With seed funding from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates, the fund will support nonpartisan nonprofits working to increase women's access to political processes by preparing women to run for, and win, office at the local, state, and national levels and break down other barriers to women's elected leadership. The fund does not support specific candidates.
According to the fund, women currently make up 51 percent of the U.S. population but only 24 percent of the U.S. Congress, 29 percent of state legislatures, and 28 percent of statewide executive positions. To create a better understanding of the barriers to women's elected leadership, the fund awarded initial grants totaling $1 million in 2019 to seven nonpartisan organizations — GALvanize, Groundswell Fund, LatinasRepresent, Reflect US, Running Start, Women Engaged — in support of a comprehensive landscape analysis. Released in conjunction with the launch of the fund, the report, Gender Equality in U.S. Politics: A Guide for Philanthropists Interested in Achieving a Representative Democracy (20 pages, PDF), found that the challenges women face in electoral politics include a variety of systemic and sociological factors — among them the way political careers are structured, systemic biases embedded in the political establishment, financial hurdles, the perception of women in society and the media, and their own lack of self-confidence. Compounding these challenges, the organizations working to elect women to office are chronically underfunded, fail to share information and coordinate at the strategy level, tend to be narrowly focused on federal-level politics, and often lean liberal (in a country that leans center-right).
With a focus on improving the number of women in state legislatures, the fund recently awarded grants of $1.5 million over three years to New American Leaders, which offers trainings and programs for first- and second-generation Americans, and VoteRunLead, which trains women to “run as you are.” Additional grants will be announced in February.
"We need to balance the ballot. Women make up over half of the U.S. population [but] less than thirty percent of its elected leaders, even though they have the same chance of winning as men do,” said Panorama Global founder and CEO Gabrielle Fitzgerald. “The Ascend Fund provides financial capital to an area that has been historically underfunded to help establish a clearer pathway for women to run for office — and win."
(Photo credit: New American Leaders)