As Carly Zimmerman steps into her new role as the chair of Women of Vision (WOV), two things are certain: She knows her Jewish community, and she is a fierce advocate for women’s rights and empowerment.
“I’m excited, nervous and feel a healthy amount of pressure to do ‘big things’ in the next two years,” said Zimmerman, who begins her position in September. “I’m inspired to lead because of what my mom has taught me and to create a better world for my daughter, Norah, and her generation. I really want to make them proud.”
Throughout her impressive career as a Jewish communal professional, Zimmerman served as the Jewish life director of Hillel at the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University, CEO of Challah for Hunger and, most recently, senior relationship director at BBYO.
While Zimmerman left the Jewish professional world this past year to join her family business, Larson Lightning Protection, she remains committed to supporting Jewish life as a lay leader of WOV, an affinity group of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia that transforms the lives of Jewish women and girls through grant-making and advocacy.
In her current role as WOV Grant Review Committee co-chair, Zimmerman, along with fellow co-chair Amy Cohen, oversaw grant cycles that allocated dollars from the WOV Endowment Fund to innovative programs in Greater Philadelphia and in Israel.
This year, WOV members reviewed programs in Israel and voted to grant $18,000 a year for two years to ELI for a program that creates systematic change through educational programming to reduce sexual abuse against women in the Israel Defense Forces. The group also granted $25,000 a year for two years to Mavoi Satum’s program that reduces gender inequality, discrimination and abuse in Israel’s marriage and divorce legal system and advocates for more women representation in the courts.
“My goal is to honor our past and grow Women of Vision’s impact. I look forward to welcoming more members and increasing our ability to make larger grants to organizations in Philadelphia and Israel,” explained Zimmerman, who is also on the WOV Executive Committee and a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board. “Social change and grant-making is at the heart of Women of Vision, and I’d like to get as many women involved in this process as possible.”
We spoke with Zimmerman to learn more about her and her journey within WOV.
Why and when did you first get involved with WOV?
My first involvement was as an applicant to the WOV grant process. In 2013, I became the CEO of Challah for Hunger, a nonprofit that seeks to end food insecurity, and Women of Vision was the first Philadelphia group to make a significant grant to support our work. The grant from WOV came with so much more than financial support.
Many members of WOV became Challah for Hunger’s (and my) biggest champions and advocates, and a WOV member even joined our board of directors. I was surprised and flattered to be asked to join a few years later, and it was a very easy “yes” because of the relationships I’d formed with WOV members.
What was one of your most meaningful experiences in WOV?
During my first Grant Review Committee meeting, I remember several members debating and disagreeing fiercely about a specific grant proposal. The room was tense and divided. I was nervous about what would happen when the meeting ended, but as the room emptied out, I watched in surprise as several of the women that were just minutes ago debating each other made plans for lunch and checked in with each other about their families.
This interaction, which I’ve seen repeat time and time again, has taught me so much about the importance of respectful debate and disagreement in these particularly polarized times. Women of Vision is proof that we can and need to be able to work together with people we disagree with and have relationships outside our own belief bubbles.
What advice has the outgoing WOV Chair Mindy Fortin given you?
Mindy has taught me an immeasurable amount through her actions and mentorship, but the quality I will try to carry on is her commitment to social change. In every conversation, she communicates the importance of our social change grant-making and advocacy and keeps us on mission so that we can accomplish our goals. I admire her conviction and tenacity, and the way she brings others into our work. I will continue to look up to her and call her often (thanks, Mindy!).
How do you think this most recent grant cycle went?
This was a particularly challenging year. Because of the pandemic and the instability of the Israeli government and its inability to pass a budget, there was so much need from NGOs in Israel. Between the Jewish Federation professional team, our committee, Amy, Mindy and me, we read nearly 60 proposals, and every one of them was certainly worthy of support. The challenge was balancing our mission for social change, which takes time, and the request for direct service that would help people immediately.
Our committee certainly rose to this challenge. I’m very happy with the level of engagement from our committee members and our overall Women of Vision community, despite our entire process taking place virtually. I’m very grateful to Amy as well as Rachel Berger and Tali Lidar for their partnership as Jewish Federation staff.
Is there a hobby or skill that you picked up during the pandemic?
I’m one of the many who joined the Peloton world this year, and I’m unashamedly obsessed.
What is something people probably don’t know about you?
I recently left the Jewish community as a professional and joined my dad in our family business — Larson Lightning Protection, Inc. I’m learning so much about lightning protection systems and spending a lot of time on construction sites.
For more information about Women of Vision, contact Shara Swift, Jewish Federation’s Affinities & Donor Engagement Manager, at email@example.com.