Teresa C. Younger: President & CEO, the Ms. Foundation for Women

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My Native Admission Statement: I’m an Air Force brat from North Dakota, who, as a young Black girl, knew more about farming than feminism and thought GS meant Girl Scouts, not Gloria Steinem. Now, I work on planting the seeds of feminism, have Gloria Steinem on speed dial, and live out the values of a lifelong Girl Scout: to make the world a better place. This set the stage for where I am today to lift up and amplify the voices of women and girls of color and to move money to those who need it most to make the changes in their communities. - https://forwomen.org/staff/teresa-c-younger/

How did you get into the industry?

From Girl Scouts to the Ms. Foundation, I have always fought for fairness and have made it my mission to dismantle the structures that uphold inequalities.

At my core, I am a grassroots organizer. I started my career in the nonprofit sector running a children’s residential camp, then moved to civil rights and civil liberties at the ACLU, followed by policy work in state government. My most recent career shift was into the world of philanthropy, where I focus on the power of women, their voices and their work.

I look at my current industry as two sectors: nonprofit through the lens of philanthropy and social justice movement building. For me, the nonprofit sector is about servicing women and girls, specifically of color, while philanthropy is about moving dollars to the areas that are most critical. My involvement in this space is driven by a deep commitment to social justice.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

In 1973, four women — Patricia Carbine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Gloria Steinem, and Marlo Thomas — believed the fight for gender equity would progress further if women worked together. Over 45 years later, this vision holds true, as the Ms. Foundation for Women works to build women’s collective power in the U.S. to advance equity and justice for all.

Today, we amplify the voices and visions of our grantee partners, women on the ground fighting for racial and gender equity. At the Ms. Foundation, we trust women to have the answers to help and heal their communities, a trust we have built our legacy on and will continue to build our future with.

Women of color have been at the frontlines of nearly every movement in this country; they have moved this country forward but our society does not show them the same support. In the strategic plan we rolled out last year, we reshaped the focus of our work, intentionally and unapologetically centering women and girls of color as a point of inclusion. We looked at the pool of inequality and decided to drop our pebble over the efforts of women and girls of color. We believe that the ripple effect of helping this community will spread wide and lift everybody up in the process.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We’re facing an exciting time at the Ms. Foundation, as our future holds a lot of new shifts and changes for the foundation. We plan on lifting up the work of the next generation through a new girls fund that centers on girls of color in the South and U.S. territories. We will also be more directly involved in supporting political activism through our new 501(c)(4) branch, which is now fully incorporated! These new branches, combined with the current programs of the foundation, will all work to influence collective philanthropy to move more dollars to women and girls of color and to trust women’s leadership.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

The Ms. Foundation has historically been and continues to be a highly talented team of women whose lived experiences influence their passion and commitment to support movement building and women’s collective power. We use our platform to challenge the status quo and ask people to think differently and more critically about the issues that affect the lives of women.

When I started at the Ms. Foundation, I saw that many people had an impression of feminism that was based on an incomplete view of the movement. It left a lot of people wondering where they fit in. So, I designed a campaign called #MyFeminismIs to redefine feminism, breaking it out of the gender-binary and offering more inclusion in the fight for gender equity.

Later in my tenure at the Ms. Foundation, when Trump was elected and our feminist vision for this country’s future was forced to shift, we had to reevaluate our strategy for the coming years. We launched a #WeWontGoBack campaign and video taking a stand against the then forthcoming misogynist, racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ administration. In defending and advocating for our rights, we also shared a rallying cry heard by our followers and beyond.

What makes me the best version of myself?

The Ms. Foundation is like ADHD for the feminist; there are a number of causes and tasks for me to face at any given time. Because we are a multi-issue organization and we recognize the complexities of women’s lives, I am present in a lot of spaces and engage as a thought leader on a multitude of issues. In order for me to show up and be my best authentic self, it is imperative that I move with intention; that I know when to speak up and use my voice, when I should lift up the voices of others, or when I should simply stay silent and listen.

What also really helped get me to where I am today is being comfortable with failure. That does not mean I like to fail — who does? — but, being comfortable in those moments enables you to grow and learn from those experiences.

My Most Challenging Moment?

When I was a burnt-out college student on scholarship, finishing my term as student body Vice President at the University of North Dakota, I was walking through the library when I saw a sign that said “Nanny needed in Connecticut.” I took down the poster, called my mom to tell her I was quitting college to be a nanny in CT and went to take my final. As the oldest daughter and the first in my family to go to college, I fully understood the disappointment that would be inflicted by saying those words. My mother’s hopes were wrapped up in me and in a single sentence, I made her greatest fear come true; that I might not finish college.

This moment was the first time I listened to and trusted myself to know what I needed. Doing so, gave me the courage to move to the East Coast, nanny and volunteer my time to work with children in the inner city, and, for the first time, truly understand the commitment that comes with working in a nonprofit. I worked for that family for two years. After all that, I went back to North Dakota to finish my degree, but not before I gained the life experience I needed to know how I could change the world while still being mindful of my own wellbeing.

