Partner Story

FISA Foundation Invests in Bringing Disability Lead Model to Southwestern Pennsylvania

Disability Lead
June 21, 2023

After a series of exploratory conversations, Disability Lead is excited and grateful to be partnering with FISA (Federation of Independent School Alumnae) Foundation to determine the potential to bring our model for building disabled leadership to a new geography. Serving Pennsylvania’s Southwestern region, FISA Foundation champions equity, justice, safety, and inclusion for women, girls, and people with disabilities, combating systemic racism that impedes progress for these populations.

FISA has had a longstanding commitment to cultivating disability leadership and has worked with many organizations in the Greater Pittsburgh region to increase professional, civic, and community leadership opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Despite our efforts, I knew it was possible to do more to advance disability leadership in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Having followed the impressive work of Disability Lead for many years and knowing the impact it has had in Chicago, it struck me that replicating the Disability Lead model in the Pittsburgh region was an ideal next step for our community,” noted Kristy Trautmann, FISA’s Executive Director.

The timing was perfect, since as part of a recent strategic planning effort, Disability Lead identified that expansion is both a goal and ongoing area of focus because other geographies need intersectional disability leadership, and we believe our model is one that can be well-adapted to other areas.

“When we first started talking with FISA and other disabled leaders in Pennsylvania, we heard many of the same concerns expressed there that we heard in Chicago at the time of our founding: the need to build a bench of leaders with disabilities, the lack of diverse disabled leadership in civic, corporate and nonprofit spaces, and the need for greater disability representation at tables of power and influence,” said Emily Blum, recalling initial conversations with FISA.

“If we want to create a future that is more just, humane, and equitable, we need diverse leaders to inform solutions and that includes people with disabilities. Disability Lead offers a model to build disability power and influence so that our communities are more inclusive and accessible for everyone.”
— Kristy Trautman, FISA Foundation

While FISA has focused much of its grantmaking on people with disabilities since it was founded more than 25 years ago, it recently recognized the need to put racial justice at the center of its work and rewrote its mission statement and strategic plan and shifted its grantmaking to better address racism and the resulting disparities that people of color with disabilities experience.

As a profile in the Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, “FISA and Executive Director Kristy Trautmann are making the case that racial-equity movements — whether focused on housing, employment, or economic mobility — won’t succeed if they don’t consider how race and disability conspire to deepen the problems they aim to solve.”

FISA has also partnered with the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation, two Pittsburgh-based funders, on a collaborative initiative to strengthen their work at the intersection of race and disability. Together these funders created the Race + Disability Webinar series to educate grantees and partners on the insidious and multiplying effects of ableism and racism and the need to prioritize people of color with disabilities in their work.

With Disability Lead as a new partner, FISA Foundation is interested in furthering its commitment to diverse, disabled leadership, by exploring how Southwestern Pennsylvania can build a version of our programming, including the Connections, Network and Institute programs, adapted to the unique needs and strengths of the Pittsburgh area.

Disability Lead has been awarded a $30,000 grant from FISA Foundation to begin a formal exploration of the replication of our model. Support from FISA will be invested in equipping the region to develop and connect diverse leaders with disabilities to opportunities for growth and strategic networking. Disability Lead will play the role of convener and educator, guiding and offering support, tools, and resources to diverse local leaders. These local leaders will have ownership of the movement, with Disability Lead providing the framework and structure to get them started.

“FISA Foundation’s commitment to championing equity, justice, safety, and inclusion for women, girls, and people with disabilities, and to combatting systemic racism that impedes progress, deeply aligns with Disability Lead’s mission and vision, and we look forward to our partnership.”
– Emily Blum, Disability Lead

Partner Story