Business

Women of achievement: Dawn Oliver Wiand has 'the greatest job'

Iowa Women's Foundation executive director aims to improve women's lives

“If women are successful, their families and the community are better off,” says Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
“If women are successful, their families and the community are better off,” says Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Dawn Oliver Wiand strives to make a difference in the lives of Iowa women and girls.

After working for 30 years in various not-for-profit capacities in the Kansas City area, Oliver Wiand returned to Iowa in 2013 to take the helm of the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

“I now have the greatest job,” she said. “It’s one of 140 women’s funds around the globe that work to improve the lives of women.

“If women are successful, their families and the community are better off.”

In 2015, Oliver Wiand launched an 18-community tour to find out why 70 percent of Iowa female-headed households struggle for economic security.

“Through focus groups, we identified six key barriers to women’s economic self-sufficiency — education and training, child care, housing, transportation, employment and mentorship,” she said.

IWF returned to those same 18 communities in 2016 to share the results of the focus groups. Of the six barriers, the communities identified child care as the most significant.

“Three years ago, I would never have believed child care was the No. 1 issue,” Oliver Wiand noted. “I would have thought education or employment, but women with children can’t go to school or work if they don’t have child care.”

With data reinforcing the focus group findings, Oliver Wiand came to the conclusion that Iowa is in the middle of a child care crisis. She has spent the last three years working to create solutions.

First, she led the establishment of IWF’s Child Care Solutions Fund, which invests in organizations and institutions focused on providing access to quality affordable child care.

Second, she guided formation of the Building Community Child Care Solutions Collaborative, which currently is working in 22 communities across the state to improve access to child care.

“When we go out, we’re not just talking to child care providers,” she said. “We are working with economic development people, businesses, schools, philanthropic organizations, all sorts of stakeholders. We’re building community-led solutions, which is pretty exciting.”

Oliver Wiand’s impact on IWF extends beyond her work on the child care project. At the same time, she’s been growing the organization’s base of financial support exponentially.

In 2018, IWF raised close to $400,000, almost $100,000 more than in 2017. In addition, the foundation launched its Legacy Campaign, securing 35 pledges of $2,000 each to build a sustainable financial structure for the organization.

The experience, she said, has helped her grow personally.

“Things that used to be scary and nerve wracking — like asking a major donor for money — aren’t so bad now,” she said. “I never dreamed I’d be able to stand up in front of an audience of 900 and give a presentation.”

With her 60th birthday just around the corner, Oliver Wiand said there is much more she wants to accomplish before she retires.

“We need a pool of money so IWF can continue to address women’s and girl’s issues well into the future,” she said.

“My plan is to take the organization to where we want it, and then go to the beach.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Look for Wiand’s “Iowans’ Ideas” guest column, on the effects of the child care shortage on Iowa’s workforce, in the Feb. 24 Iowa Ideas magazine. The magazine will be inserted into Gazette subscribers’ newspapers next Sunday as a premium, or can be purchased separately or as a subscription by going to Store.TheGazette.com.

l Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

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