April 16, 2017; Omaha World-Herald
Jennifer and Peter Buffett and their NoVo Foundation, founded in 2006, have announced they have finished their study meant to help them understand how to spend $90 million in grants to local and regional groups taking on “the deep systemic, societal and institutional challenges” faced by girls and young women of color. NPQ’s Shafaq Hasan wrote about the start of this study period.
To figure out what their priorities and approach should be, the foundation took the all-too-rare approach of talking to those meant to benefit. Foundation staffers spoke with more than 300 girls in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama, and Georgia, “regions in the country that have remained largely isolated from philanthropic attention and from the chance to engage in national conversations on gender and racial justice.”
The NoVo Foundation’s plan has a number of distinguishing characteristics; it will start intensive funding in the Southeast, an area largely ignored by big philanthropy, and it will support existing movement groups directly addressing social injustice. The Buffetts said in a press release,
We believe that girls of color are experts in their own lives and wield immense power to transform their communities and the country…We are excited to partner directly with girls of color and their advocates so that they can live in safety and peace, dream and imagine all the possibilities of their futures, access all that’s necessary to live in dignity and fulfill their dreams, and feel celebrated and seen through love and connection.
Pamela Shifman, NoVo’s executive director, said, “A vibrant movement to build power with and for girls of color already exists, and it is time for philanthropy to follow its lead. Meaningful change for girls of color in our country is only possible if we shift power to those who are most affected and center the leadership of people who live every day with injustice.”
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The press release laid out what the new fund will support:
- Provide flexible funding to community-based organizations: NoVo’s strategy will prioritize community-based organizations working directly with girls to build sisterhood and connection and those addressing structural barriers facing girls of color by centering them in the movements that impact them locally. To learn more about the work happening across the country, NoVo is accepting letters of inquiry.
- Partner with regional grantmaking and movement building infrastructures, starting with the Southeast: In addition to prioritizing community-based organizations across the country, NoVo has issued an RFP to identify a regional infrastructure to partner with on grantmaking and movement capacity building, starting in the Southeast. The regional partner will house efforts that provide grant making to existing organizations and help seed new organizations, with the goal of eventually also supporting individuals and collectives outside of formal (c)(3) structures. In addition to grantmaking the regional partner will provide the healing, political education and organizing capacity needed to sustain a healthy field.
- Invest in select national efforts that center girls in changing systems that harm them: National organizations that center the voices and needs of girls of color play a critical role in shifting systems and shaping narratives across the country. NoVo will continue to support national organizations and partners who center girls and provide the resources needed to transform the systems and structural barriers that are most harmful to girls.
Joanne Smith, founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, said,
We are ecstatic about NoVo’s community-based approach to grantmaking. Placing girls of color at the core of its grantmaking strategy will help NoVo direct resources where they are most needed and to those who are best positioned to lead social change efforts. By trusting communities of color as experts, NoVo will truly make a difference in growing our gender and racial justice movement of the 21st century and we look forward to continuing to partner with the foundation on this important commitment.
NPQ has written before about the NoVo Foundation’s grassroots approach to planning—for instance, its role in the redevelopment of the Bayview Correctional Facility, where it involved former prisoners in that institution to reimagine a purpose for it.—Ruth McCambridge