Tag Archives: economic empowerment

Making Changes: Block by Block

New Grantee: The BLK ProjeK

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Although the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx is one of the largest food distribution centers in the world, many of its neighbors are without access to quality, healthy food. The median annual income in the South Bronx is $19,113, and good groceries are sparse.

The BLK ProjeK was born out of the frustrations of one such inhabitant: Tanya Fields. Tanya was a poor, single mother who moved to the South Bronx and found her asthmatic child struggling with the pollution generated by the hundreds of thousands of semis that deliver food to Hunts Point every year.

The struggles of her son led Tanya to think increasingly more about environmental justice. She began drawing connections between the unhealthy urban environments in which poor people lived, and the unhealthy food available to them. She also, naturally, began drawing connections between the unhealthy food available to poor urban communities, and the women who serve that food to their families. Tanya realized that poverty has a feminine face.

In order to tackle the insufficient access to healthy food in the South Bronx, Tanya consequently turned to mothers. She starting small, facilitating “Mommy & Me” classes in order to educate mothers about nutrition. In 2009, her efforts expanded beyond the classroom to the garden, and the BLK ProjeK was born.

The women of BLK ProjeK were guerilla gardeners from the outset. They broke into abandoned lots in the South Bronx and planted vegetables. They created a groundswell, compelling more than 200 residents to petition and telephone the Housing Preservation and Development of NYC, demanding that the city allow the BLK ProjeK to turn one of those lots into an urban farm. Eventually their demands were heard, and that lot became the Libertad Urban Farm. In order to deliver produce from the Libertad Urban Farm to their community, the women of the BLK ProjeK then renovated an old school bus, turning it into a beautiful mobile market running exclusively on used vegetable oil.

But Tanya and the BLK ProjeK have their sights set higher still. They want the South Bronx to be able to feed itself. They want to change the economic and political landscape of the community by creating local jobs and promoting municipal participation. And women remain the catalyst in all this. The BLK ProjeK is driven by its firm belief in the “girl effect” – the notion that investing in women and women-led efforts is the most effective way to promote social change. Women plant the seeds of physical and fiscal health in every community.

In order to support the BLK ProjeK, the Spark grant will:

  • Provide funds for the growth and sale of produce from the Libertad Urban Farm
  • Provide stipends for volunteer farmers
  • Promote community outreach in order to encourage participation in the Libertad Urban Farm, as well as the farm’s CSA

And source the following Pro Bono needs:

  • Web Design

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for The BLK ProjeK, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email programs@sparksf.org.

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization. Visit BLK ProjeK’s website to learn more.

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Spotlight on Caitlin Heising, Honorary Host of Spark’s Black & Pink Ball

Spark loves Millennials who are committed to philanthropy and actively making our world a more just and equitable place for all. Black & Pink Ball Honorary Host and Spark Member, Caitlin Heising epitomizes our ideals. Caitlin is actively committed to engaging young people in human rights and empowering women and girls. As an inspiration to us and the next generation of philanthropists, we wanted to learn more. We sat down with Caitlin to learn more about her journey and passions including starting the Young Professionals Network of Human Rights Watch, joining the board of her family’s foundation, and learning to fly.

Caitlin Heisign

Caitlin Heising – Honorary Host of Spark’s 10th Anniversary Black & Pink Ball

What has led you on this journey of philanthropy and social impact? 

Growing up, I watched my mom spend time volunteering in my school and tutoring underserved children in our community. During high school and college, I also tutored and mentored children from refugee families who had recently resettled in the U.S. Meeting them and hearing their stories made the problems and conflicts I’d learn about in class seem much more real and human. In college, I tried to understand how best to empower (as opposed to simply aid) individuals and communities who had been dealt an unfair hand in the world. Also around that time, my parents started our family’s foundation, which intrigued me from the start. I knew one day I would want to be deeply involved in philanthropy and social impact because I could see the improvements it was making in our community at home. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to deepen our impact by exploring different strategies, including funding national policy work, and that’s the other element of this work that I love – you can always do and give better, and there is always more to learn.

Why did you decide to leave the corporate world to join the board of your family’s foundation (The Heising-Simons Foundation) and learn about philanthropy?

After working for a couple years in tech PR and corporate communications consulting, I felt like I had learned a lot and wanted to pivot to a career with more social impact. I had the opportunity to join the board of the foundation and build out grantmaking focused on human rights, and the timing felt right. I know I’m still young, but I also know it’s never too early to be making an impact on the world, and I felt like working with the foundation was my best opportunity to do that. It’s also been great to spend more time with my parents (who I have to say are awesome) and learn more about their values and vision for the future.

What causes are you most passionate about and why?

