$40M gender equality fund by Gates, Scott picks finalists

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Melinda Gates

In this Feb. 1, 2019, Melinda Gates speaks while being interviewed in Kirkland, Wash. A gender equality philanthropic initiative spearheaded by Melinda Gates’ investment company, with support from MacKenzie Scott, has announced 10 project finalists for $40 million in funding slated to be awarded this summer.
The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, which is hosted by Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, said Monday, March 8, 2021 on International Women’s Day, that the finalists include women-led projects aiming to support victims of domestic violence, increase the influence of Black women in the South using advocacy and double the reporting capacity of The 19th, a news organization reporting on gender, politics and policy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A gender equality philanthropic initiative spearheaded by Melinda Gates’ investment company, with support from MacKenzie Scott, has announced 10 project finalists for $40 million in funding slated to be awarded this summer.

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, which is hosted by Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, said Monday, on International Women’s Day, that the finalists include women-led projects aiming to support victims of domestic violence, increase the influence of Black women in the South using advocacy and double the reporting capacity of The 19th, a news organization reporting on gender, politics and policy.

The challenge was launched in June with the goal of expanding women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030. Gates, who committed $1 billion in 2019 toward advancing gender equality in the U.S., citing the low rates of women in leadership positions, said in the announcement of the finalists that solutions towards gender equality require investment.

“Gender inequality isn’t inevitable,” she said, adding that 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.”

Three $10 million gifts will be awarded this summer, and another $10 million will be distributed among all the finalists. The funding will particularly enable “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,” according to Lever for Change, an affiliate of the MacArthur Foundation that manages the challenge.

Erica Barnhart, the director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the University of Washington, says investing in organizations led by women of color “is absolutely critical if gender equality is ever going to be a reality.”

“The challenge is a heartening step in that direction and one that will hopefully spur more investments in the very near future,” she added. “These organizations know what they’re doing. The best thing donors can do is make their investments and then get out of their way.”

A study released in December from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy says philanthropic giving to organizations supporting women and girls has increased like other charitable giving. But the school’s report, which looks at data from 2012 to 2017, says donations to organizations where 80% of program expenses are focused on women and girls still represent only about 1.6% of charitable giving.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, a global organization working to advance equity, is supporting the challenge along with Gates and Scott — the recently remarried philanthropist ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who announced in December that she gave away more than $4 billion to 384 organizations, including historically Black colleges and universities and organizations championing women’s rights.

Scott said in the announcement that the 10 finalists “inspire hope for change.”

Other philanthropic initiatives towards gender equality were also announced on Monday, including from Google.org, the charitable arm of Google. It has put out an open call for applications for a $25 million challenge that aims to fund organizations “creating pathways to prosperity for women and girls.”

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