By KATHLEEN KELLY JANUS, Spark Co-Founder and Advisory Board Member
Six years ago, I was involved in co-founding Spark. As so many women’s organizations before us, we started as six women in our mid-twenties sitting around a dining room table. We were looking for a way to get our peers involved in global women’s issues. Six years later, Spark has raised over $1.2 million for grassroots women’s organizations and has a membership base of over 5,000 young people committed to supporting women all over the world inspiring positive change in their communities. Beyond defying the meaning of what it is to be a philanthropist, with most of our donors contributing at the $50 to $100 level, we quickly realized that we were also redefining what it meant to be a supporter of the women’s movement. For example, 50% of our members are men, which is unheard of for a women’s organization. Our organizing happens online as opposed to in the streets. And perhaps most shockingly, some of our members would not consider themselves “feminists,” either because the term connotes historical power dynamics, with which they do not want to be associated or because they feel the term is limited we have moved beyond feminist framing. But as an organization we make a conscious effort to be inclusive, as opposed to excluding members on that basis.
As an organization made up of young women leaders, we also realized that we were only one of a few organizations focused on cultivating the next generation of leadership in the women’s movement. And with a number of transitions happening in leadership positions in major women’s organizations around the country, it has become clear that there is a thin (or at least perceived to be thin) pipeline of younger women leaders in the movement. We began to ask questions about what leadership will look like in the next phase of the women’s movement: What are the goals of the women’s movement and what is the language that we are using to describe these goals? Are there conflicting objectives amongst different generations of feminist leaders? And how do we create a base that makes space for multiple generations with diverse ethnic, socioeconomic and gendered representation?
These questions were the impetus behind our panel discussion at Stanford last Thursday night, featuring panelists Miranda Mammen (Women’s Glib), Shannon Farley (Spark), Vanessa Daniel (Groundswell Fund), Helen Kim (Building Movement Project), Kim Meredith (Stanford PACS) and Linda Burnham (National Domestic Workers Alliance). Our hope is that by initiating an intergenerational conversation around the issue of leadership in the women’s movement, we can understand what the next generation of leadership will look like so that we can create a stronger push toward gender equality over the next several decades.
So what do you think? What does the F Word mean to you? And how can we sow the seeds for a more robust leadership structure in the next phase of the women’s movement?