Women’s Philanthropy Network: Building a Stronger Future for North Louisiana
By Scott Rutherford
he Women’s Philanthropy Network (WPN) just may be the most impactful organization that you’ve never heard of in our community. Undoubtedly, its members are making an outsized impact on our area’s educational institutions. “It’s one of Shreveport’s best kept secrets, but it has been very effective, nonetheless,” said Janie Richardson, one of the organization’s founding members. “The Women’s Philanthropy Network plays an important role in helping make improvements in the education of our children. We try to live up to our motto: Guided by values, powered by partnerships.”
Founded in 2005, WPN was established after Richardson learned of a similar organization of philanthropic women in Florida. “I heard about the concept of a giving circle like this from a childhood friend of mine who helped start her group in Pensacola,” Richardson said. “The idea is that women come together and pool their dues. Then members hear proposals for projects to help underwrite and sponsor in the community, and then they vote on it.”
Richardson was so impressed by the idea that she reached out to Paula Hickman, who was executive director of The Community Foundation at the time, to help put together a group in Shreveport. They approached other women who were working in philanthropic areas in the community and WPN was born. To date, the network has granted more than $1.2 million to education initiatives in our community.
Just a few of the many programs that have benefitted from WPN’s grants include Step Forward, a data-driven organization that helps reveal obstacles that impoverished children face with the goal of making positive changes for those children; the Caddo Parish Schools Transformation Zone, a program designed to help and strengthen persistently struggling schools in the Caddo Parish school system; Volunteers for Youth Justice, a program that uses volunteers to mentor, advocate for, and lead at-risk youth in Northwest Louisiana; and the LSU Shreveport Foundation.
Some grants have led to even bigger opportunities for the recipient. “We gave a $45,000 grant one year to Southwood High School for seniors to go to LSU Health Sciences Center and work on research projects with researchers at the university,” Richardson said. “Then Southwood made a grant application to The National Institute of Health and received a $1.3 million grant to continue funding for the program.”
The importance of education cannot be overstated, either for the child or the community, Richardson said. “We need an educated workforce to attract businesses. Our children need to be educated because it makes a difference in their quality of life,” she said. “Shreveport is a great place to live, and we need to keep working on this and help our children as best we can.”
To learn more about the Women’s Philanthropy Network and what you can do to come alongside their efforts to provide educational initiatives in our community, visit their page on the Community Foundation of North Louisiana website, www.cfnla.org, or email them at