By Rachel Wasserman
History was made November 11th in Atlanta, as a room full of Jewish women and teenage daughters joined together to participate in the first (and hopefully annual) Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta Power of Women Pop-Up Giving Circle.
Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta (JWFA) promotes social change and creates positive opportunities for Jewish women and girls. In the seven years since our inception, we have hosted a number of educational events, launched our signature Agents of Change Training program, and are in the final stages of a formal community-wide needs assessment. With that said, the primary way we execute our mission is through grantmaking. The event was a showcase of three of our local grantee partners and a simulation of our collective grantmaking process.
While the actual allocations process runs year-long and has many moving parts, rounds of votes, interviews, and discussions, the pop-up giving circle was designed to give women a taste of what it’s like to be around the table at a JWFA grant meeting. Learning from each other, hearing other’s opinions, and debating the relative merits of different projects all contribute to the experience.
In the experiment-turned-success, each participant added her $180 to the pot (teenage daughters were invited to attend for free), with total contributions totaling $9,000. JWFA chose not to take out any costs for administration, and so every dollar raised was granted on the spot. Throughout the evening, the group listened to live presentations from three local projects, each of whom promote social change for teenage girls in Atlanta’s Jewish community. Tasked with determining how the $9,000 would be split among the three projects, attendees then had an opportunity to ask questions of the presenters and engage in table discussions. Words cannot adequately describe the energy and excitement in the room!
First to present was Atlanta Jewish Academy, which is running its Young Women in STEM career fair and mentoring project for the second year, after receiving pilot funding from JWFA in 2018. With women representing a fraction of the workforce in science, math, technology, and engineering fields, this project increases access to and interest in these careers for female Jewish teens throughout Atlanta.
The second project was JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, which is also in its second year after receiving pilot funding from JWFA last year. By grappling with myriad issues facing women today, this fellowship prepares teens to be strong leaders and advocates while incorporating a peer training model.
Finally, the crowd heard from SOJOURN, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, which is launching a comprehensive sex education program for Jewish LGBTQ teens and allies. Thanks to a 2019 pilot grant from JWFA, SOJOURN’s SVELT program will empower participants to make informed and responsible decisions about sexual health and behavior. The broad range of topics will include human development, relationships, body image, and disease prevention.
Though discussions could have continued all night, eventually it was time to vote. Each participant received 9 tickets, each of which represented $1,000. Each woman allocated her 9 tickets among the three organizations as she saw fit, with some dividing the money equally, while others chose to give it all to the project that spoke to them the loudest. The actual money was allocated proportionately, based on the women’s votes. In the end, the group decided to grant $2,673 to Young Women in STEM, $2,304 to the Strong Women Fellowship, and $4,023 to LGBTQ sex education.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the evening is that many adults found themselves taking the lead from the teens at their table. Recognizing that the teens were experts in the subject matter, a role reversal took place, with one mom even commenting that she changed her decision after listening to her daughter’s feedback. In the words of one participant, “My mind was blown away by those presentations.”
We had toyed with the idea of running a pop-up giving circle for years and finally decided to make it happen after hearing of the success of a similar event at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. Now that we have seen its impact and felt its energy, it is safe to say we will be repeating it. My vision and hope is that it grows as the years go on, and that ultimately women will flock to the pop-up giving circle the same way they do with the mega challah bake each year.
In what was a perfect illustration of our grantmaking model – turning one’s tzedakah into so much more by multiplying it by the power of the collective – we also made a statement about the value of young women’s education and leadership in our Jewish community. When a room full of passionate women come together and take a stand for our girls, we are agents of social change.
Rachel Wasserman is Executive Director, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.