Needing to step away from school was not a failure. It showed me how sometimes you have to make sacrifices in the present to be able to make an impact in the future. I cannot be an authentic leader if I do not recognize my own needs and acknowledge that every opportunity is a learning opportunity, even if it’s learning about myself.

My Motto?

Every morning, before I get out of bed, I challenge myself to be the kind of woman that when my feet hit the ground in the morning the devil says, “Oh shit, she’s up.”

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Maya Angelou, without a doubt. But, there are also the women I call “everyday feminists” that I have to privilege to work with who inspire me. Whether they are on my staff, on a panel with me, or a part of one of our grantees across the country, I look up to the strength of these women that fight for what they believe in.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

If I have to pick an absolute favorite place, it would be Saint Lucia.

My Current Passions?

I love being outside, whether I’m walking through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, hiking in Hawaii, or hanging in my hammock.

What are you doing at:

Before answering this question, I feel I must disclose that no two days are ever the same. One day may be focused on meetings with philanthropic or corporate leaders, while another may be spent at a grantee convening or talking at a conference about investing in women and girls of color. Or, I may be in our Brooklyn office making sure our audit is ready to go and creating strategies to raise women’s voices by day and attending a donor appreciation cocktail reception before seeing Gloria: A Life by night.

6:00 AM – Debating on getting out of bed and deciding how to make the devil say “oh shit, she’s up.”

10:00 AM - Making coffee in between meetings.

12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal? Having a Salmon Poke bowl for lunch, but, if we’re being honest, this happens closer to 2:00PM.

7:00 PM - Exhaling with a glass of wine at home, at the office, or at a donor event.

11:00 PM - Laying bed contemplating three things: did I do enough today, what am I grateful for, and what do I need to do tomorrow

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)? 

Coffee gets me through the day. Pro tip: heat up your cream before putting it in your coffee so it stays warmer longer! At the end of the day, I love to sit and reflect with a bourbon on the rocks.

What should everyone try at least once?

Sleeping under the stars.

What Else to Know?

Bio: Teresa C. Younger is a renowned thought leader, strategist, advocate, activist and amplifier having spent over 20 years on the frontlines of some of the most critical battles affecting the lives of women and their communities. Ms. Younger is a community organizer with demonstrated ability to build strong partnerships amongst diverse communities and constituencies, from grassroots organizations to state houses; from nonprofit to the corporate sector.

Ms. Younger is the President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the first (and oldest) women’s foundation. This legacy institution builds women’s collective power in the U.S. Under Ms. Younger’s leadership, the Foundation launched #MyFeminismIs, a multimedia campaign sparking a national conversation on feminism; funded a groundbreaking report on the sexual abuse to prison pipeline; joined leading women’s foundations at the White House (under the Obama Administration) to announce a $100 million funding commitment to create pathways to economic opportunity for low-income women and girls; and led a campaign to hold the NFL accountable for violence against women. Most recently, Ms. Younger led the development of the Ms. Foundation’s bold new strategic plan, in which the organization has chosen to center women and girls of color to challenge the philanthropic sector (and all of us) around how women, particularly women and girls of color, are being invested in.

As a thought leader, Ms. Younger’s contributions and expertise to the nonprofit and social justice arenas has been noted in BIG IMPACT: Insights and Stories from America’s Nonprofit Leaders, the Women’s Leadership Online Summit, and she has been recognized by The Council on World Affairs, Aspen Institute, Princeton University, Harvard University, and NetRoots Nation. In 2015 she was chosen by Planned Parenthood Federation of America as a Dream Keeper, and in 2016 was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Philanthropy” by Inside Philanthropy.

She has appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, MSNBC’s UP with David Gura, NBC News, NPR Radio, Elle Magazine, Cosmopoltian, SiriusXM, and in USA Today, AP, Rewire, BadassWomenLeaders.com podcast and the New York Times.

Ms. Younger sits at the critical intersections of gender and race in the philanthropic space serving on initiatives to shape and change the narrative of women and girls, including Grantmakers for Girls of Color, Funders for Reproductive Equity, Philanthropy New York and Black Funders for Social Justice. Additionally, Ms. Younger serves on a number of boards; including the Ethel Walker School and Essie Justice Group. Her influence and voice can also be felt in the gender lens investing space having linkages with Gratitude RailRoad and Criterion Institute’s Gender Based Violence Advisory Group.

Prior to joining the Ms. Foundation family, Ms. Younger served as the executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and as executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut – making her the first African American and the first woman to hold that position. Ms. Younger is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and in 2018 was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in Humanities from the University of New Haven. Ms. Younger is a resident of Connecticut where she lives with her husband. She is proud lifetime Girl Scout and Gold Award recipient.

“Teresa Younger embodies the definition of inspirational leadership. Our world will be a better place because of this Girl Scout’s dogged passion and commitment for influencing the change we need to make the world a better place.” – Mary Barneby, CEO, Girl Scouts of Connecticut

Recent Articles:

Amazing, Badass Women, Martha’s Vineyard Times

The biggest problem with feminism today—and how to fix it, Quartz

Ms. Foundation Strategic Plan to Focus on Women of Color, Associated Press

Save the date for our 32nd annual Ms. Foundation gala on May 6, 2020, Gloria Awards: A Salute to Women of Vision