Buffett foundation to unveil plan to help girls of colour

Buffett foundation to unveil plan to help girls of colour

NEW YORK — A foundation run by the youngest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett is announcing its strategy for distributing $90 million to help improve the lives of young women and girls of colour in the United States.

The New York City-based NoVo Foundation, created in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett, the youngest son of Warren Buffett, says it will let the girls and their advocates on the local level determine what their needs are, rather than be told what the money has to be used for. The foundation on Thursday will officially announce how its $90 million commitment over seven years will be carried out.

The unveiling of the grant-making process comes a year after the foundation first announced the investment. It has spent the months since canvassing the country talking to girls and their advocates.

“One size fits all was never going to work in terms of the kind of support we offer,” said Pamela Shifman, executive director of the foundation. “We wanted to let girls of colour and their advocates really determine their most important needs because they are the experts on their own lives.”

The foundation will allocate the money in three different ways. One stream of grants will be open to community-based organizations that work directly with minority girls. Another stream will focus specifically on the Southeast, and through a regional partner, allocate funds to existing groups as well as new organizations and even people working with minority girls outside of formal organizations. The third stream will go toward supporting national policy and research organizations that focus on issues facing women and girls of colour.

Applications for the various streams will be accepted over the next several weeks, Shifman said, with the first grants being awarded in the fall. The foundation expects to distribute about $13 million in the first year of funding.

The foundation will create the first regional hub in the Southeast because of how much the area has been neglected by philanthropy, officials said, especially in terms of supporting work focused on girls of colour.

That’s welcome news, according to Kameisha Smith, who works with girls in Durant, Mississippi, and throughout the Mississippi Delta through the Nollie Jenkins Family Center. She said she appreciated the foundation’s process, which saw NoVo officials being taken around rural communities in her area.

“Our organizing work looks very different from organizing in New York,” she said. “Our success looks different than success in New York.”

Joanne Smith, founder of the Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, said she has never had a funder approach grants from a position of following the guidance of the people doing the work to say what the needs are. She has worked with NoVo before, and is grateful for the opportunity “to be able to do the work that you have set forth as a priority, not them.”

That’s the point, Peter Buffett said. Instead of picking a singular focus area, “I’d rather see organizational capacity get built so they can decide.”

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Deepti Hajela, The Associated Press