Ana Oliveira is the president and CEO of The New York Women's Foundation, a nonprofit that pursues economic security and justice for women and girls. For more than 20 years, she has been a staunch defender of human rights, developing programs for vulnerable populations throughout New York City. The first female and Latino executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, Oliveira expanded services for women, Latinos, and African-Americans affected by HIV and AIDS. Called "an unsung hero" by Newsweek, Oliveira was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the New York City Commission on AIDS. In a second mayoral appointment, she helped lead an investigation into the barriers to success faced by young Black and Latino men in New York City. Oliveira earned her MA in Anthropology from The New School for Social Research in 1984.
She was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities at The New School's May 2012 commencement ceremony.
The New School Alumni Association: What made you choose The New School?
Ana Oliveira: I chose The New School because I was looking for an academically advanced environment that was involved in the world as well, and one which engages students as thinking and social practitioners, valuing their own life experiences.
The New School valued the reasons for my interest in returning to school, specifically my search for a critical thinking approach. My early memories are of a terrific group of colleagues from different countries and from the US, and of being in a stimulating environment where I was connected to NYC and current issues.
NSAA: How did The New School shape your worldview?
AO: My studies at The New School in anthropology - with the perspectives of critical anthropology and feminist anthropology - are a fundamental cornerstone of my thinking. They were a capstone to my prior learning and significantly expanded them. Critical and feminist anthropology approaches provided me with additional tools to understand the construction of power by de-bunking cultural superiority of self over "the other," and dismantling rigid gender constructs.
I was particularly influenced by Anthropology Professors Shirley Lindenbaum and Rayna Rapp, for both their impeccable, pioneering, and inspiring work as well as their mentoring. The work of Stanley Diamond, Poet and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Humanities, was also deeply inspiring.
NSAA: Tell us about the New York Women's Foundation.
AO: The NYWF is a local, public and participatory, community-rooted foundation, which seeks to build economic justice for women and families in NYC. The Foundation was created 25 years ago and has invested $32 million in local leaders and organizations who are working towards the same goal.
Our grantees are partners - incredible leaders and creators of solutions to deep problems they and their communities face. Resilience, creativity, and the importance of collective action are just a few of the things we've learned from our grantees. Grantee partners are the authors of the change they want to see. The Foundation helps by bringing funds, access, and additional visibility to their work.
NSAA: What distinguishes the NYWF's approach to philanthropy?
AO: By partnering with incredible leaders, we are doing our job and building a New York City that works for all. For example, we partnered with influential labor organizer Ai-jen Poo, now director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, when she was just starting Domestic Workers United in New York City. The NYWF was their first foundation funder.
We work to democratize philanthropy. We currently have more than 8,000 supporters, who make gifts ranging from $10 to $1 million and New Yorkers have an active voice in deciding where our investments go. Our grant making process is participatory, with 150 volunteers annually reading proposals, conducting site visits, and making recommendations to the Board of Directors for where funding should go.
When we are able to convene other foundations and philanthropists, we showcase the power of funding community organizing and working toward broad-based systemic and policy change. Then we are doing our work and influencing philanthropy to invest in justice.
NSAA: What are your hopes for today's New School students?
AO: I hope that New School students continue to take the rigor of academics and social engagement into the world. I hope they speak about the urgent need for academics to be a partner to civil society in addressing the most pressing issues we face, and in building justice. I also hope that they are vocal about defining success not only by how much graduates earn, but also by how much graduates gain by choosing to make a difference in the world towards equality and social justice.
We would love for New School students to join us as participants in the grant making process. They can learn about opportunities to get involved by visiting us online.