Donors team up to expand #MeToo's impact in the workplace

By DAVID CRARYMarketsAssociated Press

In an unusual team effort to broaden the #MeToo movement, a group of prominent U.S. foundations is launching a new fund aimed at combating sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.

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In addition to the foundations' contributions, some funds are coming from CBS — money initially set aside as an exit package for former CEO Les Moonves that has been redirected due to his firing over sexual misconduct allegations, organizers told The Associated Press.

The fund , which claimed pledges of $20 million even ahead of its public launch Thursday, plans to direct most of its grants to programs led by and benefiting the most vulnerable categories of women — low-income workers, migrants, women of color. Among the likely recipients are campaigns led by women of color to bolster the rights of domestic workers who lack standard labor protections and restaurant workers who depend on tips for income.

The 11 partners that have signed on so far include the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and the NoVo Foundation.

Most of the partners fund a wide variety of causes, while the NoVo foundation has focused on the empowerment of women and girls. Its co-presidents are Peter and Jennifer Buffett; Peter is the youngest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Pamela Shifman, the NoVo Foundation's executive director, said the group of donors was inspired by the multitude of women in the U.S. and around the world who engaged in the #MeToo movement.

"We've seen girls and women step up with such incredible bravery," Shifman told The Associated Press. "This is about funders stepping up to say, 'We hear you. We see you.'"

Since the #MeToo movement emerged in October 2017, scores of powerful men have been toppled by allegations of sexual misconduct, and pervasive abuse has been documented in sectors ranging from Hollywood to the restaurant industry. However, Shifman said, less than 2 percent of foundation giving in the U.S. has focused on gender-based violence.

"As Tarana Burke said, calling out individual bad actors doesn't get to the root of the problem," said Shifman, referring to #MeToo's founder. "We need to prevent violence in the first place and change the culture."

For now, the new initiative is called the Collaborative Fund for Women's Safety and Dignity, although there are plans to shift to a pithier name. The fund will be housed at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, with plans to award at least $5 million a year over the next five years.

The fund will focus most of its efforts on the United States but also will seek to build international alliances. That was an attraction for the Ford Foundation; combatting violence against women and girls is among its top global priorities.

The initiative was prompted in part by an appeal in October from a coalition of groups engaged in the #MeToo movement, including Girls for Gender Equity, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. The coalition challenged America's philanthropic sector to allocate $300 million over the coming year to address sexual violence and sexual harassment.

One of the groups in the coalition was the National Women's Law Center, which played a key role in creation of the Times Up Legal Defense Fund after the #MeToo movement caught fire. The defense fund has raised millions of dollars to help financially struggling women litigate their complaints of sexual assault and harassment.

Fatima Goss-Graves, the law center's president, is pleased that the foundations launching the new fund see the potential for capitalizing on the #MeToo movement with broader initiatives.

"Moments like this do not happen that often, and they have to be effectively resourced," she said.