In the midst of crisis, some foundations are working harder than ever to protect and empower women and girls, particularly in terms of providing funding for women in STEM.
Vodafone Americas Foundation recently announced a $75,000 commitment to MIT Solve’s Learning for Women & Girls challenge, as well as $50,000 in funding for OpenIdeo’s COVID-19 Business Pivot Challenge. This funding reflects the Foundation’s new commitment to empowerment and education for women and girls, as well as the organization’s flexibility in times of crisis.
“Like MIT Solve, The Vodafone Americas Foundation has always been committed to fostering change and addressing challenges in global and local communities through connected solutions,” says June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation. “Our core focus is on investing in programs and connected solutions that create opportunities for women and girls to learn new skills, sustain their interests in technology, and allow them to thrive and excel.”
MIT Solve is an initiative from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that aims to solve the world’s challenges through the lens of healthy competition. Teams of innovators can apply to become “Solver teams,” who work together to tackle world problems across the current year’s categories.
“In the face of tremendous world challenges—including a pandemic that threatens the health, economic security, and education of billions of people around the world—we deeply appreciate the organizations that support the critical work of our Solver teams,” said Alex Amouyel, Executive Director of MIT Solve. “We look forward to supporting our incredible innovators who work day in and day out on solutions to these challenges.”
The 2020 categories focus on the competition’s usual goals, with the addition of a category devoted to preparing for and fighting future pandemics like the COVID-19 crisis. For 2020, Solver teams can submit solutions in the categories of “Good Jobs & Inclusive Entrepreneurship,” “Health Security & Pandemics,” “Sustainable Food Systems,” “Maternal & Newborn Health,” and “Learning for Girls & Women.”
Vodafone Americas Foundation committed $75,000 to support winners in the latter category, “Learning for Girls & Women.” The Foundation’s 2020 commitment to MIT Solve reflects an initiative unveiled last year, in which the Foundation pivoted its funding to focus on leveraging technology for the benefit of women and girls.
“I expect to see out-of-the box thinking and with the climate of change that we are going through now, probably even more targeted solutions in education, communication and building community,” says Sugiyama. To Solver applicants, she adds, “This Challenge casts a very wide net so the competition is pretty fierce. I’d say hone in on your knowledge about your constituents and articulate clearly how you’re impacting change for that specific population. It’s imperative to know your audience, which means not only the people you are serving really well, but also the folks who will be listening to your pitch.”
In addition to MIT Solve, Vodafone Americas Foundation is also supporting a new business-focused initiative from OpenIdeo. The COVID-19 Business Pivot Challenge is an open call to businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs, hoping to help industry leaders understand how businesses and organizations around the world are pivoting to respond to COVID-19. The competition addresses both immediate solutions and long-term adaptations in a three-week sprint.
Challenge participants can submit their ideas for promising business “pivots,” with five submissions receiving grants of $10,000 (totaling a $50,000 contribution) from the Vodafone Americas Foundation.
“In the midst of the current global challenges, Vodafone Americas Foundation recognizes that we need new ways to meet new challenges,” says Sugiyama. “The goal of the initiative is to help businesses discover how they can support the world’s immediate needs during the COVID-19 response.”
(For more information on the application and selection process, consider attending OpenIdeo’s free webinar, held at 8am PT on May 12th.)
In times like these, it’s critical to focus on programs that offer immediate assistance for people who need it most. However, it’s just as important to look to the future: we need to be finding lasting solutions, examining creative innovations that offer long-term sustainability, and preparing the next generations in case a crisis like COVID-19 threatens the world in the future.
This begs the question — how can the world of feminist philanthropy best support programs like MIT Solve and the COVID-19 Business Pivot Challenge?
“I think we are doing exactly that,” says Sugiyama. “Although [Vodafone Americas Foundation] is not exactly what you consider a feminist philanthropy, it’s okay to look for solutions specific to women and girls. We find that technology solutions can really move the feminist needle but the criteria has to be clearly laid out and target the needs of women and girls.”
As time wears on, innovation and feminist leadership will be more important than ever before. Programs like MIT Solve and the COVID-19 Business Pivot Challenge offer creative, unexpected ways to join together to tackle the world’s problems. And together, we can create a world where healthcare crises like COVID-19 become an event of the past.
To learn more about the Vodafone Americas Foundation and their plans for corporate philosophy, visit their website to read about their mission for social change.