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Learning a New Language of Gender

pink-and-blue-rndObservations from an NPO Conversation at GMA

There is an emerging awareness of the concept of gender as a spectrum, with many possible expressions that don’t fit neatly into the traditional male-female binary. Last month we invited nonprofit leaders to join us for a discussion about the programmatic implications of shifting gender norms. Each guest represented an organization that offers gender-specific or gender-sensitive programming, and we discussed how this issue has affected their approaches to meeting the needs of the populations they serve.

Our guests shared some of the ways that their organizations are working to be more inclusive. Many expressed an awareness that gender-specific programs risk reinforcing the idea of gender as a strict male-female binary, but believe nevertheless that these types of programs are still much needed. While the concept of gender is more fluid than ever, many gendered expectations and prejudices persist, and gender-based violence continues to be a significant problem.

Awareness, sensitivity, and inclusion

Gender intersects with race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, and many other aspects of identity. As such, it is both complex and deeply personal. Organizations feel an obligation to meet clients where they are; the challenge is that clients’ felt and expressed needs are varied and changing. A mother may approach an organization to find an adult male mentor for her son, because she wants him to be “more of a man.” She may have very traditional views of what it means to be a man. How can an organization best meet such a client’s need without embracing rigid definitions? Continue Reading »

How new brain research is informing changes in grantmaking

brain livescience-comResearch into the physical effects of traumatic experiences on the brain is revealing possible new pathways to change and reshaping measures of program effectiveness. With increased knowledge of the stress-induced barriers to mental well-being, education, health and human services organizations are incorporating trauma-informed approaches into their programs.

Research around trauma has historically focused on war veterans. In 1995 the CDC began the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) which demonstrated the lasting effects of childhood trauma into later life. The ACES research has been instrumental to understanding the long term effects of trauma and has provided compelling justification for early intervention. The CDC’s ongoing analysis has led to more inclusive definitions of trauma and has pointed to strong connections between childhood experiences and adult health status and behaviors.

Recent research into brain development is helping explain this connection in concrete terms – our brains change. In one article the Children’s Bureau explains the effects of maltreatment on brain development, and an article on describes how Post-traumatic stress disorder changes the brain.

Bridging a sense of isolation

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Impact, one life at a time


In the field of philanthropy we talk a lot about impact.  A walk around the photograph and art exhibit currently on display at Boston’s City Hall and a talk with the teenaged photographers teaches vividly about the impact of just one life on another.

My Life, My Choice is a small but mighty organization that works to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children – the prostitution of minors. The organization conducts prevention activities with girls at risk, and helps girls and young women in Greater Boston who have been exploited to escape, heal and find new direction for their lives. The hallmark of the model is survivor mentorship by adult women who were exploited as minors, and who have turned their lives around.  I recently met some of the teenagers at a stunning exhibit of their photography. Continue Reading »

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