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“Multiplying Community-Level Success” – Leslye Obiora & Latanya Mapp Frett on Investing in Everyday Feminism

When Leslye Obiora was growing up in Nigeria, the word feminism was a curse word. It was in her 20s that she began to understand the impact of gender oppression, a realization that influenced her entire career, from Yale and the World Bank to her time as Nigeria’s Minister of Mines and Steel Development and her Bellagio Center residency in 2000, which focused on the emergence of gender-specific rights. 

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors President & CEO and former Global Fund for Women President Latanya Mapp Frett calls Obiora an “Everyday Feminist.” In her 2023 book of the same name – developed in part during her 2022 Bellagio Center residency – Frett defines everyday feminists as “ordinary women with extraordinary passion and commitment, working towards lasting, transformational change.”

To Obiora and Frett, everyday feminism holds the key to lasting, positive impact. Moving the needle on our planet’s most pressing issues, from gender and racial justice to economic inequity to climate change, requires us to recognize and support feminist leaders and invest in grassroots efforts.

How is your work helping to address issues of gender equality and women’s rights? 

Latanya Mapp Frett: Social justice came easy for me. Growing up as a Black girl in inner-city Philadelphia, social justice, racial justice, and gender justice were always a part of my life. 

I focus on being a servant leader who connects people to what they need, whether that be resources or an ability to join forces across countries or regions. In leadership roles at Planned Parenthood, at Global Fund for Women and now at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (a global philanthropic service organization that is not affiliated with The Rockefeller Foundation), I’ve tried to connect these dots so communities can achieve their purposes without resource constraints. The abundance of our world is clear, so I look at how to get resources where they’re needed to affect change. 

My goal is to break up the nonsense and create a structure that focuses on equity and equality, so that people who have been marginalized for a long time have a place that ensures the best life possible. 

Leslye Obiora: Women at the grassroots deepen my conviction about this work. When I started the Institute for Research and African Women, Children, and Culture, I focused on women, who often get modest credit for their contributions, yet they transform their communities. Today, I am working on rolling out an education equity startup named Odiso Leadership Academy. Our mission is to help talented ultra-poor girls achieve academic excellence and compete globally for colleges and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Agriculture, and Math (STEAAM).

  • My goal is to break up the nonsense and create a structure that focuses on equity and equality.
    Latanya Mapp Frett
    President & CEO
    Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

What breakthroughs need to happen to make this kind of grassroots, community-driven change?  

Latanya Mapp Frett: “The Everyday Feminist” shares the stories of amazing women like Leslye who are creating real change. The goal was to get the people funding social justice work and movements to focus on the work that women are doing. 

There is a tendency to think about community-led programs run by women as not needing resources. At Global Fund for Women, I saw how the work of social movements led by women was often more powerful, passionate and sustainable. Why isn’t philanthropy putting the same kind of resources behind them? It’s vital that we recognize the work of feminist leaders and support them accordingly.

Women philanthropists are driving a huge breakthrough. I don’t know how many people will read Valerie Rockefeller and Abigail Disney’s letter on taxing billionaires, and they’re probably going to need a whole lot of men to sign. But women are starting to see that the structures that perpetuate wealth for a certain class of people have to change, and it’s not going to happen from the outside. Women are tackling these issues, the McKenzie Scotts of the world who are trusting organizations and communities to do this work. 

Leslye Obiora: You help build, and then the community sustains it. I helped establish a hospital in 1986 that is still running today because the community carries on the work. The work we’re doing for women as a whole also needs to be self-sustaining. 

That means investing in the next generation of women who will uphold and augment the legacy of impacts that have been made. Other sectors are doing this much more systematically. I have no monopoly of wisdom about how we go about doing that, but it’s critical that we consolidate that frontier, in terms of building those successor generations to keep this work going. 

  • Even where problems seem intractable, when women are included they can talk as peers to those that have to listen.
    Leslye Obiora
    Institute for Research on African Women, Children and Culture

What keeps you up at night about achieving these goals? What makes you optimistic?

Leslye Obiora: My bias for hope drives my work. This can happen. Even where problems seem intractable, when women are included they can talk as peers to those that have to listen. We have to keep engaging women, ensuring they can participate in conversations and not waiting for a crisis to bring them in. Without change, what we have is not sustainable. There’s no other alternative than just to keep at it. 

Latanya Mapp Frett: What keeps me optimistic is knowing the women who have come before and the amazing groundwork they laid. I stand on such big shoulders, it’s almost embarrassing. My question is, “Am I doing enough?” We know the power of what these amazing feminist leaders are doing. How do we support them over the long term? Ours is a little piece in a larger journey. All you can do is prepare those who come after and play a positive role in the time that you have.

Frett calls everyday feminists “the ones who show up, who push forward and who get the hard stuff done.” To Obiora, that is what makes the movement so gratifying. “We have to roll up our sleeves and make change happen,” she says. “It’s fulfilling to be part of the solution.” 

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