WDN Connect 2015: A Recap of our Annual Conference

Women Donors Network returned to New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina to celebrate our 25th Anniversary, and to explore the theme of People. Place. Possibility. Read on for some key highlights of the program.

Pre-Conference Tour Sheds Light on New Orleans History and Future

About 50 conference attendees parunnamed (1)ticipated in an optional guided bus tour of New Orleans narrated by geographer and autho
r Richard Campanella. The tour got rave reviews by all, who called it informative and inspiring. One especially impressive moment in the tour was the chance to stand along the Mississippi River where the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. Professor Campanella explained how the levee break was due to a design flaw because they were not sunk into the bedrock, a flaw which was corrected when the levees were rebuilt. We heard about how the hurricane sparked contentious community debates about issues like affordable housing and school reform, and how some city choices [policies?] made it harder for poor residents to return.

Pre-Conference Workshop Focuses on Investing for People and the Planet

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.03.20 PMThis year’s pre-conference workshop featured inspiring videos and speaker presentations and interactive time for WDN members to connect and strategize with one another. The conversation sparked lots of good momentum on divestment and reinvestment, as well as shareholder activism. Our Values Based Investing Circle is eager to continue these conversations in 2016.

Opening Night Welcome Honors Legacy of Jean Hardisty, Original WDN Members

unnamed (2)Longtime WDN member Jean Hardisty passed away earlier this year, and we celebrated her memory by dedicating the 2015 conference to her. Attendees wrote down memories and reflections that will be shared in a book with Jean’s partner, Peggy. To honor Jean’s legacy going forward, Donna announced the creation of the Jean Hardisty Catalytic Impact Fund, which will support emerging opportunities to further the values Jean embodied and that we all share.

Donna also honored the original 25 members who formed Women Donors Network in 1990, as we celebrated the organization’s 25th anniversary.
New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell gave a rousing welcome speech that touched on many of the themes we would explore throughout the weekend — the Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 1.25.48 PMimportance of women’s leadership, intersectionality, the value of reflective democracy, and never letting go of hope even when all seems lost. Cantrell was part of a team of community leaders who fought to save the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

NOLA Leaders Share Their Stories and Passions

NOLA Stars

Local leaders from New Orleans share their stories.

WDN Member Melissa Flournoy moderated a fantastic panel of five local women leaders who were honored for their tireless work in the community of New Orleans: Troi Bechet from Center for Restorative Approaches; Sandy Ha Nguyen from Coastal Communities Consulting; Colette Pichon Battle from the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy; Allison Plyer from The Data Center; and Petrice Sams-Abiodun from the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy.

You can read more about these amazing women here.

Reflective Democracy Campaign Highlights Solutions


Reflective Democracy Innovators Jessica Byrd, Gloria Totten, Habon Abdulle, and Chrissie Castro

Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa moderated a dynamic and engaging session focused on WDN’s Reflective Democracy Campaign. We heard about the amazing successes this year, and got to meet and hear from 4 of the 10 incredible grantees of the Reflective Democracy Innovator program. Brenda Choresi Carter, the Campaign Director, and Donna laid out the bold vision for 2016, and the major categories of our work in the coming year. This is the final year of the 3-year campaign we envisioned, and we need to build the capacity of the Campaign to distribute the research and findings from the Innovator projects, continue organizing the field through additional grantmaking, and build out partnerships with other progressive funders.

Watch our Reflective Democracy Recap Video here.

Heather Booth Talks about the Power of Organizing

Longtime organizer and movement-builder Heather Booth told a personal and touching story about her own life coming of age amid the social movements of the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement. Her message was clear: change has only ever happened in America when we organize. Tying those movements to the fights of today — from #BlackLivesMatter to access to reproductive health care — she emphasized the need to invest deeply in the leaders and organizations that will ensure a better future for generations to come.

WDN Circles Meet to Find Connections and Collaborations

At this conferenceunnamed (4) we tried a new format for attendees to interact with WDN’s nine Donor Circles. Modeled after the World Café method for conversations, Circle leaders hosted tables where members could rotate after 20 minutes and visit with three different circles. At the end of the World Cafe process, we met back together to share some of the key insights and takeaways, which focused on specific ideas for each Circle as well as ways to do more cross-circle collaboration.

Defining Intersectionality with Kimberlé Crenshaw

unnamed (5)Many described our session with renowned feminist thinker Kimberlé Crenshaw as the highlight of the conference. Professor Crenshaw broke down the concept of intersectionality with incredible clarity, using an example of a legal case from the 1970s about a Black woman who could not get the court to accept her employment discrimination claim. She could not prove that the company discriminated on the basis of gender, because white women worked there, nor could she prove discrimination on race, because Black men worked there. As a woman of color, she was stuck at the intersection, left behind and invisible.

We watched a moving mini-documentary of Dr. Crenshaw’s recent listening tour to explore the challenges faced by women and girls of color, and working in groups, conference attendees dug into what intersectionality really means, and how it could be applied to their work and grantmaking.

Story Sharing Workshops Offer Chance to Talk About Philanthropy

WDN members led six story-sharing workshops at this conference, covering different topics that were suggested by the membership. In these informal sessions, members discussed some of their stories and lessons on social change philanthropy. Topics included: family and philanthropy; building state-based donor collaborations; determining how much is enough; and working with activists in decision-making.

Celebrating 25 Years

WDNconf2015-anniversary-solidOur Saturday night dance party was great fun, as always, and included a dress-up photo booth, a raffle of prizes generously donated by WDN artists, a moving presentation by Donna reflecting on WDN’s Next 25. The party also featured a surprise song and performance by WDN members and staff.


Honoring a Local Healing Tradition

RedTent-WebSunday morning, the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies set up The Red Tent, a space for personal reflecting and healing that was provided to women leaders in New Orleans in rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. WDN members talked with local authors, participated in a story circle, and were treated to live cello music and an incredible spoken-word artist.

Once the conference was wrapped up, about two dozen attendees visited the Whitney Plantation Museum, the only museum in the U.S. that is focused on the history of slavery.

It was a wonderful four days of learning, connecting, and collaborating with our fantastic group of WDN women.We hope to see you at an upcoming regional event, and mark your calendars now for WDN Connect 2016: Nov. 10-13 in Detroit, Michigan.

Stay Connected