Support women empowerment by partnering with Ashoka

By Geneva Gleason, Global Coordinator, Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship at Ashoka

2020-21 Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta is asking Rotary members to empower girls by prioritizing projects that improve the health, well-being, education, and economic security of girls in their communities and around the world. By partnering with Ashoka, Rotary members gain access to a wide range of experts in social entrepreneurship and change-making who are equally vested in improving lives in their communities, including those of women and girls.

As the world’s largest network for social entrepreneurs, Ashoka is committed to uplifting the stories and sharing the impact of the women social entrepreneurs in our network. For this reason, Ashoka Arab World Regional Director Iman Bibars founded the Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE), a global movement to ensure women social entrepreneurs access the same investment, networking, and recognition opportunities as their men counterparts.

The WISE Framework

To achieve our goal, we must redefine success to include models of impact traditionally overlooked: scaling up to change laws and policies and scaling deep to shift cultural norms and mindsets. These types of impact, though harder to quantify, are equally as important as scaling out, or the franchise model. In fact, scaling up and deep impact are more sustainable: changing a dominant mindset or enacting a new legal policy will affect generations to come.

Scaling Up: A legal shift to recognize women-headed households

Ashoka Fellow Nani Zulminarni and her organization, PEKKA, successfully lobbied the Supreme Court of Indonesia to recognize women as heads of household, thus giving legal status to single and divorced mothers who previously could not get their own family identification card. Over 40 million children living in female-headed households were able to get birth certificates for the first time with this legislature, and millions of mothers in Indonesia were able to claim child support from their children’s fathers even if they had never been legally married.

Scaling Deep: A new name to destigmatize victims of poverty

In Egypt, Ashoka Fellow Nawal Mostafa has worked for decades to shift societal attitudes towards a specific subset of the country’s incarcerated population: women who are arrested after acting as a guarantor for a husband’s or father’s loan which was not repaid. By naming these women “poverty prisoners,” Nawal called attention to the fact that these women are not criminals, but victims of their economic status. Over time, Nawal saw this shifting mindset penetrate higher and higher levels of society until even the president of Egypt recognized the injustice faced by this unique population. By reducing the stigma against these women, Nawal has improved their lives both during and after incarceration.

How to support WISE

Rotary members are passionate about making the world a better place, and redefining success within social entrepreneurship is a key step in this process. Support women empowerment through the WISE movement by:

  • Encouraging others who care about social impact to challenge the dominant definition of success and include the less-often recognized forms of scaling up and deep impact.
  • Nominating a woman changemaker leading systemic change to be interviewed for Ashoka’s WorldWISE Storytelling Initiative to increase representation for and celebration of women innovators.
  • Learning more about women social entrepreneurs in Ashoka’s network.

Working together on WISE is just one way to get involved in Rotary’s partnership with Ashoka. Write to with questions about WISE, and learn more about how you can collaborate to increase your impact.

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