Access Strategies Fund was founded in 1999 by Maria and Greg Jobin-Leeds who were inspired by the success of social movements from civil rights to feminism, and anti-apartheid. Access Strategies Fund is a philanthropic foundation that harnesses the collective power of underserved communities to use the democratic process to improve their lives.
Maria was motivated by her parents’ dedication and leadership in the areas of civil rights and feminism. Maria’s childhood was surrounded by adults who worked to improve schools and stop the Vietnam War. Greg, a son of activist refugees who escaped Nazi persecution, developed a commitment of fighting for fairness and social justice from his parents’ experience. Both Maria and Greg became teachers, and became more aware of the barriers to healthy and happy lives that many students from low-income communities struggled against, particularly those in communities of color.
Maria and Greg are deeply committed to the power of community-driven philanthropy to advance progressive social change using a race, gender and economic lens. The sale of the family publishing business gave Maria and Greg the financial freedom to put community driven ideas into practice and support social justice issues such as democracy and education.
The Jobin-Leeds’ approach in the world of philanthropy was to develop the grassroots civic and social power to change laws and deliver resources to underserved communities. They understood that philanthropy could not provide enough services for every person, and that it should be used by frontline organizers to reprioritize the role of schools and government.
Maria is the Founder and the Board President of Access Strategies Fund, and has supported organizational strategy since the start of Access. Maria was the first Executive Director to Access Strategies Fund until she stepped into the Board Chair role in 2001.
In 2006, Maria and Greg Jobin-Leeds created The Partnership for Democracy and Education, LLC. The Partnership structure weaves together our multiple endeavors to house research, advocacy, investing, funding and organizing. The Partnership supports frontline organizations' leadership and organizes funders towards shared values and vision of a vibrant, thriving, and inclusive democracy and economy. By practicing Impact Investing, Maria is helping to shift the finance sector to deliver more capital to women and people of color to grow their enterprises, investment funds, and community wealth.
Greg was the co-founder and first president of the award-winning Schott Foundation for Public Education, whose mission is to develop and strengthen a broad-based and representative movement to achieve fully resourced, quality PreK-12 public education. Greg shares his expertise and inspiration, as a coach and mentor to other funders, movement leaders, and Jewish groups. He is a trainer and a speaker on college campuses, at religious meetings and foundations. Greg is the co-author of WHEN WE FIGHT, WE WIN! which weaves together stories, lessons and art of successful leaders and artists in today’s social movements. Published in 2016, the book is now in its 6th printing and is widely used in high schools and college campuses. Greg creates each of these works with Deymirie Hernández of AgitArte.
Maria and Greg are recipients of the following awards:
The 2008 Center for Community Change Champion award honoring their efforts in immigrant and poor people’s civic advancement.
Council of Foundations Critical Impact Award and
the Tikkun Olam “Healing the World” award from their temple Beth El, of Belmont, MA.
Access Strategies Fund provides grants to base-building, frontline-led, non-partisan 501 (c)(3) organizations and has organized philanthropy to collectivize and leverage resources for communities throughout Massachusetts. Access grantees have been instrumental to many movements, and work to build power for communities most marginalized by systems of oppression.
Access grantees have supported building more representative electoral systems; a solidarity economy as an alternative to our current economic systems; and work to amplify women’s public leadership and healing. This work includes many initiatives, processes, and projects that enhance voter engagement, fair redistricting, civic leadership programs, census outreach, collective governance, worker-owned cooperatives, community owned land trusts, spiritual and emotional health, relationship-building, and much more.
Access Strategies Fund has been led by many exceptional leaders, who have shaped the field of philanthropy and supported base-building, frontline-led non-profit organizations. The first Executive Director was Maria Jobin-Leeds from 1999 until 2001, who created pathways for initial programs and projects around civic engagements, which were developed in coordination with Lily Mendez. In 2001, Lily Mendez was promoted from Program Director to Executive Director. Lily pioneered much of the organizational structure of Access Strategies Fund and worked with the nonprofit community to build out grantmaking committees to inform grantmaking decisions. In 2007, Kelly Bates honed in on civic engagement work by launching the Mass Census Equity Fund and Drawing Democracy Fund. In 2014, Alexie Torres co-founded the Solidarity Economy Initiative and worked to expand access to healing justice for community organizers and leaders. In 2021, Jasmine Gomez and Cairo Mendes became Co-Directors of Access Strategies Fund. They lead Access to organize deeply in philanthropy, by shifting away from extractive towards transformational practices and incorporating collective governance into decision making processes.