Author Archives: Spark

Member Profile – Jenn Wilcox

This is Jenn.

Jenn Wilcox works for Summit Rock Advisors, an NYC-based investment management firm that provides financial advice and portfolio management to US-based charitable institutions and wealthy, philanthropic families.

Prior to joining Summit Rock in 2010, Jenn spent two years in San Francisco as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, working with public sector entities and municipalities. She graduated from Pomona College in 2008. Jenn has been a board member since 2010, and she founded SparkNYC in 2010 when she moved from San Francisco to New York. Jenn also serves on the Board of Trustees for Pomona College, and on the Social Investment Council for Echoing Green.

Jenn’s Spark Story

After reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about wealthy women directing their philanthropic dollars to issues affecting women and girls, Jenn was inspired. After a few Google searches, Jenn found Women’s Funding Network, a collaborative philanthropic network that connects and strengthens organizations that fund women’s solutions across the globe. In their member directory, Jenn found Spark. She showed up to Spark event, and the rest was history!

Favorite grantee?

Young Women of Color HIV/Aids Coalition (YWCHAC), Spark’s first New York-based grantee

Why Spark?

Spark, to Jenn, represents a thoughtful community of people that she likes, respects, and admires, with whom she can discuss serious issues in the world. As a result of her time with Spark, Jenn has gained an incredible amount of knowledge and insight on women’s issues. Additionally, she’s gained a sense of responsibility and leadership, and a genuine, first-hand belief in Spark’s model.

Oh, and she met her fiancé at Spark event!

Questions by Proust – Answers by Jenn

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sleeping in with nothing on my schedule

Which talent would you most like to have?

The power to stop time

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Maintaining interest and curiosity in the world, even when I am busy and tired

What is your most marked characteristic?

I am incredibly energetic. Some say I can compete with the Energizer Bunny.

What is the quality you most like in a man?


What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Empathy. Why would they be different?

What do you most value in your friends?

Sincerity and forgiveness

What are you favorite writers?

Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, David Foster Wallace

What is it that you most dislike?

Being clad in anything with buttons, Velcro, elastic, or a zipper from the waist down and disorganization

Causes, Careers and Conversation

By ELLEN GOLDWASSER, SparkNYC Investment Committee Chair

At Spark, we believe that grassroots organizations – serving vulnerable populations – need more than cash investments. Spark partners with our grantees by providing volunteers and community connections, thus increasing our collective impact. Recently, several SparkNYC members stepped up to support the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition (YWCHAC) by sharing their networks.

YWCHAC was founded by young women (ages 17-21), half of whom are HIV positive, half are not, and all have participated in NYC’s sex education programs. These young women were frustrated that their schools didn’t cover health issues as they were experiencing them. Therefore, in 2006, twenty-five young women from five boroughs of New York City formed WE SPEAK, a peer empowerment and advocacy coalition. These young women are leaders, and through exposure to YWCHAC, many have become interested in becoming professional social justice activists.

To help them achieve this, Spark introduced the women of YWCHAC to one of our favorite professional activists. Spark friend and social entrepreneur Sloane Berrent spoke to YWCHAC about her unique career trajectory in the social justice field.  For the last decade, Sloane has traveled from LA to New Orleans to New York working in and writing about social justice activism. You can read her chronicles in her blog – The Causemopolitan. Today, Sloane is Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing for Lippe Taylor and its sister agency ShopPR, both public relations firms which focus on women. Sloane’s message to the young women was both motivating and realistic.

I was thrilled to attend the WE SPEAK meeting. As a young professional, I appreciated Sloane’s candidness in sharing her experiences of overcoming obstacles along the way – an important component of career conversations that  is often overlooked in discussions with young people. This was my first time attending a WE SPEAK meeting. I was thoroughly impressed by the ease with which the YWCHAC leaders ran the meeting and admired the young women’s competence and confidence. I left the meeting feeling incredibly lucky to have been in attendance and encouraged that SparkNYC has invested in a partnership with YWCHAC to help support these fabulous, bright young women.

On the Town with SparkNYC

By JENN WILCOX, Spark Board Member and Chair of SparkNYC

Cathy Raphael and SparkNYC

On Monday, May 14, members of the Spark community attended The Gloria Awards, The Ms. Foundation for Women’s annual gala.  Unlike many of the black tie galas held across New York City, The Gloria Awards focused on creating a friendly, warm and inclusive atmosphere. The women were sassy, empowered, and, as our host Cathy Raphael noted, awesome.

As a 25 year old woman, it was amazing and inspiring to meet Gloria Steinem, hear about all the work done to advance the cause of women’s rights, and gain a deeper appreciation for the history and promise of the women’s movement. As one of my friends and fellow Spark member Carlo DaVia put it, the experience really brought home just how large the shoes we have to fill are as we grow older and take on more leadership roles within the movement.

