Movement, Year Two

By Jamie Allen Black and Rachel Weinstein

Scan the social science literature and you’ll see that movements are defined by successive stages – like emergence and coalescence – and that progress can be measured in any number of ways.

We’re not mapping it all that closely. There will be time for that later on and by those more qualified. But our objective – to ignite change by building a movement – is intentional.

Two years ago, The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) did a major pivot. We recognized that our own status quo needed shaking up … that rather than being a traditional grant-making organization, we could and should create a unique place on the Jewish communal landscape to generate conversations and practices advancing Jewish women change makers and elevating their place in the hierarchy of leadership, respect, and support.

Just a few weeks ago, we held our second annual “Convening.” On two consecutive mornings, six hours total on Zoom, nearly 400 attendees – including Jewish women change makers, philanthropists, political and communal leaders, and other advocates for the voices and visions of systemic change – came together.

We discussed issues and complexities engaging multiple points of view and sets of lived experiences and exposures in a way that simply does not exist elsewhere on the communal spectrum. We created a space that reflected and embraced the robustness and diversity of the change maker sector and the entirety of the Jewish commitment to tikkun olam.

Considering that The Convening achieved such successful and critical engagement in light of simultaneous conferences of other Jewish legacy organizations, a looming and consequential election, and a global pandemic, is testament to the imperative and uniqueness of our perspectives, and the void we are filling.

For two decades, JWFNY was a traditional grant-making foundation. Meaning, we put out calls for proposals and used a communal allocation model that relied on our committed and engaged donors to determine which programs their pooled dollars would support.

But we realized three years ago that our grants to organizations supporting Jewish women and girls were not always making the impact that we intended. Our funding could fuel greater change if we much more directly and purposefully supported and elevated Jewish women social entrepreneurs themselves, their visions, and their work.

So we started looking at our work and mission through a completely new lens, and set out to find a unique way to support Jewish women working in the realms of gender justice and social innovation. We wanted to give these leaders the attention they deserve and help their small organizations – most run by women are, in fact, small – grow in reach, impact, and support.

JWFNY ceased to be a nearly exclusively program-focused funding organization, and became one directly supporting, incubating, accelerating, and exposing Jewish women change makers throughout the world as they identify and stare down critical societal challenges – hunger, health, racial justice, for example – through Jewish and gender lenses.

The existing and entrenched reality is well known enough and does not need a deep dive examination here. Suffice it to say that Jewish women social entrepreneurs are less likely to get through a funder’s door. Jewish women change makers are less likely to get sizable grants to pursue their work and grow their organizations and reach. Jewish women visionaries are less likely to have their voices heard in boardrooms and in communal and public spaces.

So what does movement mean for us? It means not waiting for others to alter the collective space, but creating new ones of our own. It means not just tinkering with our funding model, but designing a new one aligned with our values. It means not waiting for others to create conversations, but generating them from within and giving Jewish women change makers platforms and resources – so that they can attain their highest levels of leadership potential and approach vexing challenges with free reign through their unique perspectives, experiences, and views.

And, it means modeling a new way that others may want to replicate, including cooperation and partnership with other funding organizations such as those in the Jewish Women’s Funding Network, to raise the visibility of extraordinary Jewish leaders.

So now, entering the third year of our remaking, and a new, alternate paradigm we are planting, what do we expect?

We expect that there will be more attention given to exceptional Jewish women leaders. We expect increasing openness to the approaches being generated by Jewish women visionaries and problem solvers addressing seemingly endless and intractable problems. We expect Jewish women change makers being heard, supported, and encouraged. We expect other alternate structures being born.

We are not sure where we are within the defined stages of movement building. But we are confident, that as an organization entering its 25th year, we started something singular and our work has just begun.

Jamie Allen Black is CEO, and Rachel Weinstein is President, of Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.