Innovative programs awarded $40 million to advance gender equality

September 2, 2021

Nicole Bates

Dr. Nicole Bates (Photo by Marcus Donner/Puget Sound Business Journal

The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge awarded $40 million to projects with bold ideas to expand women’s power and influence in the United States. The challenge, which was hosted by Pivotal Ventures with partners MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, will distribute $10 million each to four woman-led organizations. Nicole Bates, MPH, DrPH, an alumna of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is director of strategic partnerships and initiatives at Pivotal Ventures.

“At the current rate of action, we are generations away from gender equality and from women having equal say in the places where priorities are set and decisions are made,” said Bates. “That’s a loss for society. We are celebrating projects that will bring about change sooner.”

The call for proposals yielded more than 550 responses from across the U.S. This enthusiastic response led to the launching of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge Idea Lab to increase the visibility of top projects.

“The overwhelming response to the Challenge proves there’s no shortage of transformational ideas about how to accelerate progress for women and girls,” said Melinda French Gates, founder of Pivotal Ventures. “The next step is to make sure those game-changing ideas get the support they need to become fully realized and improve people’s lives. We can break the patterns of history and advance gender equality, but we must commit to lifting up organizations, like the ones receiving awards today, that are ready to lift up women and girls.”

The four projects share a focus on action and center the experience of women most affected by gender inequity. They address caregiving as unpaid work, pathways into software development, the journey of young women through college and into careers, and support for businesses owned by Native Womxn.

Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure is a cross-movement coalition of organizations that will work to transform attitudes around caregiving, which are heavily influenced by gender and racial biases, and establish a publicly supported care infrastructure.

Changing the Face of Tech will expand an immersive training and internship program to create pathways for thousands of women and gender expansive people into software development careers, with the aim of increasing their earning power and diversify the field. It will also provide corporate social justice and management training to 500 of the world’s leading technology companies.

Project Accelerate: Increasing Young Women’s Power and Influence will accelerate the trajectories of a diverse group of young women through college and career entry, leveraging partnerships with corporations and social impact organizations to ensure their preparation and access to positions of influence.

The Future is Indigenous Womxn will catalyze the investability and economic liberation of Indigenous womxn by helping to scale up businesses owned by Native womxn. This assistance is given with the aim of increasing power and influence within families and unlocking the potential for wealth creation through community employment opportunities.

Though these projects take different approaches, they correspond to the goals of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge: political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, graduating women in influential sectors and caregiving in America. They will ensure more women, particularly caregivers, young women, Indigenous women, and women of color, are in positions to make decisions, control resources and shape policies and perspectives in their homes, workplaces and communities. Visit the challenge website to learn more.

In addition to the winners, the challenge awarded supplemental funding to two finalists — A Call To Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Partner Violence and Training Next Gen Women to Flex Their Political Power.

Bates — who earned both a Master of Public Health degree in health behavior (’00) and a Doctor of Public Health degree in public health leadership (’08) from the Gillings School and now serves on the School’s advisory board — made an appearance on Good Morning America to announce the winners. She also contributed to coverage in the New York Times, Forbes, and Barron’s about the challenge.

Pivotal Ventures is an investment and incubation company created by Melinda French Gates. It works with organizations and individuals to accelerate momentum where progress has stalled and use philanthropic and investment capital to substantially improve people’s lives.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

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