facing the challenges of an industry-wide culture, women often self-select out of manufacturing and other trades—fields they do not consider as viable employment options.
The Chicago Foundation for Women worked with grantee partner Women in Manufacturing Program (WMP) at JARC and area businesses to develop programs intentionally designed to help women and girls complete job training, and enter into higher-paying manufacturing jobs. WMP bridges the two groups perfectly: women who benefit from the stability and benefits of a manufacturing career, and employers who need a reliable, specialized workforce.
Maria*, recently divorced, began a new job as an assistant store manager in a local jewelry store late in 2014. She worried about how she would be able to pay for child care for her two daughters. The cost of full-time care for her girls would run $280 a week, impossible for her to manage on her weekly pay of $246 and monthly child support of $81.
Many families in America face the same challenge and do not have access to high-quality, affordable child care that would allow them to have a handle on their demanding work schedules. This challenge limits the potential of our families, businesses and economy. Programs exist to mitigate this situation for working mothers, but the waitlists are daunting. For instance, women in Texas wait an average of six months for relief.
Dallas Women’s Foundation developed the Child Care Access Fund to bridge this gap. The Fund provides grants that allow women to work with the assurance of quality care for their children. With this assistance, Maria was able to keep her job and continue working without having to worry about whether she can afford quality child care. This summer Maria plans to enroll in a nursing program and pursue further training in the medical field with the U.S. Air Force.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) was founded in Iowa in 1997 to link and empower women to build food systems within communities that are healthy and sustainable, and promote environmental integrity. Since its founding, WFAN has grown to include more than 5,000 women and men across the U.S. who are committed to gender equity in agriculture and to creating local, healthy food systems. Too often, women do not learn about or apply for training that can help them secure important environmental and agricultural jobs, and start their own businesses.
The Iowa Women’s Foundation previously worked with the WFAN to support Women Caring for the Land, a training program for female ecological restoration entrepreneurs. Bridget Holcomb, executive director of WFAN notes, “Sometimes conservation work means using chainsaws and fire, and landowners want to hire ecological restorationists to do that work. Looking around, we didn’t find a single woman who worked as an ecological restorationist. So we decided to train them ourselves.” Training has included in-the-field education, business plan development and individualized support to address issues such as equipment needs and building businesses over time. This continuing project fills a gap both for aspiring female entrepreneurs in the growing field of ecological restoration and for the rising number of women inheriting farmland in Iowa.
Originally from Iran, Sara* built an impressive management and entrepreneurial career before immigrating to the US. But upon arriving in 2012, like many other immigrants, she found that her work experience did not transfer into the American job market. For the better part of a year, she struggled to survive off of a part-time job answering phones. Even as she diligently pursued employment opportunities, her job applications went ignored by employers month after month.
New York Women’s Foundation grantee partner, Upwardly Global, provides the soft-skills training and one-on-one support that skilled immigrant women need to compete for professional jobs in New York City. After a few months of working with the program, Sara had completed training and was connected to an employment advisor, Altin. Altin remembers thinking, “Sara has a tremendous work ethic. Her English is great and she has all the right skills, but her resume was holding her back.” Together, Altin and Sara worked on her resume and practiced the more culturally-nuanced aspects of the U.S. job search—interviewing, networking and self-promotion. Sara began interning at Upwardly Global to establish some U.S. work experience. The programs also give employers a chance to connect with Upwardly Global’s job seekers. After a few mock interviews, two of the city’s largest banks started to pursue Sara for employment. She is now an executive assistant, making $75K annually.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Washington Area Women’s Foundation recognizes the critical importance of addressing the skills gap and investing in workforce development programs tailored specifically to women’s unique circumstances. We have found that the most successful approaches prepare women for specific jobs by not just building basic skills, but also by prioritizing case management and supportive services, and strengthening partnerships with community colleges and local business.
