By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
In August, the San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF) announced La Mesa resident Stephanie Cook as its new executive director.
Cook had previously worked at SDWF for over two years managing programs, communications and grantmaking. In her new role, Cook will be responsible for upholding SDWF’s mission of connecting, educating, and inspiring women to come together in collective philanthropy.
“Over the past two years, I have watched SDWF members embrace philanthropic best practices, take on tough issues with our grants, and work to understand and implement diversity, equity and inclusion strategies,” said Cook. “I am constantly inspired by our members’ eagerness to learn and grow, and I look forward to working with our incredible network of changemakers to improve lives in our community.”
Cook was born and raised in San Diego – Lakeside, to be exact. She attended SDSU for her undergrad degree and majored in Women’s Studies before attending grad school at the University of Chicago where she majored in Latin American Studies and researched women’s movements in Latin America.
After grad school, she returned to San Diego and began working as director of programming for Lawyers Club of San Diego – a local nonprofit working to advance women in the law and society — before she left to join the team at SDWF.
La Mesa Courier recently caught up with Cook to find out more about her work at SDWF and what motivates her to be a Difference Maker.
What inspired you to be a Difference Maker and go into nonprofit work?
Having spent my undergrad and graduate studies researching women’s movements around the world, I knew I wanted to get involved and make a difference when I graduated. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for two different phenomenal women-driven, nonprofit organizations in San Diego, and it’s the remarkable volunteers and community leaders I’ve met through those experiences that motivate and inspire me to work for equity and change in our community.
What does SDWF do? What are the foundation’s objectives?
Our mission is to connect, educate and inspire women to come together in collective philanthropy. Our 200-plus members come together each year to learn about critical needs in our community and then pool their philanthropic dollars to make large grants to local nonprofits working on those issues. Since our founding in 2000, we have granted more than $4 million to over 90 nonprofit organizations, touching more than 88,000 lives in our community!
What, if any, changes do you see ahead for SDWF? What goals have you set for the foundation since taking over?
I’ve been fortunate to take on this new role right as Cindi Hill began her term as SDWF Board President. She and I came together to discuss our vision for SDWF and decided that diversity, equity and inclusion would be our primary focus this year, and we’ve already achieved so much. We fundraised and made grants in partnership with the Latina Giving Circle to local nonprofits working for racial justice; we’ve brought together a task force to apply a DEI lens to our operations and determine areas for improvement; and we launched a DEI Education Series to help us learn about and advance equity in our organization and community.
Having spent the last two years managing our grants process, one of my goals as executive director is to build authentic partnerships with the incredible nonprofits in our community, and so much of what I had envisioned fits right in with the equity work we’re doing. We’re looking at every aspect of our grants process and making adjustments to ensure that we are listening to and centering the voices of those we hope to serve with our grants. We’ve lifted program restrictions on our grants to allow our nonprofit partners the flexibility to put those unrestricted funds to use towards their highest priority. And we’re working to break down the barriers between funder and grantee by building a more transparent and streamlined grants process.
How has COVID affected the work the foundation does? What impact do you hope to make with the Cycle 21 grants program? What do you look for in recipients of grant money?
COVID has significantly impacted nonprofits in our community, not to mention the populations they serve.
Early in the crisis we shifted our funding strategy and released all restrictions on our existing Cycle 19 grants serving survivors of human trafficking as well as the Cycle 20 grants we awarded in June 2020 to serve refugees, asylees and asylum seekers. We did this so that our nonprofit partners could have the flexibility to pivot as the crisis unfolded and put those funds to use towards their highest priorities.
Our Cycle 21 focus is housing and we’ve brought in a variety of local experts to talk about the impact of COVID on housing stability in San Diego so that we can keep emerging COVID needs in mind through the selection process.
We’ve learned that COVID has caused a spike in immediate needs — socially-distanced shelters for people experiencing homelessness and rent and mortgage assistance for folks impacted by job loss as a result of COVID, but we’ve also heard that we won’t see systemic change in the housing sphere without significant policy advocacy work.
In light of this, we’re looking to partner with a combination of organizations working towards short and long-term solutions.
Cook’s appointment to executive director happens to coincide with another milestone for the nonprofit — its 20th anniversary. To learn more about the San Diego Women’s Foundation, please visit www.sdwomensfoundation.org.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.