2014 Women of the Year

2014 Women of the Year

    by -



    Vanessa Freytag says her inspiration comes from seeing and listening to other people.


    “I’m inspired by those take-my-breath away moments when I see such unexpected kindness,” she says. “I am always mindful of the fact that what I do every day would not be possible without the choice that so many donors make – a choice to support research, programs and grants that touch people whom the donor will never meet.”


    Freytag is the Executive Director at The Women’s Fun of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. She arrived at the Foundation almost 15 years ago when she started out as a volunteer and donor.


    When she entered the scene at The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, she owned two businesses, so the Foundation was her largest volunteer activity.


    Vanessa Freytag

    She moved up the ladder from volunteer to Leadership Council member to Chair of the Leadership Council back when The Women’s Fund was an all-volunteer entity.


    “In late 2006, we saw that scope of important work for women’s economic self-sufficiency was so large that we needed a staff person,” she explains.


    That’s when she had her epiphany. Freytag says the 20 hours a week she was spending with the Foundation were the best hours of her week, so she made the decision to step away from the corporate business world and put her talents to use at The Women’s Fund.


    “I love what I do,” Freytag smiles, adding that she’s always believed each individual person has the ability to make things better. “Some of us may change the life of one person, some may change a neighborhood and some may change the world,” says Freytag. Thankfully, her position at the Foundation allows her to have a finger on the pulse of the city’s philanthropic community.


    Freytag says she describes herself as a realistic-optimist. “I recognize that at some point challenges, problems and crises happen with all organizations,” she adds. “That’s the moment to step back, gather the best and brightest wherever you can find them, take a fresh look and find the path to move forward.”


    She emphasizes that there’s always a path forward, although it may take a different shape than you expected. “As long as you look hard enough you’ll find it,” she says.


    As for Freytag’s path forward, she’s working on several projects at The Women’s Fund. She’s particularly excited about research The Women’s Fund is doing to identify the jobs and income levels women are projected to hold as the Cincinnati region’s economy grows. “‘Research’ and ‘exciting’ may not be two words you’d think of putting together but we have seen that part of the challenge in addressing poverty is understanding the barriers that push hard working families down the ladder of economic prosperity,” Freytag says. “So far we know that 4 out of 7 job women will be in by 2020 do not pay enough to support herself and one child.”


    After the research is complete, the next step involves working to understand all of the barriers – childcare costs, transportation gaps, livable wage issues and skills gap – and how The Women’s Fund can bring the community together to create solutions that provide long term systemic changes so the world can be a better place for women.


    Another big project coming up for The Women’s Fund is called “A Conversation With…,” an event that features award-winning journalist Lisa Ling, who was chosen for her ability to bring the stories of issues that impact people to life.


    Freytag says she sees Ling as the person that takes the statistics and makes them human. When she comes to the Queen City on March 25 as part of celebration of Women’s History Month, it will be the largest event of the year.


    Freytag adds that she believes Ling coming to Cincinnati is a compliment to the progress and innovation in the region, as she receives many requests and chose to come here.


    “The future of The Women’s Fund is looking bright,” Freytag says, adding that they’ve worked hard in the last two years to bring the work they do – helping women and their families reach self-sufficiency – into the forefront of the community’s focus.


    “Traditionally, this topic has been seen as a ‘women’s issue’,” she explains. So the attention the topic has gained in the community has shown that it’s something that more than just women will care about or support.


    Freytag adds that two out of three children in poverty live in female-headed households. “Greater Cincinnati will only make progress on poverty, on many of the education challenges and on many low-income health concerns if we change the economic future for households who are headed by women.”


    While this may sound like bad news, Freytag says that she’s excited about the community leads, businesses and everyday men and women who are getting involved in the work that The Women’s Fund does.


    By helping families reach self-sufficiency, everyone wins, Freytag says. “Employers will have enough skilled workers to fuel their job growth, families have enough income to thrive, children have the tools and support they need to blossom and the region will flourish,” she adds.


    To learn more about Freytag or The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, visit www.cincinnatiwomensfund.org or send her an email at freytagv@gcfdn.org.