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The uprising after George Floyd's murder and the pandemic's mounting toll spurred a change of direction for Ethelind Kaba, the new executive director of the Ann Bancroft Foundation in St. Paul.

While working in marketing and communications at for-profit firms, Kaba volunteered with organizations focused on affordable housing, education and closing achievement gaps.

After spring 2020, Kaba said, she wanted also to devote her work life to where "advancing human dignity and potential was all I did eight hours, 10 hours a day, however long it takes."

Kaba joined the Center for Economic Inclusion as vice president of external affairs for the St. Paul-based nonprofit.After a year there, she took the executive director job at the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

Bancroft, the renowned polar explorer, launched the foundation in 1997. It offers micro-grants to girls in grades K-12 to pursue "dream" activities such as dance, sports or life skills classes or programs. The goal is to build girls' confidence and self-esteem through such activities, mentorship and continuing development opportunities.

With many activity providers closed because of the pandemic, the foundation switched to making technology grants so recipients could take part in activities online, said Kaba, also recently named to Augsburg University's Board of Regents and secretary of the board for Jeremiah Program, a nationwide organization working to transform the lives of single mothers and their children.

The Ann Bancroft Foundation hopes to increase giving to girls in greater Minnesota, Kaba said. It awarded nearly $182,000 to 378 girls in 2019, with 25% of recipients outside the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, according to its annual report. It's trying to raise the outstate share to at least 40% of participants.

The foundation's fall grant application period is open through Oct. 1. Girls must identify a mentor — such as a teacher, coach or family friend — to help them with the online application, support them through their grant activities and serve as a continuing resource.

Q: What is the foundation's mission?

A: The foundation was founded by polar explorer Ann Bancroft, the first woman to reach both the North and South poles, with courage and grit. In that spirit, the foundation seeks to empower girls to go after whatever big, courageous dreams they have. Ultimately what we want is to build self-efficacy so they know that they can thrive in whatever they choose to go after.

Q: What about Floyd's murder and the pandemic led you to change your career path to nonprofits?

A: It was a very intentional move. It was a question of, how do I want to meet this moment we're in for sustainable change? How do I want to meet this moment we're in to advocate for racial equity, for gender equity? And to do that, I wanted to move into the nonprofit sector. That's where I intend to be.

Q: Why did the foundation opportunity appeal to you?

A: I am an immigrant, from Ghana, raised by women, and went to an all-girls boarding school. My lived experience has been about how do we give women and girls the tools to make decisions. How do we have them be the architects of their own stories? Because then girls and women are powerful and unstoppable.