When Women Lead, We Thrive: Inclusion, Intersectionality, and Equity in Social Innovation

At Echoing Green, we know that working from an intersectional understanding of gender and racial equity is essential for transforming the philanthropic funding landscape and advancing social innovation.

Despite driving societal advancements that benefit entire communities, organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and other women of color receive a significantly lower proportion of venture and philanthropic capital. This disparity is reflected in our Fellowship applicant data year over year, where Black women leaders have consistently raised less support than either the Black men or white women in the pool. Similarly, while it represents an increase, only 93 Black women in the United States reported that they secured $1 million in investor backing for their startups in 2020.

Unprecedented social and health crises are widening opportunity and employment gaps with disproportionate impacts on women of color. It is essential to preserve the futures of these organizations by putting more support networks in place for women social innovators of color, including access to venture and philanthropic dollars. That’s why we held some space this Women’s History Month to think and talk more expansively about inclusion and the systemic barriers that impede gender equity in social innovation.

Takeaways from When Women Lead: Inclusive Leadership in Social Innovation

In a virtual conversation about gender, race, and inclusive leadership, Echoing Green’s President Cheryl L. Dorsey interviewed three catalytic leaders in the social innovation space: Head of Citi Community Investing and Development and President of the Citi Foundation, Brandee McHale; Invest Sou Sou founder Fonta Gilliam ’16, and Mission Launch co-founder and President Teresa Hodge ’18.

The speakers reflected on the importance of pushing the philanthropic funding space towards more equitable funding practices, investing in the leadership of more women of color, the value of lived experience in designing solutions that directly impact communities, and hopes for our collective future. Watch the entire conversation below, and explore some of the noteworthy takeaways below.

Invest in People and Ideas

Brandee McHale head shot

Brandee McHale, Head of Citi Community Investing and Development and President of the Citi Foundation: I’m a big believer in the fact that you invest in people and ideas. I’m always trying to learn, ‘What’s behind the idea?’ You can always change the execution—but who you are and what drives you is incredibly important… For the first time, we don’t have to be in the business of selling the problem. Rather, we need to have a sense of urgency on how to sell the solutions. We are in a moment where there’s a spotlight on the issues that have long been a concern for organizations like Echoing Green and Citi.

The Racial Wealth Gap is our Collective Problem

Teresa Hodge headshot

Teresa Y. Hodge, President of Mission Launch, Inc. and Co-Founder R3 Score Technologies: As women of color, we would not have come out and had these conversations about gender bias and racism 18 months ago. The racial wealth gap is front and center. And it’s making it easier for me to give voice to my experience… It’s no longer just the social innovators or Echoing Green’s problem. It’s our collective problem and we see each other in these moments and that gives me great hope.

Leverage Community Partnerships and Talent

Fonta Gilliam head shot

Fonta Gilliam, Founder & CEO Invest Sou Sou: When we think about quarantine and raising funds through Zoom as opposed to being able to build rapport, it makes you learn to pivot quickly and be innovative in how you leverage partnerships. I’ve been spending a lot of time sharing tricks of the trade with other women and founders of color… Because we were forced to be apart, it has allowed us to think about how we can partner and leverage talent in our own communities to lift ourselves up.

Advice for Emerging Women Social Innovators of Color

Teresa Hodge: Find community because you cannot do this work by yourself. I am fortunate to have the Echoing Green community and other social entrepreneurs to call on. Take the courage to send some emails, and I think you’ll be surprised at how many responses you will get. If someone has the time, they will take the time to uplift other women.

Fonta Gilliam: Know your numbers. The numbers speak for themselves and it’s difficult to speak against that. As women, I see us try to be modest and downplay or shy away from the numbers. Numbers are a leveling force.

Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

This event was presented in March 2021 with support from the Citi Foundation, a lead partner in Echoing Green’s Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund.


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