Below is an excerpt from the winning essay Jess’ team wrote, nominating her for a Stevie Award.
Jess Tomlin never sits still–not during meetings and not when it comes to raising more money for women and girls. Unleashing millions of dollars this year alone, Jess’ energy and unique perspective on women’s rights work has changed the face of storytelling, fundraising, and Canadian philanthropy.
Before she was hired as the CEO of The MATCH Fund, the organization narrowly escaped closing its doors for good. A visionary, Jess saw Canada’s need for a dedicated fund for marginalized women outside of Canada’s borders. From her experience in Zambia, Jordan, and Syria, Jess knew that these women, though they often receive the least amount of support, are poised to make the greatest change in their communities. While many Canadian non-profits support women, not a single other organization puts women’s ideas and innovations at the very centre of the work.
Taking cues from the tech sector, Jess is an early adopter, redefining innovation to include day-to-day hacks for social good and providing seed funding for women who are innovating within the most restrictive contexts.
With Jess at the helm, The MATCH Fund supports a variety of projects, including women boxing in the slums of Nairobi and apps mapping street harassment in the Middle East. Her laser focus on “hacking innovation” has garnered the interest of Canadian tech mavens and entrepreneurs. As a result, Canadians are more engaged than ever in the grittiness of human rights work. To appeal to these wider audiences, Jess has led The MATCH Fund to create playful digital campaigns in the form of online quizzes that expose sharp contrasts and have received international attention, reaching over 50 million impressions this year.
For the first four years of The Fund’s existence, Jess doubled revenue year-on-year. Due to her leadership, The Fund just concluded its first 3-year grant cycle that put $1 million into the hands of women in 25 countries. In 2017, she championed The Fund’s move to a new philanthropy space in Ottawa, connecting entrepreneurs, Indigenous philanthropists, and local & international funders to energize and ignite movements.
Jess, a distance runner herself, often says that “movement building is a marathon, not a sprint.” And she doesn’t just walk the talk. She runs it.
Jess knows that only accepting funding from existing sources means that the total amount of funding for women does not grow. Because of this, Jess looks for fresh ways to “grow the pie.” It’s not easy. Canadians give only 8% of their philanthropic dollars to international causes. On a governmental level, only 0.03% of Canada’s international aid actually makes it into the hands of women at the grassroots.
In 2016-2017, thanks to Jess’ vision, The Fund, in partnership with Nobel Women’s Initiative, launched an ongoing strategy to influence the Canadian government to unleash millions of new dollars for women and girls around the world. As a result of this strategy, in June 2017, Canada announced $150 million for women at the grassroots. Part of Canada’s new feminist international assistance policy, this funding represents a shift in the way that Canada conceives of international aid. In short, Jess Tomlin led The MATCH Fund from outlier to multiplier, demonstrating what focusing on local, women-led innovation can achieve.