Women’s foundations have a long history of working to address women’s economic security and mobility within their own communities across the country.

In 2020, the Women’s Funding Network, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, set out to establish a new initiative to invest in 9 different women’s funds and foundations across the country who were experimenting with place-based models to increase economic mobility for women and their families. The Women’s Economic Mobility Hub to supports the work of women’s funds and foundations working on the frontlines of economic mobility within the US.

Representing 5 regional and 4 states, each fund or foundation was focused on improving economic opportunities for women in their communities. The goal of this pilot program was to provide lasting advancements in economic mobility and workforce development and to provide research that can support leadership for the next phase of change in community services, philanthropic practices, and policy development.

In the summer of 2021 we had the opportunity to sit down with the leaders of each of these Hubs to find out what the participation in this initiative has meant for them and how it has impacted their programs and organizations. We are honored to share our video series, one for each Hub, and tell the story of what we have learned about the power of women’s funds and the incredible way that they leverage funding as connectors, innovators, and strategic investors.

Women’s Economic Mobility Hub Video Series

Western New York Women’s Foundation

In 2010, the Pathways to Progress report revealed that there were a substantial number of single mothers living in poverty in the Western New York region. Through their research and focus groups, the Foundation discovered that if they could help to lift those women out of poverty through a community college education, it would act as an intergenerational breakage of that cycle of poverty—lifting not only the women out of poverty, but the children that depend upon them.

Women’s Foundation of Arkansas

In 2018, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas commissioned a report entitled The Economic Indicators of Women in Arkansas State, Region and County. One thing they weren’t looking for was business ownership, but that particular indicator jumped off the page. What they found was a high concentration of businesses owned by Black women in the Arkansas Delta, which is known to be one of the most economically depressed parts of our country.

Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona

Arizona has among the highest number of nonprofit organizations per capita in the entire nation and at least 500,000 mother’s and their families are living on the margins. Many of these women who are interested in going back to school to get into a career track that provides a worthy wage, are facing childcare challenges and other barriers to success. To address these challenges, the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona (now the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona) created a pilot program of holistic wraparound supports for single mothers that would help them get certifications for careers with worthy wages, and break them and their families out of the cycle of poverty.

Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis

The Memphis community of zip code 38126 is one of the more impoverished communities in the region. Eighty-seven percent of the population are African American and have families that are led by women of color. The Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis’ Vision 2020 plan set a goal of reducing poverty by five percent over five years within this community, by applying a multi-generational approach to wraparound supports and community engagement.

Iowa Women’s Foundation

Research conducted by the Iowa Women’s Foundation revealed that seventy percent of Iowa’s female head-of-household’s were struggling. When further research indicated that the key barrier to economic mobility for women in Iowa was access to childcare, the Foundation created the Building Community Child Care Solutions Collaborative to help determine the best, and most doable solutions for mothers and families in communities across Iowa.

Chicago Foundation for Women

The Chicago Foundation for Women started the Englewood Women’s Initiative in 2017, with a goal to increase the salary of the female head of households in that community from an average of below $10,000 per year to $40,000 per year. The Englewood Women’s Initiative provides a system of wraparound supports through a coalition of community partners that share resources and knowledge to give women support and opportunities to break cycles of poverty.

Maine Women’s Fund

The Maine Women’s Fund was founded on the belief that women in the community are the primary source of knowledge for knowing what is best for their own wellbeing. One of the organization’s they collaborate closely with is Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness, a tribal organization that works across Maine to provide support and programming for tribal communities by creating space for traditional matriarchal leadership and healing, as well as specific initiatives for basic needs.

Women’s Foundation of Alabama

In 2013 the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham (now the Women’s Foundation of Alabama) set out on a journey to accelerate economic security for women using Aspen Institute’s Two-Generation model. Since then, the state of Alabama has set a goal of gaining 500,000 skilled workers by 2025. To help achieve this goal, the Women’s Fund is working with community partners to implement a student parent success model that helps parents complete accredited courses for in-demand jobs. This model provides wraparound supports like childcare, access to resource centers, community groups, public benefits, and transportation solutions.

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado

Colorado currently boasts one of the nation’s most prolific economies and should be able to support economic security and prosperity for all residents, but more than 260,000 Colorado women live in poverty, and hundreds of thousands more live on the economic edge. As a community foundation, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado spent a year listening closely to Coloradans as a basis for a 2017 strategic plan dedicated to bolstering economic prosperity for women and their families. This research led WFCO to a focus on investing in pathways to economic prosperity through greater access to livable wages. This became the WAGES program.