Melanie Bridgeforth has dedicated her career to fighting for equitable systems that impact vulnerable populations.
She is drawn to organizations who are disrupters for change including The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “Both [organizations] I’ve had the privilege to lead after admiring from afar. Women and children are the most vulnerable populations in any society,” Bridgeforth shared with Yellowhammer News.
An exchange with a professor in college spurred a burning mission in Bridgeforth’s heart to change her community. When asked about her future plans, Bridgeforth expressed her sole desire was to “change the world.” Her professor responded without missing a beat, ‘Then you must change policy.” Those simple words struck a match that would light a path to servant leadership in a career that has spanned from direct service to systems change, from local to national stages, and from neighborhoods to boardrooms.
Since March 2018, Bridgeforth has served as the president/CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham – the state’s only philanthropic foundation investing with a gender focus. Their mission states, “The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham accelerates economic opportunity for women and their families through philanthropy, research and advocacy.”
Tracey Morant Adams, TWF chair-elect and chief community development officer at Renasant Bank, says “Melanie Bridgeforth is a remarkable champion for women and families in our community as leader of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. She works diligently to advance solutions to women’s issues in our state through innovative and creative strategies which promote effective fund development and policy legislation. We are thrilled to have her expertise at The Women’s Fund.”
Bridgeforth works with community stakeholders to bolster opportunities for women to thrive. She believes that everyone benefits when women are economically secure. Bridgeforth and her team identify critical needs of women and then find direct-service organizations that can help address those needs.
As a philanthropist, Ms. Bridgeforth studies evidence-based programming policy and programs that can solve complex social problems. She also spends time studying trends on giving and has discovered patterns which point to a need to invest in women.
“What we see is that in modern day, women are at the forefront of philanthropic engagement and impact, which is to be applauded. Yet, those same giving patterns demonstrate that less than 7% of U.S. philanthropy targets benefiting the lives of women and girls. Gender impact investing has immense potential for positive social change, not only for women, but for their families and communities. It lifts everyone. Everywhere I go, I encourage people to give and target your gift in a way that lifts all ships. Investing in women produces that outcome,” she told Yellowhammer News.
Prior to taking the helm at the Women’s Fund, Bridgeforth was executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s children, where she led a transformation of public policy and doubled its operating budget. She also has prior service as government relations director with the American Heart Association and involvement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Bridgeforth is a founding member of the board of Partnership for America’s Children, and she is on the national steering committee for the KIDS COUNT network, an advisory council of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Her current and past board memberships include Preschool Partners, Project Horseshoe Farm and the Chemical Addictions Program. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She is also a dedicated volunteer at the American Heart Association and member of First United Methodist in downtown Birmingham.
A native of Athens, Melanie is a fifth-generation Alabamian. She credits her parents, John and Catherine Bridgeforth, as the two greatest catalysts and contributors to her success. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
When asked what legacy she hopes to leave for future female leaders, Bridgeforth would like to invite them to the table.
“As a young lobbyist starting off in Montgomery, one of my dearest mentors taught me, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Wise words that stick with me to this day. So, for me, the Woman of Impact award signifies that in some way each of us and those who will follow are ‘at the table,’” she shared with Yellowhammer News.
Once at the table, Bridgeforth has some encouraging words for those who will follow in her footsteps of inspiring change: “Be fearless and don’t sit on an iota of your privilege. Use any influence you have for the common good. And never give in to scarcity mentality, as you create your path to greatness, build a sturdy bridge so that other women can follow. There’s enough room for all of us at the top, and if there’s not — make room.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Melanie Bridgeforth a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.