Empowering Wyoming Women: An Interview with Mickey Babcock, Founder of the Equipoise Fund

June 18, 2015

Jeff Clarke continues his series of conversations with leaders in the region and across the field with Mickey Babcock, founder of the Equipoise Fund, a private foundation that aims to energize, enrich and encourage the vision, voice and visibility of Wyoming's women and girls.

Jeff Clarke: Tell us about your journey into philanthropy. How did your life experiences and worldview lead to the founding of the Equipoise Fund and how does the Equipoise Fund reflect those passions and interests?

Mickey Babcock: It seems I have been “philanthropic” most of my life, starting as a young girl, always trying to find a way to make things better for others. I choose to believe that the word “philanthropy” encompasses more than the exchange of money; I see it as a way to love and serve the other, in whatever capacity is needed.

I chose to begin The Equipoise Fund as a 50th birthday gift to myself, primarily using funds I had held after my retirement from my design practice. In the late 1990s, I had had the remarkable opportunity to help set up the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and could see the power of gender specific funding and focus. At the same time, I returned to Rhodes College to complete my undergraduate degree in anthropology/sociology, and used the knowledge to inform my worldview of philanthropy for Equipoise. The word “equipoise” has a variety of meanings; however, I choose to interpret that as “the space between opposing forces; balance.” In that way, our work would seek to find the balance point in the issues we addressed, and seek the “space” between the way others were addressing them.

Why did you choose to create Equipoise in 2003 as an operating foundation, rather than supporting philanthropy as an individual donor?

With a private foundation, I felt I could have more flexibility to address issues in non-traditional ways.

Wyoming is a special place. What makes philanthropy in Wyoming — "The Equality State" — unique and distinctive?

We did not fund in the first years following Equipoise's charter, but rather took that time to travel the state of Wyoming and listen to the practitioners and potential partners. Through that experience, we learned that “vision, voice and visibility” were important issues here.

We next chose to reach out and incubate good ideas around advancing opportunities for women and girls. Our documentary,  “Don’t Fence Me In," has been very successful in creating conversations around addressing issues facing Wyoming women. Our first project was Womentum, and the mentoring program has just completed its time in our “nest” and has fledged into its own 501c3. Currently, we are fledging Thrive and Raising Girls to become projects which will enhance and expand the programming for a Jackson-based organization called Girls Actively Participating! (GAP!)

At Philanthropy Northwest, we're particularly interested in advocacy and influence as a key component of effective philanthropy. How does your policy work advance your mission?

We were approached by State Rep. Rosie Berger (R-Big Horn) to assist in enhancing the quality of experience for the women of the Wyoming Legislature. That program has led to the establishment of the first Women’s Caucus in the history of Wyoming. The caucus has chosen to focus upon leadership training for both legislators and those who would seek office. Their signature program “Leap into Leadership” is credited with increasing women’s presence in elected office in all levels of government.

Equipoise is a relatively small, young foundation, yet you've created a remarkable portfolio of projects in just a decade. What advice would you offer philanthropists looking to seed successful, sustainable initiatives and programs?

In the years since we’ve been in this work, we have tried to have fun, an open mind and a sense of responsibility. Our strategic planning sessions are termed “trampoline sessions,” as we like to take ideas and put them on a metaphorical trampoline — the ones that bounce the highest are the ones that have the most energy, and therefore are the ones that advance. We really don’t measure, but see the results of our efforts in the energizing, enriching and encouragement of the vision, voice and visibility of the women and girls in Wyoming.

As you think about Wyoming’s future, what one or two challenges and opportunities keep you up at night and get you up in the morning?

It’s impossible to know what the future holds! However, I believe our efforts have helped others see the importance of women’s leadership in their community and the state — and that will make a difference in balanced decision-making going forward.