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Women4Good confronts Covid-19

click to enlarge FINE LINE: Women4Good's Zanoon Nissar balances corporate contributions and social responsibility.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WOMEN4GOOD

FINE LINE: Women4Good's Zanoon Nissar balances corporate contributions and social responsibility.

Shortly after landing her dream job in corporate social responsibility at Google in 2015, Zanoon Nissar banded together with a few of her friends to found Women4Good (W4G)—an organization for women-identifying people interested in philanthropy and social impact.

With about 1,200 members, W4G brings women in tech and business together through social-issue fundraising campaigns supported by panels, happy hour and networking events, and an annual gala. Though it initially began as "a simple brunch between six girlfriends," W4G has since gained prominence in spheres of corporate philanthropy in the Bay Area, and has partnered directly with companies such as Google, Salesforce, Twitter and Lyft.

W4G believes that every woman can be "a hero or a change agent," Nissar said. Founded on a vision to "Meet, Learn, Give, and Act," the organization seeks to empower women through charity and volunteer opportunities for a range of social causes. "It's a combination of helping us grow, but then also in turn doing things that help the community at large," Nissar said.

In four past years the organization has fundraised over $100,000 "for refugees, domestic violence victims, and other local San Francisco charities." In 2016 the group's #RefugeesWelcome Holiday Gala raised nearly $30,000 for refugee families in the Bay Area. In 2018 the "Corporations Doing Good for Women" gala raised over $700 for Raphael House—an SF-based organization supporting homeless women and survivors of sexual abuse.

"We're kind of open to any sort of area," Nissar said of the group's philanthropic focus. So far the fundraising campaigns have been more or less "ad-hoc," guided in part by professional contacts in the members' networks. "Someone would be like, 'Oh, I know the head of Planned Parenthood, let's bring her in,'" said Nissar, who hosted NorCal Planned Parenthood CEO Gilda Gonzalez at a panel in October 2019.

In December 2019, W4G hosted a "#WomenintheHouse" event in partnership with Uplyft Women and IGNITE National, a nonprofit organization supporting women of color in civic leadership. "[Lyft] basically gave us this gorgeous event space that overlooked AT&T Park," Nissar said. With Lyft's support, the gala raised $19,500.

This year W4G will dedicate their campaign to "COVID-19, Racial Justice, and Women's Issues." Recently, the organization partnered with TogetherSF, a resource-sharing network forged in the pandemic, and has begun to do more workshops internally, as well. On Thursday, Aug. 20, the group held a virtual "Community Call" workshop on implicit bias and stereotypes, which all members were invited to join.

W4G referenced Salesforce CEO Mark Benoiff's "1-1-1" model, which encourages companies to pledge 1 percent of their profits, 1 percent of their products, and 1 percent of their employees' time to philanthropic activity. In 2018 W4G actually hosted Salesforce Philanthropy Strategist Naomi Morenzoni at a "Companies Doing Good 4 Women" panel, a networking event held in the Cambria Gallery in San Francisco. According to Nissar, Saleforce's 1-1-1 model pushes employees to spend time "going to food banks or going and doing a workshop or a nonprofit." The model's unit "doesn't have to be 'one,'" she conceded, "but, you know, it's catchy."

With the anticipated $63 billion of California state revenue forgone in corporate tax breaks in 2019, however, a 1 percent charity pledge might not be enough to compensate for the ongoing "social impact" of tech mega corps in the Bay Area, which maintains the highest income inequality of anywhere else in the state. And despite the company's trailblazing in corporate philanthropy, Salesforce paid less than 0 percent on $800 million income in the 2018 fiscal year.

Social impact is about more than "the giving and the volunteering," Nissar said. "It's about understanding yourself and understanding the role that you play in some of these incidents"—an ambition the organization has sought to take on in the Community Call series. "How do we focus on the impact?" Nissar asked of W4G's work during the pandemic. As W4G moves forward, the organization will have to navigate both the challenges of fundraising during Covid-19 and the structural constraints of corporate philanthropy as a mechanism for social good.

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