A Spark Sister

In listening to the speeches, I learned more about just how inspirational Gloria has been to women across the world, and how important her leadership has been in helping bring women to the movement at different phases of their lives. One of the greatest moments of the night was when Gloria said to us, “Spark… I know your work, what you’re doing is fantastic. I think we are sisters.” Yes, Gloria. We sure are.

Of course, the evening was filled with amazing talks from honorees who are working around the world on tangible issues and large visions to help make the world a safer and better place for women. We had the privilege of hearing from Felicia Brown-Williams on the importance of comprehensive healthcare for women in the South. (We learned that Mississippi’s child mortality rate is worse than that of Sri Lanka, and on par with Botswana.) Klarissa Oh shared sobering details about her work as an advocate for survivors of childhood abuse. Gert Boyle shared in her no-nonsense way her personal story of taking over Columbia Sportswear once her husband died, only to grow the company to a $1.7 billion valuation. In Gert’s words, the key to success is “early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.” Throughout the evening, we were struck by the balance between the humility of the speakers and their willingness to acknowledging their value to society.

In it together

The evening ended with Jacki Zehner and Helen LaKelly Hunt welcoming all the Women Moving Millions donors on stage and leading them in a version of the song “we’re all in this together.” As I looked across the Spark table and across the room, it was impossible not to feel inspired and hopeful about the future.

Spark would like to thank Cathy Raphael for her sponsorship to attend The Gloria Awards. 

Member Profile – Jack Berglund

ImageThis is Jack.

Jack was working for Thomson Reuters as a Product Manager in New York, and recently left the city after 8 years to cultivate his yodeling skills in Switzerland. He has been attending SparkNYC Investment Committee meetings for the last 18 months.

Jack’s Spark Story

Jack knew Ellen Goldwasser, Chair of the SparkNYC Investment Committee, through a mutual friend in San Francisco, and she convinced him to go to an Investment Committee meeting. He was duly impressed by Spark’s mission and loved the approach to finding innovative charities both locally and worldwide.

Favorite grantee?

Young Women of Color HIV/Aids Coalition (YWCHAC), Spark’s first New York-based grantee

Why Spark?

From Spark, Jack gained a true appreciation of many issues facing women worldwide, and a sense of satisfaction from playing a small part in addressing some of those issues. Also, the inclusive atmosphere, and enthusiastic and dynamic people

Favorite Muffin?


What Jack will miss most?

The people

A Note From Jack

A huge thank you to everyone at Spark for making me feel so welcome. I’ll miss you all! I’ll make sure to say Hi whenever I’m back in New York. Look me up if you’re ever in Europe or need a place to stay in Switzerland. I’ll be following the progress of the grantees from afar. Keep up the good work. Spark, you’re awesome!

Building Futures with Cinder Blocks


SparkNYC is excited to introduce our first grantee of 2012 Estrategia! A grassroots Peru-based organization, Estrategia, empowers women through active participation in urban development. Estrategia and its partners have instated a number of successful job-training programs to place hundreds in jobs at local bakeries, pharmacies and schools. They have developed aImage sustainable agriculture program that enables women to oversee the installation of hydroponic planting systems both in communal spaces and family homes. Spark will support the expansion of a successful training program that prepares local women for leadership roles in the production of seismic-resistant construction materials. 

The Housing Ministry of Peru has recognized Estrategia’s work by nominating them to expand the hydroponic planting system to the coast of Lima as a pilot and demonstrative program. Other awards received by Estrategia include the Lewis Mumford Award by the ADPSR (Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility) for their Urban Development program in the Suro District of Lima and the Best Practice award by the United Nations for their Urban Renewal and Improvement, municipal housing and construction material production programs.

Through a partnership with another organization, Mujeres Unidades para un Pueblo Mejor, Estragia has overseen participants in the construction material production program begin to share their work and experience with women in other regions through a training endeavor. This partnership proved to be so successful that together, these organizations aim to expand the training program to address housing inadequacies in the Grocio Prado district of Peru.

Due to poor construction and a lack of satisfactory materials, the housing in this area poses a risk to inhabitants, as it is insufficiently resistant to earthquake activity. Recent natural disasters have left local inhabitants in precarious and vulnerable living situations, and the expansion of this training program will address the needs of the larger community while simultaneously addressing those of a female population in need of more active inclusion in the community’s well being.

The program objective is to aid in the creation of a factory to produce seismic-resistant construction materials, and to train local women in the production, sale and construction of them. Estrategia seeks to train 30 local women, who will subsequently train and employ an additional 150. This unique, grassroots approach addressing a multitude of issues, culminating in the empowerment of local women through their inclusion in the physical development of their community, is exactly the kind of innovative and norm-shifting line of attack that Spark looks for in its partners. We are thrilled to begin a relationship with the women of Estrategia and we encourage everyone to join us at the upcoming Cocktails for a Cause on Wednesday, May 23rd  to learn all about them!

