Celebrating unsung heroes this International Women’s Day

As part of B Corp month, we want to take you ‘behind the B’ to share some of the story of where we came from. International Womens’ Day represents an opportunity to celebrate achievements of ordinary women who’ve made extraordinary contributions in their communities. I had the pleasure of meeting one such hero who jump started the revival of International Women’s Day in New Jersey, and she’s deeply connected with Common Interests’ history – not only has she been a client of the firm for many years, she’s Max’s mother!

In the early 90’s Shelley Jacobs Mintz was on the Board of Directors of an organization called Women helping Women in Metuchen, NJ, an organization offering peer-to-peer counseling and free legal services to women with issues related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, divorce, depression, loss, self-esteem, peer-pressure and addiction.

At a board meeting for Women helping Women, the members expressed their desire to organize an annual fundraising event with an aim to raise awareness for women in need. They sought Shelley’s help since she had a history of organizing events in her youth. She had a light-bulb moment and suggested they do an event on International Women’s Day.

Back in that day there wasn’t much awareness around International Women’s Day, so the board agreed for Shelley to organize a community event for women in public schools. She reached out to working women in her network and convinced them to talk on a panel in a public school for 5 minutes on things like – what do they do? What have they done? What are they looking forward to accomplishing in their life? And what’s come un-done? A few women agreed to come on the panel and talk to students.

That first year, women attended from an extremely diverse set of professions: the police department, firefighters, carpenters, doctors, and lawyers were all represented. Women spoke on subjects as diverse as mathematics, economics, history and politics. The first year this event was organized in just one school in Metuchen.

The success of the first year led to International Women’s Day expanding to all 4 schools in Metuchen the next year. The year after that it spread to all 25 school districts in Middlesex County and the year after that it became a statewide initiative which was organized in all 21 counties in New Jersey. In our research, we found this (brief) article in the NY Times celebrating this occasion! After only four years, it became an international project of the YWCA of the USA, one of the largest and oldest women’s organizations.

Building on the success of International Women’s Day, Shelley went on to become YWCA’s representative to the commission on the status of women at the United Nations. This happened at a formative time in Max’s life, and influenced his choices and career path. Its a big part of the reason our firm offers Gender Lens investments, and why we include questions about gender equality in our Values Questionnaire

We salute Shelley Jacobs Mintz and thank her for dedicating her life to uplifting women and being the driving force behind an idea that snowballed into a movement, a single woman with a vision to bring about change that impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We view our work at Common Interests as an extension of her work, and are proud to continue it into the future.