Director, Women’s Policy Institute


Having spent more than twenty-five years in senior management positions in nonprofit organizations, Marj was frustrated by public policy that was disconnected from real community need and by nonprofit leaders who mistakenly believed that “it was illegal for nonprofits to lobby.” Marj found kindred spirits at the Women’s Foundation of California and helped create the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI).

Each year since 2003, the Women’s Policy Institute has trained up to 30 California women, transgender, and gender non-conforming community leaders to become skilled agents of statewide policy change.

Women’s Policy Institute fellows are a diverse group by design. Each class reflects the geographic, racial, age, class, gender, and sexual orientation diversity of California. Fellows bring varied advocacy experience working on a range of issues including: health, reproductive rights, environmental justice, criminal justice, trauma prevention and services, and economic justice. Under Marj’s leadership, a skilled faculty equips the fellows with expertise on the inner workings of the public policy process. Elevating their own policy ideas, fellows learn how to research and draft legislation, lobby legislators, testify at public hearings, and get the Governor’s signature! Marj also enhances fellows’ skills in collaboration and team building.

During the program, fellowswork in teams to develop and lobby California state legislation of their choosing with a mentor who is experienced in public policy work. The Women’s Policy Institute has yielded tremendous success. In the sixteen years Marj led the program, fellows have contributed significantly to the passage of forty new laws. But success for Institute fellows is measured less by the fate of these policy projects and more by the invaluable experiences gained from navigating the complex legislative process and building enduring relationships with elected and appointed officials, legislative staff, and other advocates.

Marj worked with organizations in five other states (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Georgia, Illinois and Wisconsin) to replicate the WPI in their states.

“It is hard to imagine the Women’s Policy Institute without Marj. Her depth of knowledge, understanding of groups and how they function, and her fabulous sense of humor made the Institute one of the most valuable experiences I have had the pleasure of participating in. I learned so much from her–and it was so much fun besides!”

—Karen Shain
Co-Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Oakland, California

Watch this inspiring 6-minute video about the Women’s Policy Institute. Listen to powerful personal and community change that happens when women learn how to write a bill, influence legislators and mobilize communities to pass proposed legislation.

Marj is interviewed, along with Kim Carter, Women’s Policy Institute Fellow and Executive Director, Time for Change Foundation, Diana Spatz, Executive Director, Lifetime, and Judy Patrick, CEO, Women’s Foundation of California.