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Michigan Women's Foundation targets West Michigan

December 17, 2013
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Michigan Women's Foundation targets West Michigan
Judith Welch. Courtesy Michigan Women’s Foundation

The Michigan Women’s Foundation has always had a strong West Michigan presence, but after 27 years, the organization will enhance its commitment to the region by opening an office in Grand Rapids.

Judith Welch

Judith Welch, formerly the vice president of Inforum and Inforum Center for Leadership, will lead the West Michigan office as executive director, beginning on Jan. 2.

In addition to eight years at Inforum, Welch previously served as manager of educational services for National Heritage Academies and president of the Uptown Cleaners chain.

She was the first woman president of Western Michigan’s Better Business Bureau board of directors, recently recognized as one of the women in the 2013 Tribute Awards Women of Achievement Gallery, a past nominee of the prestigious ATHENA Award and past member of the Grand Rapids Art Museum Art Alive board of directors.

She has balanced her career with her other roles as a wife and mother.

Welch joins Deborah Phillips, a recently retired Priority Health executive, who is serving as the West Michigan office’s director of philanthropy.

Welch said she expects the pair will have a physical office space some time in the early part of next year.

“The board and I are delighted to welcome Judith Welch to our executive team,” said Carolyn Cassin, MWF president and CEO. “Her experience, contacts and skills will reinforce our network on the west side of the state. Her accomplishments as both a female entrepreneur and a women’s professional association executive will make a substantive contribution to further advancing the social, economic and professional well-being of Michigan women.”

Michigan Women’s Foundation

A statewide organization, MWF has operated from southeast Michigan since it’s founding in 1987.

It was founded by a group of 30 women who recognized the disparity in philanthropic support of opportunities for women and girls.

At that time, 3 percent of charitable giving specifically supported women and girls in the U.S. Additionally, women were experiencing a limited access to capital and the resources to start or grow a business.

MWF’s founders wanted to change those statistics and devoted the organization to fostering economic empowerment of the state’s women and girls through philanthropy and investment.

To date, Welch reported that MWF — through the support of more than 11,000 individuals, families, corporations and foundations — has made more than $3.5 million in grants to more than 500 organizations working to advance equality and remove barriers.

West Michigan growth plans

Despite its successes, there is still vast room for improvement in investment in women and girls across Michigan, and MWF is looking to make an even bigger impact by enhancing its efforts in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Traverse City.

“There remains a compelling need and a significant opportunity for women to further advance their social, economic and professional well-being to a level that is equitable,” Welch said.

“The level of commitment has been amazing across the state, but the way you are really going to bring it back home to the community is having somebody on board in the local communities, and I was born and raised in Grand Rapids. . . . . My strength is my connections,” Welch said. “That is what we need to have is the connections in those local communities, because individuals want to see that the money is staying locally.”

Welch said that popular MWF programs such as Camp Moxie, University of Life, Power of 100 Women and the Young Women for Change would be initiated in West Michigan.

Additionally, the West Michigan office will collaborate with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women’s microloan program.

Welch highlighted the three main purposes of MWF and said those will remain the focus of the West Michigan office: to deploy resources in the form of time and money by connecting and embedding in the business community with investment capital and entrepreneurial opportunities for women; investment in women entrepreneurs by helping them launch and grow their businesses and to advance the next generation of women leaders.

Developing women leaders

Personally, Welch said that advancing the next generation of leaders is the focus that excites her the most.

“We have the Young Women for Change — it’s the first girls-as-grant-makers program in the country, and it develops young women leaders, creates social change, and it’s creating social entrepreneurship opportunities for young women,” Welch said.

“Camp Moxie, we have a great partnership with the Girl Scouts, and it’s a week long interactive leadership experience for high school girls.

“We have scholarships for women returning to school and young women starting their education.”

Welch said that her vast network will be vital to establishing the organization’s West Michigan programs, and she is looking forward to tapping the community resources necessary to advance opportunities for women and girls in the region.

“What we love is that the partners and supporters of MWF, they embrace this need and commit not only financially, but intellectually to leave this world a better place for women and girls,” Welch said.

She added, “We are going to be creating more opportunities for women to get involved in the local communities.”

By acting locally, while still remaining connected statewide, Welch expects MWF to make even greater strides.

“We want to learn from each other ways to collaborate and support each other,” Welch said. “We want to be able to partner in those communities with agencies and organizations that can help move MWF forward to the next level.” 

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