One of the most powerful women in the world is teaming up with one of the richest women in the world—Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, respectively—to host a competition with one goal in mind: gender equality.
Gates and Bezos announced the competition, called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, through Pivotal Ventures, Gates’ investment and incubation company. The challenge will be managed by Lever For Change, a MacArthur Foundation affiliate, and will grant $30 million to the organizations (or the coalitions of organizations) with the best ideas for helping to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.
“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” MacKenzie Bezos said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.”
“The entrenched inequalities that divide America—race, gender, class—will not go away without systems-wide change,” added Melinda Gates in a statement of her own. “This challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.”
While Melinda Gates has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s health and gender equality, Bezos has been quieter with her philanthropy and influence. Since finalizing her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Bezos has indicated her philanthropic intentions by signing the Giving Pledge (thereby committing at least half of her now-$51 billion fortune to charity) and joining the board of Blue Meridian, an organization dedicated to helping children and families in poverty. Her contribution to the Equality Can’t Wait initiative marks her biggest public gift to date.
A spokesperson for Lever for Change said that the competition had been in the works for the past six months, and that the timing of its announcement—just weeks after massive protests against systemic racial inequities started spreading across the nation—is not meant to be a reaction to the current reality, but a continuation of serious conversations.
Broadly, the challenge will look for ideas that help dismantle barriers that hold women back (including but not limited to sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, and inadequate federal policies around caregiving); fast-track female participation in sectors like technology, government and entrepreneurship; and change outdated systems and beliefs around gender. Specifically, according to the challenge’s website, successful proposals should create real, measurable change for women in at least one of the following areas: wages and wealth, unpaid care, share of leadership roles, content creation (in other words, increasing the percentage of cultural and intellectual content created by women), and public perception.
“When I taught my first course on women in the U.S. economy back in 1985, a female full-time, year-round worker made 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2018, she earned 82 cents. That’s a raise of less than a penny a year,” noted Cecilia Conrad, the CEO of Lever for Change. She’s hopeful that the Equality Can’t Wait competition will accelerate parity in wages and societal treatment.
To participate in the challenge, organizations must register online by September 1, 2020; fuller applications are due by September 22. Finalists will be announced in early 2021, and winners will be chosen next summer. The $30 million in prize money will be divided among the two most compelling ideas (each will receive a minimum of $10 million) and the remaining finalists.