Training Futures, a workforce development program at Northern Virginia Family Service, helps women who are unemployed or underemployed in low-wage occupations secure new or better-paying jobs. A cornerstone of the program is the wrap-around supportive services and case management it provides to program participants. For example, Ana came to the United States from Rwanda seeking a better future for herself and her children. Being the sole breadwinner for her household, she usually worked two full-time, low-wage jobs to provide for her family. Despite having an accounting degree, she had not been able to hold down good, permanent employment, and it was difficult to make ends meet. Through training, and with the host of supportive services available—including counseling, English language classes, and mentoring—Ana ultimately secured a full-time position in County Government. This position includes benefits such as health insurance and paid time off, allowing Ana to provide for her family while also saving for her retirement and her children’s education.
In September 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a $30 million investment in Memphis to rebuild the Foote Holmes community. A key partner in the effort to rebuild the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM), has provided decades of vision and leadership built on the recognition that women’s economic security is tied to healthy, safe housing.
This recent investment is a testament of successful public-private partnerships that WFGM has built since 2004, with the launch of the first HOPE housing revitalization efforts. Leveraging that investment with their knowledge of women’s economic security, WFGM supported the development of Community Supportive Services (CSS), a comprehensive, personalized case management service for families in the revitalized communities WFGM raised $7.7 million over five years to invest in its development. The new CSS model included high-quality child care for children living in the housing community to ensure that the next generation starts life ready to learn and succeed. WFGM is also responsible for monitoring program goals and evaluations to ensure responsible use of the investments made by local and national partners.
Rhianna,* a single mother, always dreamed of being an architect. A few years ago, she was studying at Dunwoody College of Technology to realize her dream when her income was cut by one-third. In the wake of this financial hardship, Rhianna had to leave school so she could support her family. However, she was determined to one day beat the odds, return to school, and finish her degree.
Earlier this year, Rhianna learned about Dunwoody’s Women in Technical Careers program, funded by a Pathways 2 Prosperity grant from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. The grant program supports low-income women entering non-traditional careers in high-paying/high-demand technical fields through scholarships, mentoring, professional development, and additional academic support services. Rhianna applied for a scholarship so she could return to school and finish her Architecture degree. In May, she was awarded a scholarship and feels like a huge financial burden has been taken off her shoulders. Her goal is to graduate in May 2018 as part of Dunwoody’s very first Bachelors of Architecture cohort.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Removing obstacles faced by female community college students is one powerful way that the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi brings its mission of economic security for women to life. Too often low-income women community college students need more than just a campus map and class schedule to be successful in pursuing education and job training. These students are often also employed, family caregivers, struggling to make ends meet while trying to improve their economic opportunities by continuing their education.
Understanding the specialized needs of female students, the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi supported Single Stop USA, a program which developed a unique screening software to determine students’ eligibility for a wide range of benefits including: nutrition assistance, unemployment insurance, Pell grants, child care and health care. These benefits help to ensure that students can manage emergency care for their families and stay in school. Indeed, national evaluations of Single Stop indicate Single Stop clients have a 17 percent higher level of semester-to-semester persistence than a similar comparison group of students at a community college who did not receive Single Stop services. The partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi allowed Single Stop to launch the first demonstration of its service model outside of a large urban setting. Through this experience, Single Stop has gained important insights into how to scale its model more effectively in areas with lower population density and to tailor services for these communities.
The Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida is the only non-profit in Southwest Florida focused exclusively on women and girls and was the first to publish academic research assessing the status of women in the five county region. Signature programs include #StopSellingOurKids, Kiva Zip Mico-Loan Program, and SparkSWFL. The Board of Directors will build a $5 million endowed organization dedicated to the advancement of women and girls in Southwest Florida by 2020. With this sustained funding source, the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida will make significant and sustainable investments in collaborative partnerships, create and fund innovative solutions to complex problems, and deliver measurable impact. The Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida welcomes financial contributions to support key initiatives at www.FundWomenFL.org or via email contact@FundWomenFL.org. Follow the Women’s Foundation online at http://facebook.com/womensfundfl and on http://twitter.com/womensfundfl.