Let’s take a moment and imagine that the global fight for women’s equality is taking place in a single corporate office. It’s a standard space, outfitted with neat groups of high-walled cubicles. Occasionally, someone might pop her head over the barricade separating her from her neighbor to share a finding or ask a question — but for the most part, communication falls to a lull.
This tendency towards independence isn’t necessarily a bad one. Even the small ventures are worth celebrating if it helps spark a positive change in women’s lives. After all, the situation is far from ideal for many; while women perform about 40 per cent of the world’s work, they own just 20 per cent of its land and represent less than a quarter of its leadership. The World Bank estimates that limitations on educational opportunities for girls create a global loss of between $15-30 trillion in lost lifetime earnings and productivity.
The global community will be immeasurably worse off if women continue to lack social, economic, and political equality. But what could we accomplish if we collaborate across international boundaries? What can small organizations achieve if we share our models, exchange our notes, dedicate our support, and scale small projects into globally-effective solutions?
Judging from the Womanity Foundation’s experience, we can do quite a bit.
The Womanity Award case study
The Womanity Foundation is a Switzerland-based nonprofit organization that fights for women and girls’ rights across the globe. It holds the Womanity Award for the Prevention of Violence Against Women every other year. Initially launched in 2014, the Award recognizes two NGOs, social enterprises, or other not-for-profit organizations who jointly take strides against gender-based violence. Then, the Womanity Foundation provides paired organizations with financial support, mentoring, connections and resources they need to work together to adapt and contextualise innovative programmes into a new country.
This year’s award focused on finding innovative programmes that create safe urban environments for women. The recipients were the New Delhi-based social enterprise Safetipin and Soul City Institute for Social Justice, an intersectional feminist organization dedicated to advancing women and girls. Now, the two will work together to adapt, contextualize, and scale Safetipin’s programme to support women in the Soul City Institute’s home of South Africa.
The Safetipin programme was established as a way to resolve the anxieties many women struggle with as they traversed New Delhi’s streets. Those streets aren’t as safe as they should be; reports show that a 92 per cent of women in the city have experienced sexual violence.
With the My Safetipin App, women can assess the safety of their location based on lighting, quality of walk paths, presence of security and report potential dangers before they impact other women. When users open the app, they can see an interactive map of their city annotated with red, orange, and green pin icons that indicate the user-reported safety of each area. Safetipin Apps are currently being used by over 100,000 people in 12 cities, mostly in India but also in Bogota, Nairobi, Manila and Jakarta.
Now, the Soul City Institute will work with Safetipin to adapt the technology to a new user base. In the span of three years, the two collaborators will expand access to Safetipin to users in South Africa. They will be helped in part by the Womanity Foundation, which will provide mentoring support, partnership management, and institutional development guidance the organizations during their collaboration. The efficacy of the partnership between Safetipin and the Soul City Institute demonstrates what we can accomplish by taking a more collaborative approach to women’s issues.
Lessons learned from the Womanity approach
All this said, expanding a social venture across the world isn’t a simple matter of transferring initiatives from one community to another. Every location has its characteristics and cultural and social norms. If the venture doesn’t answer to the needs of women in their particular context or lacks a sustainable model, it will inevitably fall short.
Paired organizations overcome these obstacles by forging ties between interested local partners and experienced field staff early on. Each project goes through a period of thorough development where partners identify potential weaknesses and adapt the model to local needs. Strategic partnerships with public services, private businesses, or other charities provide access to local communities.
The widespread change the world needs cannot develop in isolation. Real progress will only come when change-focused organizations can break down their geographical barriers, overcome competition, and work hand-in-hand for a better future.
Yann Bordstedt is founder and president of the Womanity Foundation