The Changing Face of Development in the Fight for Gender Justice


On Monday, as International Women’s Day approached, I was thrilled to attend a panel at the United Nations, “Youth Approaches to Funding Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights,” with Spark’s own Shannon Farley as one of the speakers. She was joined by Mia Herndon from the Third Wave Foundation and Amina Doherty from FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund. ImageThese dynamic leaders provided what turned out to be unique though complementary perspectives on engaging youth in development strategies, and I came away feeling revitalized and encouraged that Spark’s work is at the forefront of essential evolution in philanthropy and development.

While powerhouse young women lead each of these organizations, their differences should be noted. Spark, at 7 years old, is the middle child of the organizations, and the only one that operates within a member-driven framework, allowing those active members to vote on grantees and possible themes. Investing more than $1.2 million in grants and services since its inception, a great feat since most gifts are seed money of the couple thousand dollar range, Spark’s offering of extensive pro-bono services to granting organizations also sets us apart – that and statistic of having 50% male members. FRIDA is the new baby in the gender equality, women’s rights development world, and they interestingly refer to themselves as a “learning fund,” as each organization that applies for funding does some fairly in-depth research on other groups with whom they are competing for funds. Of the more than 1,000 applications from over 120 countries this year, FRIDA selected 125 ‘short-listed’ groups who then voted for a group in their region other than themselves who they felt deserved the grant based on their work and application. Lastly, the Third Wave Foundation, which has been around for 15 years, funds work that benefits 15 – 30 year-old women and transgender youth. They emphasize leadership development and advocacy, and given their size, are also able to offer multi-year ‘arc’ grants, supporting groups as they get off the ground, giving them a big financial push during subsequent cycles, and tapering off as the group begins to grow.

Despite these differences in age, funding history, and model of grant making, one can see the overlaps. My favorite element of the panel was discovering throughout the presentation how similar the roots of the missions of these groups are – interactivity, democratic funding policies, involvement of the grantees and groups for whom they are advocating, and leadership that represents the interests of the grantees. Each of these groups – and this is what I think draws many to Spark in the first place – emphasizes the input of passionate members or supporters who are emotionally and mentally invested in working for justice, and who may have previously been rebuffed in other volunteer development efforts. Equally important, they value the participation of those on the ground seeking to be funded. Panelists actually articulated how important the flow of communication was in the funding process, not only to ensure that the funding organizations were really sound in their understanding of the grantees, but also so the beneficiaries feel as though they are being heard and understood throughout the process. This is actually fairly empowering. This kind of communication between funding agencies and grantees used to be unheard of – grant applications would be filled out on one side, and grant-making decisions would be made on the other side, often with grantees not feeling as though they were making meaningful connections with funding organizations that would enable them to better articulate their needs.

These newer models can bring up questions of validity for some, and this query was posed by an audience member who asked the panel about issues of monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and how that was considered within these newer frameworks. This garnered perhaps my favorite answer, which was that one of the ways M&E can be handled is by changing the definition of what a successful program or initiative looks like. One of the ways these newer development organizations does this is by defining at the outset what success looks like to the grantees and how that will be measured, and emphasizing those goals in the evaluation process as opposed to adhering to strict, traditional methods that may not be appropriate measures for many of the newer, innovative groups that are seeking funding.

Piggybacking on this part of the conversation, panelists were asked about what they saw as the primary benefits and drawbacks of not working within the more traditional development models. Luckily, and unsurprisingly, these leaders focused mainly on the positive. Working within newer models allows them to take risks; to explore relationships with new groups and leaders that older, more established organizations may not have the time or framework to take on; and to nurture long term relationships with groups that can use the leadership guidance and seed money granted by organizations like Spark to get off the ground and be ready to present themselves to progressively larger funds. Essentially, these groups – Spark, the Third Wave Fund, and FRIDA – are building a foundation to get a foot into the door of the local and global conversations about eradicating injustice for groups that may have been historically overlooked.

As the landscape for women’s rights and gender disparities shifts, this kind of risk-taking is essential to assisting burgeoning efforts of organizations that may have been traditionally ignored.

While each of these organizations emphasized the need for young women’s leadership and articulated how their models centered on the unique and essential perspectives of young leaders, the speakers championed the importance of inter-generational work, as well. When concern was raised by an audience member over being dismissive of the work of older activists and development organizations, panelists were adamant about the fact that their communities were grateful for the work that had come before them, and the wisdom that is often culled from creating partnerships with leaders who have been involved in gender equality development work for years.  The experience of these more senior leaders is not only valuable in gaining insight into what isn’t working and why within traditional giving pathways, but collaborating with them often leads to grant-making opportunities for these newer funding organizations. Shannon’s remarks specifically about how larger, older funds had passed on applications to Spark that are more suitable for our funding model than theirs was met with nods of appreciation from many in the audience – an audience that was in and of itself diverse in age and funding experience. And of course, having big voices in the field champion the work of newer organizations for their innovation certainly doesn’t hurt when trying to increase our donor circles.

This panel was an invigorating and stimulating experience – it’s hard not to feel excited when you see that work being done by Spark and these other organizations is truly on the side of innovation.

Sparking the Next Generation of Leadership in the Women’s Movement – What Does the F Word Mean to You?

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?