On July 29, 2021, the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge announced four projects that will be awarded a total of $40 million to support their bold ideas to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030. The Challenge, which launched in 2020, is the first competition centered on gender equality in the U.S. with an award of this magnitude and represents an opportunity to invest in and empower women leaders who bring a wide range of lived experiences to their work to advance women’s power and influence in the U.S.
The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, launched on June 16, 2020, was hosted by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda French Gates’ investment and incubation company ─ with additional support from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and managed by Lever for Change. The Challenge was created to accelerate the pace of progress toward gender equality in America.
The four $10 million awardees were selected following a multi-phase process. Their ideas center on the voices of women who have been most impacted by gender inequity, focus on action, and leverage the inherent strengths and power of women to tackle the barriers they face today. The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge awardees are: Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure, a cross-movement coalition of organizations that will transform antiquated attitudes around caregiving as unpaid work to establish a publicly supported care infrastructure; Ada Developers Academy’s Changing the Face of Tech, which will expand their immersive training and internship program creating pathways for thousands of women and gender expansive people into impactful software development careers; Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate, which will accelerate young women’s trajectories through college and career entry; and The Future is Indigenous Womxn, a project to support and scale impactful businesses owned by Native womxn.
Additionally, two finalists were awarded $4 million each in supplemental funding from the Challenge in recognition of their track records of building women’s economic and political power, and their potential to leverage their experience to positively impact the lives and influence of more women across the country: FreeFrom’s A Call to Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Partner Violence, which will continue fostering an ecosystem of long-term services and public policies to support survivors of intimate partner violence and IGNITE’s Training Next Gen Women to Flex Their Political Power, which will dramatically scale its impact-driven programs to train young women to flex their political power as voters, activists, policymakers, commissioners, and candidates.
The projects varied in their approach and closely aligned with Challenge goals ─ advocating for caregiving infrastructure; increasing pathways for the next generation of women to advance in key sectors like technology; and advancing economic empowerment for Indigenous womxn. Collectively, they will implement their bold ideas, so that more women, particularly caregivers, young women, Indigenous women, and women of color, are in positions to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives in their homes, workplaces, and communities.
The Challenge received over 550 proposals ─ more than seven times the number anticipated by Lever for Change at the outset ─ from nearly every state in the country, an indicator of the excitement generated by this Challenge.
Proposals were evaluated during a three-month process that included peer reviews, as well as a review by an expert panel of 130 leaders from sectors including philanthropy, media, entrepreneurship, finance, and academia. The evaluations were based on four criteria: whether the proposals were transformative, innovative, equitable, and feasible. All submissions had to be equitable, meaning the solution had to benefit different types of women equitably – particularly Black women and women of color, women in poverty, LGBTQ+ women, and other marginalized and/or vulnerable women.
In March 2021, the ten top proposals were named finalists and, for three months preceding the final evaluation, they each received $100,000 in planning grants and worked closely with a dynamic group of technical experts to strengthen, revise, and re-submit their proposed solutions.
In addition to the four $10M and two $4M awardees, four other teams were selected as finalists (in alphabetical order):
- Building Power Among Grassroots Social Justice Feminist Leaders: Family Values @ Work will scale their leadership development programs that help caregivers step into power while deepening their social justice feminist analysis and practice (meaning an intersectional, holistic feminist movement-building approach).
- Equality Starts Here: Advancing Black Women’s Rights in the South: The Equality Starts Here Collective, comprising of Oxfam America, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable, Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, and A Better Balance, will increase the power and influence of Black women in the South using advocacy, rights training, policy reform, and research.
- Last Mile Education Fund: Investing in Degree Attainment for Technical Women: Last Mile facilitates degree attainment for low-income women in 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 7,500 women technologists over the next five years, diversifying the sector and expanding women’s leadership and influence in these vital fields.
- 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 dramatically expand its storytelling, investing in sophisticated distribution technology and introducing a groundbreaking fellowship program that furthers equity in the field of journalism and will help ensure a robust pipeline of diverse, next-generation journalists for the nation's newsrooms.
Lever for Change will include this cohort of Equality Can’t Wait Challenge finalist teams in our Bold Solutions Network ─ which matches donors with solutions to significant social challenges that were highly ranked after rigorous evaluation in one of our competitions. We are calling on additional philanthropists to join efforts to fully fund all of the finalists.
Given the large number of outstanding solutions that emerged from the process, the Challenge hosts will also be launching the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge Idea Lab to increase the visibility of top projects.
Anyone interested in supporting Equality Can’t Wait projects may contact Dana Rice, our Vice President of Philanthropy.