How Did the World's Largest Foundation Mark International Women's Day?

Another big indicator of how women’s empowerment funding is evolving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation came yesterday, when it announced 19 new grants totaling more than $24 million in support of “innovative approaches to improve the lives and well-being of women and girls worldwide.”

Eleven of these grants have been awarded through the Global Grand Challenge Initiative, Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development, which sought proposals in 2015 and received 1,742 letters of interest from 128 countries. Eight more of these grants are in the process of being finalized.

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Much of this work is focused helping girls during the adolescence to access education, job opportunities, and financial skills. In South Africa, for example, The “Girls Achieve Power” Year Program will use soccer as a platform to “encourage a culture of health and safety, and promote school retention among adolescent girls.”

Another project in Malawi works with schools to integrate gender equality into the curriculum. In rural Northern Nigeria, a Grand Challenge grant recipient will move adolescent girls from secondary school to health-related careers such as nursing and midwifery. Other grants take a strong financial empowerment approach, helping women to keep seperate funds to use for schooling and pregnancy needs.

Empowerment of women and girls is moving toward center stage in development work at the Gates Foundation. This Grand Challenges initiative propels the foundation into larger investments that will help girls and women globally, including efforts to address gender-based violence, girls' education and child marriage.

In announcing the new round of grants, Melinda Gates explained that we still don’t know enough about how to reduce gender inequality worldwide. "These new investments are exciting because they will help improve understanding of the underlying drivers of gender inequality and help us and our partners take steps to tackle them."

With grants of growing number and size, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is fast becoming the most significant force field in the terrain of women’s empowerment funding. These new Grand Challenge recipients will establish an important new focus for the Gates Foundation’s future grantmaking in this arena.