Est: 1973

The Ms. Foundation for Women is a non-profit organization investing in and strengthening the capacity of women-led movements nationwide. Located in Downtown Brooklyn for over 16 years, the foundation recently moved to a brand new space at 1 Willoughby Square. With 26 employees nationwide and growing, this small but mighty team is making big waves of impact. We had the opportunity to talk to CEO and President, Teresa C. Younger about the initiatives led by the Ms. Foundation, and  their extensive portfolio of justice-based work. 

DBP: Can you give us an overview of the Ms. Foundation for Women and the organization’s mission? 

Teresa C. Younger (TY): This year is the Ms. Foundation’s 50th anniversary. We were founded in 1973 as the nation’s first public women’s foundation and we center women, gender expansive and gender inclusive folks in our work. Our mission is to build women’s collective power in the United States. As a public foundation we raise money and then contribute those funds to the broader field of women’s justice organizations to further their work. We have about 150 organizations that we currently support.  

In addition, we help to move philanthropy funds in a way that supports best practices in the work their grantees are doing, and advocates for policy change. Another unique aspect that makes the organization so special is that we focus on women and girls of color. 97% of our grantee partners are organizations led by women and girls of color and the rest are led primarily by women. Also, 80% of our staff are women of color and the entire leadership team are women of color.  

Our organization’s vision is what guides us, and it is written on the wall of our office and underlines our belief in a safe and just world where power and possibility are not limited. We’re explicit that our organization and the work we do is not limited by race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability. We believe that equity and inclusion are the cornerstones of a true democracy in which the worth and dignity of every person is valued. We aim to lift up voices, amplifying what we are now, and have always been, a feminist foundation that is building a better world for all.  

“80% of our staff are women of color and the entire leadership team are women of color.”

DBP: With such a wide range of women’s organizations nationwide, is there a specific area of work that you focus on?

TY: We do our work a little differently than most foundations because we do not divide our support into silos. We partner with, and back organizations across all industries whether it’s health, environmental justice, reproductive justice or anything else. It’s important to understand the complete range of work done by the organizations we’re supporting. Our basis for organizational development is that we believe women have the answers to help and heal their communities.  

For example, there are folks who are working in youth leadership, but also doing reproductive justice and voting rights work, so they span multiple fields. Most non-profits are not doing just one thing, they’re doing many things for their communities. What we’ve gleaned from listening to the folks we work with is that it’s essential for them be able to tell us their whole story, instead of just a piece of it. 

There is issue area expertise within the Ms. Foundation, predominantly around reproductive justice as we believe it is central to our work.  One of our grantmaking initiatives called Ms. South is a multi-year grantmaking strategy that is focused on the southern U.S. There are 14 key states in that region where we are working to amplify the leadership of WGOC (women and girls of color) and support the sustainability of the ecosystem of organizations. We also have a girls initiative, a birth justice portfolio, activist collaboration, a care fund with rapid response dollars and more! 

The organization’s position is that we don’t exclusively have to be the ones moving money, we just need to have relationships with those who are. We sit in collaboration with a lot of other philanthropic institutions and by having influence and creating relationships in those spaces we are influencing the broader philanthropic field to increase funding and resources for organizations and initiatives that are in line with our mission. 

DBP: What are some new initiatives the Ms. Foundation is working on?

TY: We’re currently working on a 50-stop listening tour across the United States. At each stop we meet with people from all different spaces and listen to their perspectives on creating the world we (all people) deserve and what that looks like for them. On the tour we talk to activists, businesses, professional firms, and beyond.  

A lot of the feedback we hear boils down to the concept that basic human rights are the premise of the world we deserve. We’re going to collect all the information we hear at each stop, and bring the information back to analyze deeper issues surrounding human, and in particular, women’s rights in the United States.

We are also doing a ‘Creating the Future’ campaign to raise 100 million dollars. It is one of the largest campaigns for a women’s foundation in the country and globally.  

“Our organization’s vision […] is written on the walls of our office and underlines our belief in a safe and just world where power and possibility are not limited.”

DBP: Does the Ms. Foundation have any growth planned for the future?

TY: In the next year we will be adding more staff members, which is really exciting. We have about 4 or 5 new positions opening, so we will grow to about 30 people. We’re looking forward to expanding our staff and stabilizing our funding. We’re planning to focus on expanding our work around communication and activism and leaning into how to become the center for feminist activity in the country, from right here in Brooklyn. 

DBP: Why Downtown Brooklyn?

TY: We’re based here in Downtown Brooklyn very intentionally. It’s a great location! There is abundant access to transportation, with all the subway and bus stops within a 5-minute walk. Also, the majority of our staff live in Brooklyn. Another advantage is that our board is spread all over the country and when they come in, they can stay in Downtown Brooklyn and be across the street. 

With extensive initiatives and hundreds of partners the span of work led by the Ms. Foundation for Women is boundless. Our interview only touches the surface of their multifaceted approach to supporting organizations, movements and policies centered around women’s empowerment and access. Led by the team based in Downtown Brooklyn, their nationwide influence helps millions of people every year, and we can’t wait to see how they continue to grow and develop in the future.