$30 Million Equality Can’t Wait Challenge to Help Expand Women’s Power and Influence in the U.S.


A Black woman stands for a portrait with people behind her holding signs at a protest

$30 Million Equality Can’t Wait Challenge to Help Expand Women’s Power and Influence in the U.S.

In August 2020, Pivotal Ventures announced an additional $10 million for the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, thanks to support from Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, bringing the total to $40 million for bold solutions to advance gender equality in the United States.

Pivotal Ventures, Melinda French Gates’ investment and incubation company, with additional support from MacKenzie Bezos, has announced the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge which will award $30 million to the organizations or the coalitions of organizations with the most compelling ideas to help expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030. The Challenge will be managed by Lever for Change.

Recent events have exposed deep inequalities in the United States. The injustices Black Americans face every day have forced a spotlight on systemic racism in our country. At the same time, COVID-19 has magnified the structural inequities—such as a lack of representation in leadership roles and an overrepresentation in low-wage jobs—that hold millions of U.S. women back, adding urgency to the phrase “Equality can’t wait.”

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is part of Pivotal Ventures’ efforts to advance bold solutions that put more women of all backgrounds, especially women of color, in positions to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives. While there has been a groundswell of energy around gender equality in recent years, progress is not moving fast enough. To help speed up the pace of change, in October 2019, Melinda French Gates announced a $1 billion commitment to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. over the next decade.

The Challenge—the first competition centered on gender equality in the U.S. with an award of this magnitude—is a chance to put significant resources behind big, bold ideas in this often-overlooked space. In addition to connecting leaders working on gender equality to funding, it also aims to connect these leaders to each other, creating a community of innovators and a cache of ideas that other donors may want to support.

“The entrenched inequalities that divide America—race, gender, class—will not go away without systems-wide change,” said Melinda French Gates. “This Challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.”

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” said MacKenzie Bezos. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.”

What We’re Looking For: Ideas to Create a More Equal America for Women of All Backgrounds

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is open to U.S.-based nonprofit organizations or coalitions of organizations. It seeks ideas that will help expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. by 2030 in one or more of these strategic areas:

  • Dismantling the barriers that hold women back: We need to remove the barriers that most negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of women, including sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, biased narratives that reinforce gender stereotypes, and our country’s outdated approach to caregiving.

  • Fast tracking women in critical sectors: Women are underrepresented in the most influential sectors of society. Building new pathways for women into sectors like technology, government, and entrepreneurship—and supporting women’s advancement within them—will have ripple effects across the country.

  • Calling society to action: We must change outdated systems, institutions, and beliefs by enlisting society to take action. By arming key stakeholders—including CEOs, community leaders, consumers, and employees—with resources and data about gender equality, we can influence and exert greater pressure from multiple angles.

Throughout the multi-stage challenge, proposals will be evaluated on four criteria: Is the idea transformative? Does it approach the issue from an equity lens that considers the experiences of women of all backgrounds, including women of color, women living in poverty, and LGBTQ women? Is it innovative? Is it feasible?

Proposals should also demonstrate that they can produce measurable and rapid improvement against one or more of the following metrics: Reducing the gender gap in wages or wealth; more equally distributing unpaid care responsibilities; launching more women into senior roles across public, private, and social sectors; positioning more women to help shape intellectual and cultural content; and changing perceptions to shift the percentage of the public who feel women should have more power and influence.

Winners to be Selected in Summer 2021

To be considered for the Challenge, organizations must first register online by Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Applications are due by Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Finalists will be announced in early 2021 after a detailed review process by expert judges and peers, and winners will be determined in the summer of 2021.

At least two grants of a minimum of $10 million will be awarded to the most compelling proposals. An additional $10 million will be allocated among finalists at that time.

Visit equalitycantwaitchallenge.org for more information.