Penny George Invests in Authentic Leaders and Transformative Programs

Penny George – WMM November 2017 Member of the Month

I am immensely grateful to have had the good fortune to become part of Women Moving Millions (WMM).  As an accidental philanthropist responsible for our family foundation since its inception in the mid-1990’s, I have been keenly aware that my background as a consulting psychologist did not equip me adequately for that role.

What I am learning by being part of WMM will enable me to lead our board to have a more significant impact upon our mission, which is to foster wholeness in mind, body, spirit and community by investing in authentic leaders and transformative programs serving the common good.

As current board chair and co-founder with my husband Bill of the George Family Foundation, my deepest personal engagement over the years has been in the area of integrative medicine and health. After my diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in early 1996, I came to realize that medicine needed a major reboot, and since then have been pursuing opportunities to transform clinical care and academic medicine to a whole-person, preventive, participative model of care.

I think of integrative medicine as the return of the Feminine to medicine. Women have been quick to recognize the importance of empowering people to be the central agents in their own health, and many of those leading this effort are women. While our grants in this area are not gender-focused, I will consider it a triumph for women when all people have meaningful choices when they are sick and ample support for helping them avoid chronic illness.

Beyond integrative medicine, our foundation also invests heavily in leadership development. We support women engineers at my husband’s alma mater, Georgia Tech.

We also have created a women’s leadership initiative at my alma mater, Duke University. The Duke initiative is based on a cohort model that offers women the opportunity to pursue a meaningful project of personal interest to them supported by their peers.

When thinking about a possible gift to Duke to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my graduation, I was struck by the fact that women at Duke participate just as actively in campus organizations as do the men, but rate themselves lower on a measure of leadership. We hope this program will give young women at Duke (not just cohort members) new skills and more accurate self-perceptions.

We are a passionate supporter of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas where part of our giving supports youth education and leadership development. Sarah Stoesz, CEO, is an inspiring and courageous leader in what are very dark times for reproductive health for women and girls.

A personal favorite grantee is Ripple Effect Images. Ripple identifies top aid organizations helping women and girls and sends world-class photographers and filmmakers to document their work, helping raise dramatically more funding for the work. An interesting aside is that Ripple is led by a woman, Annie Griffiths, who was one of the first women photographers for National Geographic magazine – and who was, as a freshman in college in 1972, was assigned to me for academic advising.

Another noteworthy program we are supporting is a 2019 exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) which represents the first time that Native American women artists have been recognized by name.  Mia is one of the most prestigious art museums in the U.S. and this exhibit will garner a great deal of national and international attention.

Our foundation has also been part of a multi-year strategic effort led by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) to bring into alignment the various sectors of society engaged in halting child sex trafficking.  We will soon be investing in a second major initiative of WFM, its Young Women’s Initiative which seeks to involve young women directly in discovering and advocating for long term solutions in six particular communities, all of which face some of the greatest health, income and educational disparities and where strict female gender norms are most prevalent.

Two years ago our Foundation made a decision that was influenced in part by my involvement with WMM.  We agreed to stop categorizing our support of programs and organizations that advance women and girls as a siloed focus area, and instead to embed our funding for women and girls within all of our grantmaking focus areas.  While we had being doing this all along, this shift in thinking has caused us to be more diligent and mindful in seeking out specific programs where girls are frequently left behind and to have numerical markers to track our progress.

WMM has been instrumental in expanding my understanding and commitment to using some of our foundation’s assets to invest more deeply in women-owned businesses and investment portfolios.  While we are just getting started, I take comfort in knowing that I am part of a community of women who will help me and guide me in this journey.

I am so grateful to have connected with Jacki Zehner and Helen LaKelly Hunt back in 2012.  I came away from talking with them even more committed to celebrate the Feminine and to seek additional ways to advance women in girls through my work in philanthropy and other means of influence that I have.

I salute the founders and early members of WMM. I am optimistic that this growing community will equal the Suffragettes and the courageous feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s in their impact on improving the lives of women and girls in this country and the world.