The Time is Now: How Philanthropy Can Build With Girls, Young Women, and Gender-Fluid Youth of Color

Imagine a city in which girls, young women, and gender-fluid youth of color do more than survive. A city in which they are safe, healthy, and economically secure. A city in which their voices are heard, their needs are prioritized, and their leadership fully recognized and supported.

How can we, as funders, help build this type of city? How can we help create a world in which all girls, young women, and gender-fluid youth are free to reach their full potential?

We can do it through a powerful, multi-front effort that brings together a full array of resources to achieve this common goal. We can do it with girls, young women, and gender-fluid youth of color leading the way.

For 28 years, The New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF)’s grantmaking, advocacy, and community-building efforts have served women, girls, and gender-fluid individuals with authenticity and success. Recognizing the need for deeper and more targeted investment, last spring, we launched IGNITE!, a 7-year, multi-pronged, multi-million dollar initiative that unites the power of community, government, philanthropy and – most importantly – girls, young women, and gender-fluid youth of color themselves to radically change the way that society views and supports the strengths of this vital population.

NYWF’s recent report, Blueprint for Investing in Girls and Young Women highlights both the urgent need for and the vast potential of the IGNITE! initiative. The report notes that 75% of NYC’s 800,000 girls and young women, ages 9-24, are members of communities of color or immigrant communities. It highlights that most of those girls and young women live in serious poverty; many are sexually abused; many battle ill-health; few receive the support required to graduate high school or succeed in college; and thousands are pushed into the child welfare and juvenile justice systems or are victims of commercial sex trafficking.

Despite all of those significant challenges, this is a group of huge resilience and incredible strengths. Girls in low-income communities fill huge wage-earning and caregiving roles from a very early age. They take care of younger siblings and serve as irreplaceable translators and interpreters for their families. And – given the chance and the forum – they are articulate spokespeople and energetic leaders on behalf of themselves, their peers, and their communities.

Knowing this, how can we, as funders, create a platform that allows them to lead the way on addressing the most critical challenges that they and their families face everyday?

At the NYWF, this question is at the forefront of all of our work. One of the guiding principles of IGNITE! is that philanthropy needs to support solutions that come from the communities impacted. IGNITE!’s ultimate goal is to equip an ecosystem of girls, young women and gender-fluid youth of color leaders with the resources and voice to achieve significant and permanent individual, community and systemic change.

Another guiding principle of our work is the need for inclusion and collaboration, as both are the surest path to and the chief hallmark of success. Our key partnerships and collaborative efforts begin with the leaders of community-based organizations, who blaze this path and remain on the ground every single day championing the voices and success of this crucial group of New Yorkers. IGNITE! exemplifies that conviction. It is an umbrella effort for a range of cutting-edge, population-led, inter-related collaborations with the public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors.

One such collaboration is our partnership with the NYC Council’s Young Women’s Initiative (YWI). Under the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark- Viverito, YWI is the nation’s first municipal effort solely dedicated to creating policy, legislative and funding recommendations in support of young women of color. YWI is convening a variety of experts, including young cis and transgender women and gender-fluid youth, through focus groups and participation in working groups to shape the direction and recommendations of the Initiative.

Another partnership is the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color, a philanthropic effort seeded with funds from The New York Women’s Foundation and the NoVo Foundation. The Fund, which is part of a broader Philanthropic Table, hopes to spur discussion and leverage diverse resources, expertise, and insight towards promoting community-based solutions to the structural inequities facing girls, young women, and gender-fluid youth of color.

Philanthropy is ready to join the community efforts that focus on the needs of a population that has long been ignored and underinvested. The time is now for all of us to do our part in building a society in which girls, young women and gender-fluid youth of color are free from all the intersecting barriers that impede their progress, downplay their contributions, and ignore their extraordinary gifts.

Click here for more information on The New York Women’s Foundation’s IGNITE! with Girls, Young Women, and Gender-Fluid Youth of Color Initiative.