First, the bad news: Unless we make some big moves, we’re still generations away from achieving gender equality in this country.
Now, the good news: Collectively, we have an abundance of smart, bold ideas for how to create a more equal world. What’s more, there are plentiful financial and human resources available to support these ideas. The real challenge, then, is to connect the dots — to help good ideas find the partners and support they need to come to life, and to find connection points between solutions that, together, can have a far greater impact than they might have alone.
Announcing the Equality Can't Wait Challenge Finalists
That’s why Pivotal Ventures, the company I work for, partnered with MacKenzie Scott and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies in June 2020 to launch the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge. Together, we committed to investing $40 million in bold ideas for expanding women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030 — and to creating a resourced ecosystem of individuals and organizations working toward the same goal: a world where women finally experience true equality, in every way.
We trusted there would be some interest, some energy — some appetite. What we didn’t expect was to receive more than 550 proposals in response to the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, from nearly every state in the country. That’s more than seven times the level of participation that we anticipated. Those numbers are even more amazing when you consider the fact that many of those who applied were women experiencing the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic in real time as they developed their proposals — just one indicator of the energy and enthusiasm that exists around solving gender inequality, once and for all.
That enthusiasm, that appetite, that demand, the richness of solutions, blew our minds. And it inspired us.
The women and communities who shared their ideas are not looking to be fixed or saved. And they’re not just interested in observing and analyzing the problem. Instead, they’re basing their projects on solutions and on the strengths of their lived experience, rather than presenting some sort of incremental approach at chipping away at institutions that have traditionally excluded them.
It was particularly inspiring to see that a number of the projects focused on the next generation of women. Now, obviously, a big part of our near-term work is about achieving equality for women who are already into their careers, but sustainability around gender equality really lies in our pipeline: Starting earlier. Providing exposure. Providing examples. Providing access. Providing community.
Philanthropy has a responsibility to bring solutions to life. It’s not enough to say, “Here’s the solution we care about; the others don’t count.” To achieve true change, we need them all to count.
This summer, a handful of proposals will split the $40 million in awards that Pivotal Ventures and our partners are offering to take their work forward. And we’ll add the ten finalists’ projects to the Bold Solutions Network that our partners at Lever for Change operate, where we hope they’ll find even more support.
But our finalists aren’t the full story. From the beginning, our vision was that this challenge would surface way more than a handful of big ideas – and it did. We are exploring ways to bolster what we’re calling a secondary market — to shine a light on many great solutions that would also help to move the needle on gender equality. That means bringing attention to “small but mighty” projects whose ideas are punching above their weight; “rising star” projects that are early in their lifecycle and show great promise to deliver impact over time; and projects that focus on certain populations or geographies. Shining a light on these projects is part of building that active ecosystem and connecting the dots on ideas that will drive change on gender equality.
We’re all still reeling from 2020. It delivered this one-two punch for gender equality. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women’s lives and livelihoods, underscoring the fragility of the gains we’ve achieved in recent decades. We can’t take these gains for granted, and we can’t be shy about pushing for the change we seek.
My deepest hope is that this challenge removes the excuse that we don’t have the solutions or funding we need to achieve gender equality in our country. We do. So let’s get to work.