I’m passionate about human rights, especially here in the U.S. According to a national study, the average American citizen, journalist and politician is unaware that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exists. The language of human rights simply isn’t widely known in our mainstream culture. We’re seeing the effects of this apathy and long-standing systemic inequities dangerously play out all the time lately with racial profiling, police misconduct, and other violent and unjust acts making front-page news every week. And with more than two million people in prisons and jails, the U.S. has the most imprisoned people in the world. As a country that espouses freedom and human rights internationally, we have the power to influence policies in other countries as well. For the U.S. to truly assume the mantle of human rights leadership, however, we will have to practice more thoroughly at home what we preach abroad.

I’m also passionate about empowering women and girls around the world. It’s scary to think about how much still needs to be done to improve health, education, and economic opportunities for women and girls, but it’s clear that these types of investments go a long way in improving lives and communities.

Tell us more about the Human Rights Watch Young Professionals Network you launched in March?  

My friend (and fellow Spark member) Erika Gomez and I started the group to support Human Rights Watch and engage young people in human rights. We’re now a dedicated group of volunteers in the Bay Area who support HRW through outreach, advocacy, and fundraising. We work to promote awareness of human rights issues through public education events and strategic advocacy campaigns, and also nurture the next generation of philanthropists by hosting events to generate support for the organization and its mission. We’re having our inaugural art auction and cocktail party, called A Night for Human Rights, on October 16th in San Francisco – you should come!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’d like for us to be continuing the human rights grantmaking at the foundation and I’d like to have completed an MBA program focused on social impact. I’d also like to be in a position to advise other young people and families on next gen and human rights-based philanthropy. I’m a California girl at heart, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still living in the Bay Area.

What advice do you have for other millennials interested in making social impact? 

Firstly, I’d commend their interest and passion! Then I would say to take time to reflect on your goals and study the issue you want to change. Meet everyone you can who is also working on that problem – including, most importantly, the people who are directly affected by it. There are a lot of trends and “shiny new things” vying for attention in the social sector. The challenge can be figuring out which approaches will have deep, lasting impact and which will only skim the surface.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?

Flying!

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

Sense of humor and humility.

What is your favorite journey?

 This is a tough one. I love going to new places. Most recently I went to the fjords in Norway, which was absolutely beautiful. I also am nostalgic and love the drive to Tahoe for Christmas, which for many years we celebrated in my grandparents’ cabin in the woods.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I’m lucky to have three amazing grandmothers who are each very different, but all share the qualities of poise, purpose, and passion. For that and more, I aspire to live a life full of love and adventure like they have.

CWEN: Cultivating Women Entrepreneurs

New Grantee: Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Uganda was described as “the pearl of Africa,” by Winston Churchill, referring to the country’s natural beauty, rich landscapes, and good climate. But unfortunately, as The Foundation for Sustainable Development reports, “the country currently ranks as one of the 20 poorest nations in the world and 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.” The majority of the population lacks basic resources and infrastructure from running water to health care and education and now 1 million citizens are infected with HIV/AIDS.

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Women in Uganda face even more health risks and employment barriers as they are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS infection, face lower social status than men, and lack economic self-sufficiency. For most women, this reduces their access to education, power to act independently, ability to avoid poverty, and their power to escape reliance upon abusive men.

Facing these discriminations, risks, and barriers to controlling their own livelihood, women in Uganda are in desperate need of new and innovative opportunities. Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN) was created to do just that.

CWEN was founded in 2012 by a group of passionate young women looking for new opportunities for women in their communities. The young women were selected by their own communities in the districts of Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso to run the organization. Now, only a few years later, they have a network of 220 low-income women entrepreneurs. CWEN’s mission is to build the entrepreneurial capacity of women to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. Their programs focus on micro lending and value chain development for women entrepreneurs, plus social research and impact measurement. Their proposed project, Women on the Shelf, aims to help low income, high potential women entrepreneurs gain shelf space in leading local and regional stores and get their products flying off the shelves. Women on the Shelf focuses on cultivating and strengthening the capacity of women food entrepreneurs and other products through branding, packaging, marketing, merchandising and promotions so products will fetch higher prices, doubling incomes for women producers and expanding their markets locally and globally.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • Support for 41 low-income, high potential female entrepreneurs through CWEN’s Women on the Shelf project.
    • This support includes: branding, packaging, marketing, and merchandising their products; project team staffing, transportation, plus monitoring and evaluation costs.
  • CWEN is looking for website and marketing guidance. If you’d like to be the one to provide pro bono support, please contact us.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for CWEN, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. We would also love to hear from you if you are interested in providing pro bono services: email programs@sparksf.org. We are very excited to support this wonderful organization! Visit CWEN’s Website to learn more.