Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » “An Activist on Women’s Issues and Gender Inequality” – An article from Legacy Partners

November 10, 2011

“An Activist on Women’s Issues and Gender Inequality” – An article from Legacy Partners

I am a new member of Legacy Venture – an investment management firm with a philanthropic mission. “We tap the potential of venture capital to help our members amplify their positive impact in the world.” I was asked to participate in a member profile and the article is below.

Legacy Member Jacki Zehner became the youngest woman, and first female trader, to become a partner at Goldman Sachs. The year was 1996 and she was 32. Recalls Jacki, “That’s what ignited my awareness about gender inequality. While I was a young successful woman executive, I was one of the very few, I was the exception, not the norm.” She dove into the firm’s diversity initiatives, and human capital-related programs, and vowed to help level the playing field. That work inspired her second career, what she calls her life’s work today as a donor and activist on women’s issues in general. She is co-chair of Women Moving Millions, an organization that inspires gifts of a million dollars or more for the advancement of women and girls.

Thousands of miles from New York City, on that ‘other’ coast, Jacki grew up Kelowna, British Columbia, a wine and fruit belt area referred to as the ‘Napa Valley of Canada.’ Early on, she learned the importance of giving back.  Her mother, an insurance agent, and father, a grocery store manager, always found time to help out those less fortunate — as did her Ukrainian grandmother, still hearty at 94, notably from all her giving.  Her mom routinely offered her time, her great cooking, her compassion, and her car. Says Jacki, “I grew up in this fabulous small town, had incredible parents, was a good student, and athlete. “ (She was twice Canada’s junior champion in bodybuilding — already proving that women could do anything men could do.)

While at the University of British Columbia studying business, she learned a valuable lesson about philanthropy — if you see a problem, and have the resources to fix it, do so. Three men in the Vancouver financial services sector did just that. They were concerned that finance students weren’t getting investment experience, so they partnered with the university to donate $250,000 each for a real-life portfolio fund that would help business students get hands-on experience managing assets.  Jacki says she was one of the first to be accepted into this program, which today — 23 years later — has had hundreds of students complete. Most important, she credits this experience to her being hired by Goldman Sachs in New York City.  She was the first student from the undergraduate program at UBC to be hired there.

A Gender Lens: Advocating for the Talents of Women and Minorities

“At first working on human capital management issues was in addition to my day job as trader and desk manager, but eventually Goldman asked me to do it full time and what a privilege it was to make that transition,” explains Jacki. “It was my job to infuse a gender lens to all our human capital management processes, help develop policies and practices that would level the playing field, and reduce the white male institutional biases that existed, and generally be an advocate for the talents of women and minorities at the firm.”

The interesting thing about her work at Goldman at that time, reflecting back, she didn’t think of it as being connected to philanthropy.  She defined that as writing checks or serving on non-profit boards, something she had little time to do. She was exceptionally busy, married to another Goldman trader and partner (Greg, also a Legacy Member), and a mother of a small child, she recalls thinking at some point —“I don’t have time for philanthropy,” as others often said.  She has since learned that philanthropy is an effort or inclination that you do everyday, everywhere.  Whether it’s mentoring young professionals at work, organizing a community service for fellow employees, or giving a speech at a college or high school.  Says Zehner, “I think expanding the definition of philanthropy would greatly help us create a culture of philanthropy and generosity that could be transformational.”

In 2002, she left Goldman and starting spending more time in a world she sometimes calls, ‘working for free.’  Says Jacki, “I mean, who knew giving away money would be so much work, right?  I quickly broadened my focus to the advancement of women and girls.  I call this time of exploration my ‘time in the desert.’ I wandered around, not really following a philanthropic direction, thirsting for knowledge and more about how to use my resources for positive change. I wrote bigger checks, I sought out mentors and coaches, and searched for my area of passion under the umbrella of women and girls. Here, I thought, I might achieve deep personal fulfillment, unending joy in service, and make a difference in the lives of millions of girls. And one day, I might be able to say, okay, done, now I can go learn Portuguese.”

Fast forward to today, Jacki says we have not yet achieved gender equality globally, and her learning Portuguese will have to wait.  Recognizing the importance of adopting a ‘collective impact mind-set’ Jacki realized that funders could play an important role in getting organizations to act in concert.

