Director, Women's Policy Institute
“It is hard to imagine the Women’s Policy Institute without Marj. Her depth of knowledge, understanding of groups and how they function, and her fabulous sense of humor made the Institute one of the most valuable experiences I have had the pleasure of participating in. I learned so much from her--and it was so much fun besides!”
— Karen Shain, Co- Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Oakland, California
Having spent over twenty five years in senior management positions in nonprofit organizations, Marj was frustrated by public policy that was disconnected from real community need and by nonprofit leaders who mistakenly believed that "it was illegal for nonprofits to lobby." Marj found kindred spirits at the Women's Foundation of California and helped create the Women's Policy Institute (WPI).
Each year since 2003, the Women's Policy Institute has trained up to 30 California women community leaders to become skilled agents of statewide policy change. The Institute is a program of the Women's Foundation.
Women's Policy Institute fellows are a diverse group by design. Each class reflects the geographic, racial, age, class, and sexual orientation diversity of California. Fellows bring varied advocacy experience working on a range of issues including: health, reproductive rights, environmental justice, and economic justice. Under Marj's leadership, a skilled faculty equips the fellows with expertise on the inner workings of the public policy process. Fellows learn how to research and draft legislation, testify at public hearings, and influence the state budget process. Marj also enhances fellows' skills in collaboration and team building.
The only program of its kind in the nation, the Women's Policy Institute includes four training retreats in Sacramento, plus teleconferences, emails and an Intranet. This structure allows women to apply new public policy advocacy skills on a statewide level, while remaining active in their local communities. Fellows work together in teams, select policy issues, and learn together by pursuing passage of actual legislation in Sacramento.
The Women's Policy Institute fellows have achieved a 50% success rate for getting legislation they have developed or supported passed and signed into law. Victories include:
- The Violent Video Games Bill (AB 1179, passed 2005), restricts minorsâ€™ access to violent video games.
- Education Works! (SB 1639, passed 2004), improves access to community colleges for CalWORKs students and foster care youth.
- SB 1441, passed 2004, provides victims of domestic violence with the right to have a counselor present during any interview by a police officer or attorney.
- The California Safe Cosmetics Act (SB 484, passed 2005), requires cosmetics manufacturers to disclose all product ingredients linked to cancer or reproductive harm.
Legislative victories are only one measure of this program's success. The Women's Policy Institute also increases the number of women in California communities who have the public policy expertise and personal resourcefulness to have an impact on women's and girls' issues.
Marj is also developing leadership training curriculum for another Women's Foundation project, the Aging Justice Replication Project.