United Way Women’s Leadership Council Celebrates 20 Years of Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders

October 15, 2015


Close to 1,000 of Greater Boston’s most passionate and powerful women philanthropists joined together this morning to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast and the work of the Women’s Leadership Council to create the next generation of leaders in the region.

Event co-chairs Susan Klink, partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP; Nancy Stokes of State Street Corporation; Jill Nyren of Sun Life Financial; and Denise Kaigler of MDK Brand Management led the special anniversary event, which featured keynote Maria Hinojosa, award-winning anchor and producer of NPR’s Latino USA.

Today’s event also honored Sandy Edgerley with the Women Who LIVE UNITED Award for her work in the community, including her work with United Way to ensure that the academic achievement of Boston students is not disrupted by violence and instability in communities.  Sister Margaret Leonard, former executive director at Project Hope, was honored today for her lifetime work helping low-income women gain skills and opportunities to achieve financial stability for themselves and their families.  Sheila Reyes, Hyde Square Task Force “alum,” Boston College student and United Way Marian L. Heard Scholar was also recognized at the event for her achievements.

“Twenty years ago, a small group of women set out to join together and collectively make more of an impact than any of them could alone,” said Michael K. Durkin, president at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.  “Today, that movement is more than 1,300 members strong.  This morning’s event recognizes the thousands of women leaders in our region who over the past 20 years have generated over $30 million to help address important issues such as leadership development of girls, healthy development of young children, literacy and college and career readiness.”

With Deloitte as the founding and sole sponsor, the first Women’s Leadership Breakfast in 1996 brought together 300 women and raised $117,000 for three community-based programs focused on building skills and self-esteem in girls.

It was an emerging issue at the time – research in the late 1990s showed that girls’ self-esteem began to decline as early as age 11, and only 29 percent of girls reported having a high sense of self-esteem at age 18.

“Deloitte became the founding sponsor of the Women’s Leadership Breakfast because its mission of raising funds for community-focused programming intended to bolster self-esteem in young women – closely aligned to our efforts to recruit, develop and retain women leaders at all levels of our organization,” explained Klink.

By 2012, the Women’s Leadership Breakfast had raised more than $14 million for programs that addressed the unique needs of girls, reaching more than 300,000 girls in the region.

In recent years, the philanthropic focus of the Women’s Leadership Council has broadened to reflect the diverse passions of its members and challenges facing the community – including early literacy, summer learning, and college and career readiness. For example, the Women’s Leadership Council has:

  • Held five Community Baby Showers, connecting over 325 low-income pregnant women and new parents to educational resources;
  • Collected and distributed more than 1,200 books to early education programs in Boston;
  • Raised funds to expand United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative, aimed at reducing summer learning loss and increasing literacy, to serve an additional 350 children last summer;
  • Funded internship and summer work experiences for 20 local youth.

The United Way Women’s Leadership Council is more than 1,300 members strong and is part of a national council with over 55,000 members who have collectively raised more than one billion dollars to support the mission of empowering young women throughout America. Additional corporate sponsors of the 20th Women’s Leadership Breakfast include State Street, Sun Life Financial, Bank of America and Boston Scientific.