When people hear the news – Melody Shekari was named the new head of the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga – they often say the same thing: 

She’s a perfect fit. 

“A lot of people say it fits who I am as a person,” Shekari said. “I’m really happy and fortunate to work in this area and work with other really wonderful women.” 

Shekari’s background is abundantly full of policy, advocacy and campaign work that mirrors and matches the exact mission of the Women’s Fund. 

Established in 2008, The Women’s Fund exists as a policy and advocacy group devoted to issues women and girls in Hamilton County and Tennessee. One of its first efforts was to raise awareness around human trafficking and to specifically promote a statewide anti-trafficking hotline. 

“As a result of their efforts and other groups around the state, they had to hire more hotline workers. They put a spotlight on the issue,” said Shekari.  

Shekari, 36, grew up in Chattanooga and graduated from Girls Preparatory School before beginning a most promising career: an undergraduate degree in business Bentley Univ. followed by a master’s in public administration from Univ. of Washington then a law degree from Univ. of Southern California. She then started a private law practice and ran for public office.  

She is equal parts courageous, insightful and kind. As an attorney, Shekari was drawn to public defense work, able to champion individual cases and stories. But the work drew her away from something critical; she’s at her best when addressing larger systems, frameworks and big-picture policies.  

“That’s really where my passion lies. It’s very flattering that other folks also think I should be working in this space, she said. “I want to focus on doing policy and advocacy work full-time.” 

The Women’s Fund combines two arenas: collective philanthropy and policy/advocacy work. The Nightingale Network is a group of local philanthropists – anyone is welcome – that directs funds to effective programs that strengthen and secure the wellbeing and lives of women and girls. As its mission, the Women’s Fund proclaims “Making Life Better for Every Woman and Girl in Chattanooga” while working from three core foundations: 

Addressing the root causes of issues. 

Working as advocates, not politicians. 

Changing laws.  

“We have really been driven by needs in our community,” Shekari said. “Most of the things we focus on come from actual stories and experiences in Chattanooga. We’re in the process of working on some of those issues. Women’s health will be high on the list.” 

Shekari is a 2022 graduate of Leadership Chattanooga. The 38-year-old program invites Chattanoogans into a 10-month leadership program, connecting them with big thinkers, policymakers and elected officials while also building an intimate, treasured connection among each other in the group. 

“After the first sessions, I was sold,” Shekari remembers. “It really provides a unique view of our city. I recommend it to all sorts of other people. Even if you think you know a lot or are very involved in Chattanooga, it levels up your knowledge and discussion. It was amazing.” 

The 2024 Leadership Chattanooga cohort holds its graduation ceremony on May 23, 2024. Located at the beautiful Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, the ceremony begins at 6.30 pm. Tickets are available here.  

In the coming months, the Women’s Fund will address core issues affecting regional women and girls, including maternal health, infant mortality rates, substance abuse treatment programs and redefining financial abuse as a form of domestic abuse.  

In a variety of ways, the Fund will also continue to position women as effective, empowered and visionary leaders in Hamilton County.  

“We have fewer women in executive positions than you would think,” she said. “We have parity on the entry-level, but there’s a ladder with missing rungs. You’re on the ladder but you’re not necessarily going up. Or, if you are going up, you’re not going up quickly.” 

“Look at all the executives and CEOs in town. There aren’t many women. There are no women on the county commission. We’ve never had a woman as mayor. You see things like the maternal mortality statistic going down. And you see women and girls struggling here,” she said.  

For more information on the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga, visit chattanoogawomensfund.org

“We’re going around talking to a lot of local leaders,” Shekari said. “We’re now getting back into the community.” 

Join Leadership Chattanooga for their May 23rd graduation. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leadership-chattanooga-class-of-2024-graduation-tickets-881358024577.