Twelve Women-Led Organizations Selected for Challenging Norms, Powering Economies Initiative

JOHANNESBURG—Ashoka, the Open Society Foundations, and UN Women have announced that 12 women’s organizations will each receive a cash prize of $24,500 and participate in a weeklong exchange in Johannesburg, South Africa, for their work in challenging gender norms and women’s economic empowerment. The event will help raise the profile of their organizations, develop tools and resources to grow their strategies, and foster learning to inspire others.

Twelve finalists were selected from 155 outstanding women’s changemaker organizations across Africa and the Middle East. These organizations are building collaborative solutions that have the potential to:

  • increase inclusiveness for women from all walks of life to access economic and social opportunities: for example, This-Ability challenges societal norms and perceptions around gender, disability, and sexuality in Kenya by pushing boundaries through media and art, and creating spaces for thought-provoking conversations to influence policies;
  • improve access to support mechanisms ensuring women have a voice in decisions and policies that shape their economic livelihoods: for example, Myrtle Witbooi, president of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation in South Africa, is focused on ensuring that domestic workers are equipped to advocate for their rights to be covered under occupational and safety law;
  • create environments that enable women to access credit and/or other products and services: for example, in eastern Congo, L’Union pour l’Emancipation de la Femme Autochthone is integrating Pygmy peoples, mainly women, into economic and social life and is working to develop a permanent credit fund with an interest rate of one percent.

The winning organizations were selected from among 155 organizations nominated across the Middle East and Africa as part of the partnership’s Challenging Norms, Powering Economies initiative. They were chosen for their programs, which challenge pervasive norms limiting women’s economic benefit and contributions, and put their voices and solutions at the center of the conversation. The pool of applicants powerfully demonstrates how women changemakers and their organizations are already building partnerships that break down sector and industry silos.

“The winners have all demonstrated—in brave, unique, and entrepreneurial ways—that pervasive social barriers and discriminatory policies holding women back from assuming their equal place in today’s economy can, indeed, be overcome. And that these examples can provide great inspiration for others seeking to achieve the same,” said David Bright, division director of the Open Society Economic Advancement Program.

The Challenge Fund covers an all-expenses paid invitation to participate in the Collaborative Exchange, on June 18 and 19, and the Impact!Africa Summit, June 20 and 22, both in Johannesburg, South Africa. From the $24,500 cash prize, $2,000 is allotted to support from external consultants on capacity development. After the two-day Collaborative Exchange to share and build on their ideas, they will have an opportunity to further develop their proposals and submit for a final round of judging and larger cash prizes. The initiative will culminate in a celebration in October 2018, when three final-prize recipients will also be announced.

“We must ensure an inclusive world of work where no one is left behind. Our finalists are inspiring leaders and changemakers who are contributing to changing social norms across sectors and local communities in Africa. Their insights and stories about promoting women’s economic empowerment will help us in powering our economies,” said Anna Falth, policy advisor and senior program manager at WE EMPOWER, UN Women.


Organized by Ashoka, the Open Society Foundations, and UN Women, the Challenging Norms, Powering Economies initiative supports collaboration that enables women to actively participate in the economies of Africa and the Middle East and reach their full potential. The challenge seeks to connect women changemakers who are collaborating with a broad range of partners, in particular businesses and governments, while supporting their organizations’ efforts to promote gender equality and economic empowerment.

Ashoka is leading the way to an “Everyone a Changemaker” world. As the world’s largest network of changemakers and social innovators, with more than 3,000 social entrepreneurs in 70 countries, Ashoka aims to bring about large-scale social change.

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. In partnership with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and the right of society to have access to health and education.

UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.