Policy and Advocacy Starting Place: Training Community Policy Advocates

Contributed by: Bia Vieira, Chief Strategist, Programs, The Women’s Foundation of California

17 years ago, The Women’s Foundation of California realized that if we were ever really going to make positive change on behalf of cisgender and transgender women, non-binary and genderqueer people and transgender men and families in California, especially those from communities of color and from impacted communities, we needed to transform the policy-making process.

The Women’s Policy Institute was launched to help close the gap between those making decisions and those living with the results of those decisions. The Women’s Foundation wanted to center people closest to the problem to develop solutions and hold opinion leaders and policy makers accountable.

The Institute selects participants, through a competitive process, and trains a cohort of statewide leaders.  These leaders, already addressing critical issues, are trained to work collaboratively to identify specific, actionable policy solutions.  Each year’s cohort works with about 25 leaders over a year-long process to address concerns related to trauma justice, environmental justice, criminal justice, reproductive justice, and economic justice. The statewide leaders all work for organizations that also must commit to allowing the Institute members the time and latitude necessary to take part in intensive, multi-day, in-person trainings five times over the course of the year.

Institute participants achieve great personal growth and leadership skills. And, they have influenced the state legislature. Over 17 years, 32 issues identified by Institute participants have been passed as legislation in California. Several Institute participants have gone on to work for legislators and some have been elected to public office.  We also have an alumni group of over 500 advocates. These leaders are still engaged in shaping the policy conversation in California to better reflect the concerns of cisgender and transgender women, non-binary and genderqueer people and transgender men, and communities of color.