Disrupting gender equality

The power of innovation & trust

By Musimbi Kanyoro

Every day, I’m inspired by the people I meet. My work reminds me of what’s possible when women come together, plant an idea—a seed as we often refer to it—and nurture it to not only extend its roots but also branch out and grow and expand.

As I travel and meet women and girls in Bangladesh or Colombia or San Francisco, I feel hopeful for the future. I’m inspired by their new ideas, their unabashed activism, their willingness to take risks and think outside of the box, and their unwavering commitment to drive meaningful social change.

People often use the words ‘innovation’ or ‘disruption’ to describe startups or tech companies. We don’t talk enough about the innovation of the women’s movement.

When I think of innovation, I think of women, women’s groups, and women’s funds around the world.

I think of women like Dr. Sakena Yacoobi. Her idea to begin teacher trainings and schools for Afghani women and girls—like herself—in Pakistani refugee camps in the early ‘90s came at a time when the importance of educating women and girls was a completely faraway notion. But Dr. Yacoobi’s passion carried her forward, as did Afghanis desire to access an education once they saw firsthand the power it carried.

Global Fund for Women was one of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning’s first international funders in 1997. Today, twenty years after that first grant, the Afghan Institute of Learning trains almost 1,500 teachers annually and its programs reach about 400,000 people each year—mostly women and girls.

That small initial support, according to Dr. Yacoobi, was invaluable not because of the critical funding she needed to grow Afghan Institute of Learning and educate more women and girls, but because Global Fund for Women listened to her, believed in her idea, amplified her voice and shared her story in the international community, and trusted her.

Today, the importance of listening to women and girls and trusting them to know what is needed in their own communities remains a core principle at the heart of Global Fund for Women’s mission. And I believe the world would be a better place if we listened to women and girls more, and trusted in their ideas.

So, where do we begin? How can we encourage more innovative ideas for gender equality and social change? How can we invest in the women and girls of tomorrow?

Here are four simple things we can do today.

First, we need to shatter the notion that innovation only happens in Silicon Valley. We need to amplify more women’s voices and share more stories of innovative ideas like Dr. Yacoobi’s in Afghanistan, or like another women’s group, Isis-WICCE’s idea to start women-only Internet cafes in Uganda, to demonstrate the truly untapped potential of a group of women with an idea to change their community.

Second, nothing yields greater benefit than putting financial resources directly into the hands of women. When women plant and nurture seeds themselves, the crops are strong, and the family gets fed. The same is true when you nurture women’s potential, ideas, and solutions.

Third, we need to let women lead. We need to listen to grassroots women leaders and trust them to do what is best for their communities, and let them set the tone.

And fourth, we need to invest in more women’s funds around the world, like Semillas in Mexico or Tewa in Nepal, or like Global Fund for Women, which present an incredible opportunity for us to plant more seeds. Women’s funds have unmatched access to grassroots changemakers, and they are bringing new women and men into philanthropy in their countries and around the world.

There’s never been a better time to join the movement for women’s human rights, and there’s never been more ways to get involved.

What innovative ideas do you have to disrupt the status quo and drive bigger gains for gender equality?