Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

5 powerful ways women can empower other women

The Clothing Bank in South Africa

These social innovators empower women-led businesses. Image: The Clothing Bank

Pavitra Raja
Community Lead, CEO Action Group On Nature Pillar, World Economic Forum
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SDG 05: Gender Equality

  • For Women's History Month, here are five stories about women empowering other women in their communities.
  • The social innovators are part of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.
  • The strategies include using technology to combat illiteracy, supporting women-led businesses and amplifying women's voices.

This Women’s History Month, it's important to celebrate and salute the heroic women who are changing the world around them and empowering other women to do the same.

From challenging gender stereotypes in the Arab world to teaching rural women to build their own solar panels, here are five inspiring initiatives in the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship community that are created for women, by women.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?

1. Barefoot College: Empowering women through technology

Barefoot College International, based in India, has demonstrated that illiteracy is not a barrier to poor communities developing themselves. The college disseminates the most sophisticated technologies to men and women who can barely read and write and trains them to become skilled professionals.

Meagan Fallone, the college's CEO and director, has made a commitment to leveraging the “Barefoot Approach,” which involves implementing simple, radical and futuristic ideas, approaches or methods to sustainable development where the rural poor can respect and own their projects – whether building their own water pump or solar panels. The goal is to empower them to meet their community’s needs and address the pressing challenges of economic inequality, human rights and climate change at a global scale.

“Inequality is not about who has more; it’s about my ability to reach my aspirations, whatever they are, with the same lack of resistance along the way,” she said.


2. Study Hall Educational Foundation: Empowering women through education

Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) provides quality education to underprivileged girls and youth in urban and rural India. Using feminist-based pedagogy, gender-sensitization techniques and adolescent-empowerment discussions on social issues in the classrooms, SHEF provides teacher trainings, workshops, educational centres and vocational trainings. The goal is to empower girls to have equal participation in society.

"Education empowers women because it teaches them the most important lesson of all - they are equal persons and have the right to live and thrive according to their own choice," said Dr. Urvashi Sahni, Founding President, Study Hall Educational Foundation. "Education not only gives them academic skills, but it teaches them that they have the right to use these skills for themselves. It is this vital lesson that empowered me and helped me fight discrimination and it is what keeps me motivated to do the work I do.”

Image: Study Hall Educational Foundation

3. NISAA Radio: Empowering women’s voices

Maysoun Odeh Gangat realised that just as media can reinforce gender stereotypes, her radio station NISAA in Palestine can use it as a tool to debate taboos, challenge traditional roles assigned to women, and present women as capable and assertive actors in society, thereby reshaping power relations. NISAA, which means “women” in Arabic, has three radio frequencies across the Palestinian Territories and a listenership of 340,000 people.

NISAA’s mix of Western and Arabic music, interspersed with morning, noon, evening and weekend talk shows, is designed to be attractive to both women and men, since actively engaging men in the conversation about gender is central to NISAA’s philosophy.

“Radio NISAA empowers women by giving women a platform that entertains with music, informs with news, inspires with success stories and most importantly allows them to define their success, especially by helping one another, standing together and never giving up even when all odds stand in their way,” Odeh said.

Have you read?

4. The Clothing Bank: Empowering women to run their own businesses

To realize her goal of empowering township residents to start their own businesses and lift themselves out of poverty, Tracey Chambers created The Clothing Bank in South Africa. The Clothing Bank partners with South Africa’s top retail companies, who donate their excess stock to the Bank. The Bank then sells this inventory at deeply discounted prices to women, who start their own small business.

The Clothing Bank also provides training programmes to help build the confidence, sense of community, and skills that women need to succeed. Addressing critical areas of physical, mental, and social wellbeing, the organization takes a “head-heart-hands” approach.

“Our programme works in a deep holistic way with women to unlock human potential," Chambers said. "We focus on developing the whole woman giving her the knowledge to be a great businesswoman, the opportunity to practice her business skills every day and the nurturing space to grow her self-belief, heal past traumas and become a role model in her community.”

Image: Horn of Africa Development Initiative

5. Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI): Empowering women to drive the change

After becoming the first woman from Marsabit to obtain a law degree, Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan declined job offers in Nairobi to return to her homeland to provide legal representation to people who could not afford it. In 2003, she founded Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI) in Kenya to empower women and girls to have an active voice in their communities.

HODI’s theory of change starts with the belief that peaceful and resilient communities can be created only when the most vulnerable citizens among them – women, youth, and children – are represented in power structures, their capacities are fully developed, and when they are fully engaged throughout the process. Further, through its educational programmes, HODI provides a place for adolescent girls to have a safe space to learn from each other on deeply sensitive topics including child marriage, female genital mutilation, and sexual abuse. After graduating from this programme, these women become role models in their communities and continue to educate future generations.

Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

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Equity, Diversity and InclusionSocial Innovation
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