4W stands for Women and Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World and it is UW-Madison’s higher education initiative for gender equity and wellbeing. Our mission is to make like better for women, and, in so doing, make the world better for all.  Our projects focus on women from historically marginalized groups in low-resource settings in Wisconsin and around the world.

Are we that group that is working to improve health care in Kenya? Yes! Working with artisans in Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal, and Kenya? Yes! Supporting women in science? Girls education? Gender and environment? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes, we welcome both men and women and people of all identities to work with us….

The “better for all” phrase of our mission opens a door to a broad range of issues and to the possibility of a full and truly holistic feminist praxis – including all people, all species, all places, and our planet. Grounded in human rights principles, 4W works toward equal rights for women and girls as an end in itself, while acknowledging the life-sustaining role that they play in the continuity of families, communities, civil society, local and global economies, and the earth.

Simply put, 4W works to understand, reimagine, and leverage the unique role of higher-education for global change.

When you hear about the breadth of our programs – health care, micro-enterprise, addressing sex trafficking at home and abroad, collective translation of Latin American poetry, financial literacy, you might wonder how we choose them. How do they fit together? Will we do anything???

Well, we’d like to think we can do anything, but we don’t….

4W projects must meet three criteria: 1) they address a compelling need; 2) there is a UW leader and community partner who want to work together and 3) and there is potential for scalability and significant impact. We provide strategic expertise and financial support in the start-up phase –which might take 1 to 3 years- and then we work to sustain the program with appropriate scale and funding, and a fitting institutional home. We’d like to think that, in this way, we are transforming our world, and transforming our university, at the same time.

We have also established a small grants program with support from the Wisconsin Women’s Philanthropy Council-with two faculty awards and 4 graduate student awards per year, and an internship program, with about 10 internships. These activities offer professional and intellectual growth, increased social impact, and job skills for our faculty and graduates. We hope to double the grant awards and number of awards in the coming years.

4W also hosts a robust series of events throughout the year. We have active 4W circles of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. In addition to co-hosting the 4W summit and Gender and Women Studies Conference, we also host an International Women’s Day event, and a range of research to practice fora. We are proud that a UNESCO Chair on Gender Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace was awarded to UW-Madison!

During recent months members of the 4W leadership circle have been reflecting on the work to date and looking toward the future, asking ourselves what is next…. We want to do more, we want to do better, we want to be more inclusive and diverse, and we want to work with an intensity that matches the challenges that are before us. We want to focus on voice and leadership.  Together, we’ll revisit important questions: What is feminist leadership? How can we practice it? How can we practice it better? And how can we practice it everywhere?

While there are many working definitions of feminist leadership, I’d like to recall the one offered by Gerda Lerner, a pioneer in women’s history from the University of Wisconsin. Lerner described feminist leadership as “…something that replaces and surpasses you, that has a life of its own because there are many people who will be drawn into it and who will give leadership to it … The point is that wherever we are as women, wherever we are situated in our lives, we can advance a feminist agenda if we stop thinking about how to be leaders and think rather about how to be doers.” (Lerner, 1995).

Many societal institutions are failing women right now, in fact, failing everyone. Leveraging the power of higher education for a better future, is powerful and possible and important. The 4W effort is unique at this time, but my hope is that this transformative work will become central and ordinary– business as usual – so that universities become safe places for everyone to learn, teach, grow and thrive. I’d like to see higher education lead, charting the course for real institutional change, so that other institutions can follow the example, and make life better for women, and make the world better for all.

—Lori DiPrete Brown, April 2019

Director, UW-Madison 4W Initiative