At the Levi Strauss Foundation, taking courageous action at the right moments for the right causes has always been a core tenet of our grantmaking. Throughout our history, this has often meant making early investments in forward-thinking movements that cut against the grain. In honor of Women’s History Month, we look at our foundation’s commitments to helping support and energize gender justice issues and causes over the decades.
Our ethos as a foundation and as a company has long been to fuel social movements—to sense where new momentum for justice is forming and support its emergence. We do this by asking ourselves these key questions: Where can we take the most meaningful stand on the issues and events of our time? How can we have the greatest impact with our finite resources?
Whether it’s supporting organizations in our HIV/AIDS portfolio that train women living with HIV to be powerful advocates, or partnering with the company’s contracted factories to invest in the health and well-being of the women who make our products, advancing women’s rights has been a longstanding through-line in our grantmaking.
In 2015, we made an institutional commitment to elevating gender justice, sparking a more sustained and intentional emphasis on women’s rights across our grantmaking. We also launched a new cluster of grants designed to support this rising movement, funding some bellwether women’s rights organizations – including the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights and Mama Cash – that were breaking through into new forms of activism.
A New Generation of Women Leaders
In the wake of the most disruptive political moment many of us have experienced, a fresh wave of activism has been forming – much of it led by women. A new generation of civic leaders is taking the helm of more traditional women’s rights organizations, giving rise to new ways of thinking, new tactics, new technologies, and new forms of collaboration.
And we are now shifting course to invest in these dynamic, pioneering women leaders who are redefining women’s activism for this new age. This includes Ai-jen Poo, longtime activist for domestic workers and caregivers and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA); Saru Jayaraman, leader of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC); Vanessa Moses of Causa Justa/Just Cause; Miya Yoshitani of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Aparna Shah of Power California – all next-gen leaders at the forefront of movements in the San Francisco Bay Area and participants in our Pioneers in Justice initiative.
The leaders supported through our gender justice portfolio share characteristics we believe defines the next wave of gender activism:
They are rooted in community. These next-gen leaders bring community and community empowerment to the center of their work, ensuring that the unique voices of women most impacted by unjust gender practices and policies are heard.
They see opportunity in crisis. Rather than feel stultified by this current moment of breakneck change and disruption, these leaders look for ways to harness this energy, organize it and put it to work against big problems.
They are movement builders. These leaders are boundary-crossers who believe in the power of collaboration and are adept at forming new connections and creating new followings. And they aspire to convert supporters into advocates by helping them see themselves as part of a bigger “we.”
They think big. These pioneering leaders want to overhaul inequitable practices, laws and whole systems. They think far into the future, piloting efforts that can scale up from the local to the national—or even go global—all while understanding the patience and fortitude this entails.
They are influencers. At every turn, they are seizing opportunities to bring attention and empathy to their work so that they can drive lasting change. In 2018, social activists walked the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards alongside prominent celebrities, including Ai-Jen and Saru, both LSF grantees. They seized the moment to help the world see women’s and worker rights movements as movements for all of us.
They are innovators. These women leaders are inventing new pathways and tactics as they go, finding new ways to marry the word innovation with justice. They embrace multiple approaches—from community organizing to policy advocacy to narrative change—that help build engagement and momentum toward larger goals.
In this vital present moment, we believe it’s the job of every foundation to support next-gen women leaders, the voices of this day and age, and show that we will not look away. As grantmakers, it matters what we stand for and who we stand alongside—and now more than ever, how we take courageous steps at the right moments for the right causes.
Photo credit: Brandon Manning featuring Women’s Foundation of California Women’s Policy Institute 2018 Fellows.