Berger-Marks Foundation closes, invests remaining funds into new WILL Empower women’s Labor leadership project

WILL EMPOWER will be led by Lane Windham (left), of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington, and Sheri Davis-Faulkner (right), of the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Jersey. – Berger-Marks photo

After nearly 20 years in operation, the Berger-Marks Foundation is closing its doors and investing its remaining funds into a new project called WILL (Women Innovating Labor Leadership) Empower to build women’s leadership in Labor organizations.

Established in 1997, the private foundation has been dedicated to supporting women who organize for social justice and promoting the leadership of women in the Labor Movement. The ambitious new initiative will identify, nurture, train and convene a new generation of women labor leaders.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said she anticipates that “WILL Empower will be an indispensable new resource to build women’s leadership for the entire Labor Movement.”

The Kalmanovitz Initiative (KI) for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington and the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Jersey are co-leading the project.


Building a pipeline of future women labor leaders comes at a time when the Labor Movement faces severe economic and political challenges.

“Mobilizing women and empowering them to lead unions is the key to revitalizing a potent workers’ movement,” said Linda Foley, foundation president. “The WILL Empower project will train and lift up a new generation of powerful and diverse women who can chart a forward path for working people. The foundation is excited to support this new program as our legacy of building women’s leadership in Labor and beyond.”

The Berger-Marks Foundation closed on June 30, passing its remaining assets of more than $1.5 million to the project. WILL Empower will be led by Sheri Davis-Faulkner at CIWO and Lane Windham at KI. Windham and Davis-Faulkner are organizers, educators, scholars and activists who have collectively spent over 40 years working in the Labor Movement and developing women leaders.


WILL Empower programming will begin this fall and will use a broad approach to reach women throughout the Labor Movement from the rank-and-file to national staff and officers. Initial programming will cover four areas:

• Collective learning and mentoring. Cohorts of collective learning and mentoring will include next-generation women leaders in the Labor Movement, and mid-career women ready to advance. This project will offer multiple training, mentoring and peer-group opportunities.

• Academic fellowships. Women union activists who want a break from daily responsibilities to develop bold ideas for advancing social and economic justice for women workers will be offered innovative academic fellowships.

• Staff apprenticeships. Recent college graduates and rank-and-file workers will have access to staff apprenticeships with unions and other economic justice organizations.

• Future of Labor Interactive Project. A multi-media, interactive communications platform, titled the Future of Labor Interactive Project (FLIP), will offer aspiring women leaders resources to help them fight for economic justice. It will include online forums, research hubs, community-based projects and reports and data.

“We are proud of the work our foundation has supported,” Foley said. “But there is much work left to be done. We see the WILL Empower project as the most effective way to carry it on.”


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