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Women’s Voices amplified

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Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy watch out.

After conception in Missoula nine years ago, Women’s Voices for the Earth has received a $200,000 seed grant specifically geared toward the creation of a national organization.

The only group working at the intersection of the women’s and environmental movements, WVE caught the eye of the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston.

“They thought we filled a niche that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country and asked us if we wanted to fill it in a national capacity,” Executive Director Amy Boulanger said. “The grant is intended for us to pick regional efforts to work toward national change.”

With the money, WVE plans to open up local offices in strategic parts of the country and house a representative within the Beltway. The location of the offices has yet to be determined. Exploration is underway to identify locations of greatest need, and where the opportunity for collaboration is most accessible.

Local founder Bryony Schwan is excited about the expansion.

“We’re really thrilled. It’s been a long, hard road. We started our first year with $13,000, including my salary,” Schwan said. “It took a long time to convince the funding world that we fill a valuable niche. It’s always been my dream for WVE to be bigger than Montana.”

What opened funders’ eyes? The fact that WVE is working to tap into a fiery voting sector with powerful potential: women.

“Many women report that the environment is their main concern, but very few actually belong to an environmental group,” Schwan said.

WVE has been successful because the group doesn’t “preach to the choir.” Schwan reaches out to women who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves environmentalists, but who are concerned with health issues related to a polluted environment, she said.

While WVE now has money to spend nationally, part of the deal is that they can’t spend the grant money here at home.

“Just because we have this grant doesn’t mean that we don’t need support from our people in Montana,” Schwan said. “There are two kinds of power: money and the voice of voters. Every member is critical. That’s where our power is.”

VE will receive an annual $200,000 grant three times if the donors like what they see. Schwan hopes to see WVE eventually represent “many thousands of women” nationally.

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