Find Your Tribe, Become a Community

When you find people who share your passions, magical things can happen. For Jacki, that moment came after she made a $1 million, four-year commitment to Women’s Funding Network, supporting more than 165 women’s funds in the network.  At the celebration dinner held at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, with Annie Leibowitz taking pictures, she realized she had found her tribe, her community among a phenomenal group of women, and vowed to make Women Moving Millions her number-one priority.

“Right now, I’m serving as co-chair of this exciting donor movement, alongside two other women, philanthropist Helen LaKelly Hunt, and Canadian Businesswoman, Margot Franssen,” says Jacki.

Women — Moving Millions, Changing the Lives of Women and Girls

Women Moving Millions (WMM) is a bold global philanthropic initiative whose goal is to inspire gifts of a million dollars or more to organizations and initiatives that advance and empower women and girls. In partnership with the Women’s Funding Network, it started as a campaign — a global movement — of over 166 women’s funds that invest in women-led solutions to critical social issues like poverty and global security.

By May 2009, Women Moving Millions had raised more than $182 million through partnerships between 102 donors and 41 women’s funds. Why fund women? It’s simply smart economics for one. There’s no shortage of sobering statistics that present a strong moral case for funding women — for example, women produce nearly 80 percent of the world’s food, but receive less than 10 percent of agricultural assistance, and a staggering 70 percent of those living in abject poverty are women.

According to Jacki, “Before WMM, you could count on one hand the number of million dollar, multi-year pledges that women’s funds received. When Helen Hunt, the co-founder of WMM sat down and asked a handful of women what inspired them to give a million dollars, she found some common threads in their stories, namely, that women often did not give large gifts because they were not asked to, imagine that. From my own perspective, I have found that giving away a million dollars has been an extremely powerful act. Giving at any level, but especially at your capacity, is powerful.”

She views it as ‘power to, not power over’ as Gloria Feldt writes in her book, “No Excuses —9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.”  By giving money, these women were, as Jacki says, “They were claiming their power  ‘to’ give, their power ‘to’ help and serve others, their power ‘to’ use their financial resources to support their values, and for many, this was the most powerful thing they had ever done and it was liberating, beautiful, and historic.”

Jacki and Greg also have a family foundation that they co-funded when Goldman Sachs went public.

Greg is a Goldman partner turned ordained pastor with a primary funding objective to help explain Christianity and make it accessible for any seeker.  Jacki says Greg has been working as a pastor, giving to a small number of Christian organizations, and traveling to and funding a water project in Kenya.  Their funding interests intersected with Funding Auburn Theological Seminary’s Women’s leadership program – a program focused on women and faith. Their foundation is also part of an investment group called IMPACT Partners that provides them with opportunities to invest in documentary films aligned with their passions and interests that have ranged from the sexualization of young girls to the challenges of illegal immigration.

Living in Park City Utah, raising young children, they are also committed to making philanthropy fun for their children.  They want to make service vacations an annual event and find hands-on ways to serve in their local community.

The Legacy Connection

Jacki was introduced to Legacy Venture through another member.   The two are working together to map the funding for women’s causes and sharing their learnings.  That member was asked to share the research with the Legacy community and Jacki joined the call.  Recalls Jacki, “I participated in the phone call, and subsequently became a Legacy member. I am excited about the model because it gives us access to the best fund managers but with a philanthropic twist.  I firmly believe we need to fully activate our investment assets to support our values and philanthropic goals. Grants alone will never solve the complex problems of issues like violence and poverty.   Legacy is creating change within the philanthropic community by networking philanthropists with other committed individuals.”

Jacki recently gave a speech for the Minnesota Council of Foundations and was asked to share her lessons learned. In brief, here they are:

1: Find your tribe, become a community

2: Understand the story and listen to it — yours and others

3: Giving is powerful

4: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are

5: See a problem — fix it

6: Make philanthropy part of what you do everyday, everywhere

7: Share what you learn

8: Adopt a collective impact mind-set

9: Commit to your cause

10: Have fun!

“Imagine if we used all our financial resources to support the issues we care about — there is no doubt, none, zero, that positive change in the world would be vastly accelerated.”

Jacki has an all-time favorite quote that she says is everywhere in her house. It’s number four on her lessons learned above, and is from Theodore Roosevelt. It sums up her philosophy of giving, and how she and her family live their life: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

To learn more about Women Moving Millions, go here.

To learn more about the women’s and girl’s issues, check out Jacki’s blog and her resources section, go here.

Thank you Legacy team for doing such a wonderful write-up.

The picture is of Jacki with The Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

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