Philanthropists Award $40 Million to Help Advance Gender Equity

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in her words

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge rewarded initiatives focused on individual empowerment and broad-scale policy change.

Credit...Anna Parini

Emma Goldberg

July 29, 2021Updated 9:45 a.m. ET

— Nicole Bates, director of strategic partnerships and initiatives at Pivotal Ventures


The groundbreaking competition for gender equality concluded on Thursday with $40 million awarded to four initiatives that advance the influence of women across the United States.

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge — hosted by Pivotal Ventures (the investment company of Melinda French Gates) with support from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies — gave $10 million to each of the four winners: a collaboration between New Mexico Community Capital and Native Women Lead; Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate; Ada Developers Academy; and a coalition of partners formed by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Caring Across Generations. The awardees were selected from a pool of more than 550 applications.

Historically less than 2 percent of philanthropic giving has gone to initiatives specifically geared toward women and girls.

“We hope this sends a clear signal that philanthropy has a role to play in supporting these projects,” said Nicole Bates, director of strategic partnerships and initiatives at Pivotal Ventures. “It’s the first competition centered on gender with an award of this magnitude, and our hope is that this is now the baseline.”

The competition is part of a wave of recent philanthropic commitments to gender equality. U.N. Women convened the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, where political leaders, corporate executives and activists unveiled $40 billion in commitments to support women’s advancement. Some of the major single investments included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which pledged $2.1 billion to the cause over five years, and the Ford Foundation, which committed $420 million over five years.

The four winners of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge have developed strikingly different strategies around gender equity, some focused on empowering individuals and others on broad-scale policy change.

Here’s a look at the winners:

New Mexico Community Capital and Native Women Lead will provide female Native American entrepreneurs across a wide range of sectors — including floral design and food distribution — with networking events, professional training and a retreat space, while also bringing together a circle of investors committed to funding Native-owned businesses. The award will help at least 3,000 women.

The initiatives tap into a long history of Native entrepreneurship, which has evolved from older trading and bartering systems to today’s larger business endeavors.

To Elizabeth Gamboa, executive director of New Mexico Community Capital, and Jaime Gloshay, a founder of Native Women Lead, the $10 million award is an opportunity to show that female Native American entrepreneurs are worthy of substantial investment.

These kinds of contributions will go an especially long way because of the economic role that women play in Native American communities, Ms. Gloshay said. Native American women are chronically underpaid, at around 60 cents for every dollar paid to a white man.

“We see business as a way for women to not only reclaim their values and worth, but also assert the need to have economic stability in their communities,” she said.

Girls Inc. takes a two-tiered approach to gender equity. As part of its Project Accelerate program, the organization works directly with young women, offering them college readiness classes, internship opportunities and other programs to prepare them for their careers. Girls Inc. also engages with the leaders of corporations to help them rethink hiring and improve diversity and inclusion policies.

Girls Inc. primarily serves low-income women and women of color. Roughly 80 percent of its beneficiaries are Black and brown women, and 60 percent come from families earning below $30,000 annually. The Project Accelerate program reaches over 5,000 women.

“It’s the dual strategy that makes this visionary,” said Stephanie Hull, the group’s chief executive. “We have said to workplaces, ‘You have to have policies and practices that are more welcoming.’ And then we work with young women to say, ‘Hey, they’re not always welcoming, and here’s what you have to do to be prepared for that.’”

Ada Developers Academy’s key offering is an 11-month software development program that is intended to equip women, nonbinary people, L.G.B.T.Q. people and people of color with skills to enter the tech industry. The program includes six months of classes followed by a five-month internship. To date it has placed 92 percent of its alumni into full-time software developer jobs.

Prepandemic, Ada had offered its classes in-person in Seattle. But the group quickly transitioned to remote learning last year, and now plans to offer both virtual and in-person options moving forward. With the funding, the group will serve 3,000 more students and expand into more cities including Atlanta and Washington.

“Tech is the wealth and culture driver of our time,” said Lauren Sato, chief executive of the academy. “That’s where the highest-paying, most flexible and most benefited jobs are. We see the tech industry as a powerful lever for getting women into high-paying jobs that will serve their communities.”

The National Domestic Workers Alliance, an advocacy organization fighting for domestic workers, and Caring Across Generation, a campaign to transform caregiving in the U.S., have formed a coalition. It includes the National Women’s Law Center, The Arc, MomsRising Education Fund, and Family Values @ Work and its goal is to mobilize grass-roots advocacy for child care and paid family leave.

Its calls for care solutions have taken on new resonance during the pandemic, when so many people scrambled to look after their loved ones, whether children learning remotely or older relatives in locked down nursing homes.

The ultimate goal is a United States where everyone can afford quality family care. It’s ambitious given how far the U.S. has lagged other developed countries on care infrastructure.

“Historically people have thought about caregiving as a personal responsibility to be dealt with in the privacy of one’s own home, and if we couldn’t figure it out, it was seen as a personal failure,” said Ai-jen Poo, head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The pandemic helped us see that we can do our very best and it’s still not sufficient, because we need public policy programs that support our ability to take care of families.”

It’s an optimal moment to build the movement, she said. “We were all living in our own version of a care crisis in the pandemic,” Ms. Poo said. “That helped us understand how fundamental it is that we invest in policies and programs to support us.”

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