Finalists announced for Equality Can't Wait Challenge to Help Expand Women's Power and Influence in the United States by 2030

March 8, 2021

The Challenge Will Award $40 Million to Accelerate the Pace of Progress Toward Gender Equality in America.

Chicago, IL, March 8, 2021 – Today, the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, which will award $40 million to help expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030, announced 10 projects that will move on to the final stage of the competition.

The Challenge, hosted by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda French Gates’ investment and incubation company—with additional support from MacKenzie Scott and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and managed by Lever for Change—was launched in June 2020 to accelerate the pace of progress toward gender equality in America.

In the summer of 2021, the Challenge will grant three $10 million awards, with an additional $10 million to be allocated among finalists, bringing the total to $40 million. The Challenge will provide funding for innovative, women-led solutions that enable more women, particularly Black, Indigenous, and other women of color, to be in positions to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives in their homes, workplaces, and communities.

“Gender inequality isn’t inevitable,” said Melinda French Gates, founder of Pivotal Ventures. “Solutions exist, but scaling them requires investment. The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge has proven there’s no shortage of actionable ideas to drive progress for women and that donors are willing to meet bold ideas with big resources. Our hope is that this Challenge serves as a source of connection between innovators and funders, so promising ideas can get the support they need to create change.”

There was an enthusiastic response to the Challenge, with a total of more than 550 proposals for expanding women’s power and influence from nearly every state in the country. Proposals were evaluated by peers and an expert panel of 130 leaders from sectors including philanthropy, media, entrepreneurship, finance, and academia.

“These organizations are finding new ways to build power and voice for women in their personal and professional communities,” added MacKenzie Scott. “The deep empathy and creative partnerships in the finalists’ approaches inspire hope for change.”

The finalist projects that emerged from the Challenge cover a broad range of topic areas, organization sizes, geographies, and populations.

“I believe gender equality will strengthen both the economic and social fabric of the United States,” said Stacy Schusterman, Chair of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. “Only when all women are able to realize their full potential, including Black, Indigenous and other women of color, will our country thrive. The barriers to gender equality will only be removed when women are in the driver’s seat to design solutions that address the most pressing issues they face. The finalists in the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge have already shown us what women can achieve when their voices are heard and their talent is unleashed.”

“Progress towards gender equality was slow even before COVID-19,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. “Since the pandemic began, the barriers facing women— especially Black, Indigenous, and other women of color—have become higher and harder to overcome. Equality Can’t Wait is rising to the challenge, bringing together innovators and leaders, who inspire us with their bold solutions. Collectively, these finalist organizations will bring about lasting change in women’s lives for generations to come.”

The 10 finalist projects are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • A Call to Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Violence: In partnership with thousands of survivors of intimate partner violence across the country, FreeFrom will build an ecosystem of long-term support—including survivors’ banks, credit card companies, health providers, and employers—to reframe our understanding of the problem as a systemic economic issue, hold society accountable, and help survivors to build collective power and influence.
  • Building Power Among Grassroots Social Justice Feminist Leaders: Family Values @ Work will scale up their leadership development programs that help women step into power while deepening their social justice feminist analysis and practice (meaning an intersectional, holistic feminist movement-building approach).
  • Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure: The National Domestic Workers Alliance, Caring Across Generations, the National Women’s Law Center, The Arc, MomsRising Education Fund, and Family Values @ Work, propose to accelerate women’s equality by infusing the idea of care as a shared responsibility and coordinating solutions to transform caregiving for all.
  • Changing the Face of Tech: Ada Developers Academy supports women and gender-diverse adults, particularly underrepresented minorities, in becoming software developers. Through this proposed project, Ada will expand nationally by providing corporate social justice and management training to 420 of the world's leading technology companies and expand its immersive coding program to train and place 12,000 additional women and gender-diverse folks in technology jobs, increasing their incomes and earning power, and diversifying this critical sector.
  • Equality Starts Here: Advancing Black Women’s Rights in the South: This coalition comprising Oxfam America, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable, Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, and A Better Balance, proposes to increase the power and influence of Black women in the South using advocacy, rights awareness training, policy reform, and research.
  • Last Mile Education Fund: Last Mile facilitates degree attainment for low-income women in the high-demand sectors of technology and engineering, increasing both women's earning power and contributions to technology innovation. This project has the potential to scale to invest in 9,400 women technologists over the next five years, diversifying the sector and expanding women’s leadership and influence in these vital fields.
  • Project Accelerate: Increasing Young Women’s Power and Influence: Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate proposes to accelerate young women’s trajectories through college and career entry, leveraging partnerships with corporations to ensure their preparation and access to positions of influence.
  • The Future is Indigenous Womxn: Through this bold solution proposed by New Mexico Community Capital, Native Women Lead, and Nusenda Credit Union, Indigenous womxn will reclaim and define their sovereignty in business and finance, on a pathway towards economic liberation, leadership positions, transformative power shifts, and dignity.
  • The 19th*: News That Represents: The 19th* will transform the media landscape by giving marginalized women and LGBTQ+ people the news and community they need to equally participate in our democracy. The 19th* proposes to double the team’s reporting capacity, investing in sophisticated distribution technology and introducing a groundbreaking fellowship program to train and place the next generation of women journalists from underrepresented communities in jobs.
  • Training Next Gen Women to Flex their Political Power: IGNITE will scale its impact-driven programs to train 100,000 young women a year to flex their political power as voters, activists, policymakers, and candidates.

Lever for Change is featuring the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge finalists in its Bold Solutions Network. This Network seeks to match outstanding nonprofits and social enterprises from Lever for Change competitions with additional donors and funding to ensure that they secure the resources they need to carry out their vital work. Donors interested in supporting Equality Can’t Wait Challenge projects may contact Dana Rice, Vice President of Philanthropy at Lever for Change.

Additionally, the hosts of the Challenge are exploring ways to spotlight other top competition proposals, with the goal of encouraging additional support for these bold ideas.

For more on the Challenge, visit www.equalitycantwaitchallenge.org.

Any competition questions should be addressed to questions@equalitycantwaitchallenge.org.

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Pivotal Ventures

Pivotal Ventures is an investment and incubation company created by Melinda French Gates. We work with organizations and individuals to accelerate momentum where progress has stalled and use philanthropic and investment capital to substantially improve people’s lives.

MacKenzie Scott

MacKenzie Scott has posted about her giving at The Giving Pledge, 116 Organizations Driving Change and 384 Ways to Help.

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies (Schusterman) is a global organization that seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity. Our philanthropic vision is grounded in a commitment to pursue justice, repair the world and treat all people with dignity and civility. We invest in efforts to improve public education in the United States, strengthen the Jewish people and Israel, and address the needs of marginalized individuals and communities. www.schusterman.org

Lever for Change

Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, helps donors to find and fund solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, ranging from racial and gender equity to economic development and climate change. Building on the success of the MacArthur Foundation’s $100 million competition, 100&Change, Lever for Change customizes and manages open and transparent competitions for donors. In addition, we match donors with nonprofits and social enterprises in our Bold Solutions Network whose solutions to significant social challenges were highly ranked after rigorous evaluation in one of our competitions. Currently, Lever for Change is managing nine competitions, ranging in size from $10-to-100 million, awarding $295 million to grant recipients and strengthening dozens of top organizations. For more information, visit www.leverforchange.org.

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