Talent Matters
Talent Matters
Talent Matters is a blog series exploring how nonprofit leaders have achieved real-world results through an emphasis on talent.

Despite decades of work by dedicated activists, the rates of violence against girls and women in the United States remain staggering: Forty percent of teenage girls aged 14-17 say they know someone their own age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend, at least one in three girls is sexually abused before they reach the age of 18, and someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes.

When NoVo Foundation decided to make a long-term investment in ending the epidemic of violence against girls and women, we turned to the movement’s leaders and asked what it would take.

The answer was clear: We need a powerful, transformative movement with sustainable, resilient, and creative collective leadership. To this end, NoVo Foundation launched a 10-year initiative called Move to End Violence that is committed to supporting movement leaders for the long haul. Here’s what we have been learning over the first four years of the program:

Understand the unique context of movement leaders.

Investments in strengthening movement leadership are most effective when funders respond to the distinct challenges leaders of that movement face, rather than relying on generic leadership development approaches.

Many leaders working to end violence against girls and women are themselves survivors of violence, and their work regularly re-exposes them to trauma. This can lead to working in a reactive rather than a proactive way. To help leaders connect with their own strengths, we use practices such as forward stance, which brings physical and experiential elements to movement building, and provides a way for individuals to break the habit of staying “in their heads.” Physical practice can shift the ways the mind understands, absorbs, learns, and imagines.

Burn out related to meeting the enormous needs of a steady stream of survivors is another common challenge faced by leaders in this field. It can make leaders, their organizations, and their movements less creative and strategic than they need to be. Move to End Violence aims to create spaces—through workshops, training, coaching, and organizational development support—where leaders can step out of the day to day, and focus on the relationships between self care, spaciousness, sustainability, creativity, strategy, and impact.

Free up leaders to lead.

Move to End Violence also supports the caregiving responsibilities of leaders in the program. For example, at one retreat, we had a 92-year-old mother of a participant, an 8-week-old baby, and a 6-month-old baby together with their caregivers. One participant said, “Having my son present [at the retreat] allowed me to be fully there. I would have come without my child, but would have been sad and worried, and not 100-percent present. This allowed me to show up as my best self.” We also cover the cost of “wrap-around care” for leaders on evenings and weekends so that they have greater flexibility to engage in movement work that falls outside the standard working day.

Unfortunately, this kind of support isn’t a given in social justice work. But while it’s not always easy to provide, it’s important that philanthropists model this kind of support for care and appreciate the multiplicity of roles that leaders—particularly women leaders—play. We must build in care-giving costs as part of our core business.

Invest in community and create space for tackling questions of power.

As in most social justice movements, a lack of trust and unacknowledged power dynamics often undermine collaborative work in the movement to end violence against girls and women. To ensure sustainability and impact, it is essential to engage in difficult conversations about gender, race, class, and other social identities.

Building a true sense of community and grappling with power, privilege, and oppression are inextricable, and they lay the groundwork for collaboration. Time, space, and intentionality are required for these conversations to occur in a transformational way. But strengthening leaders’ ability to apply social identity analyses to their work strengthens the movement; it enables leaders to better collaborate and address deeply intertwined issues such as violence, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy.

Of course, though we at NoVo are approaching our investment in leadership at the movement level, philanthropy can play an important role in supporting individual leaders within organizations. Offering grantees racial justice training, working with an organization through a leadership transition, or building the costs of caregiving support into our budgets can all have transformative impacts on leaders’ ability to innovate, be present, and collaborate.

Leaders usually know what they need to thrive. By better understanding the context in which they work, philanthropy can help create the necessary conditions for movement leadership to flourish.