These social entrepreneurs apply their passion and creativity to the challenges at the heart of their communities.
Last year, World Pulse launched the Women Weave the Web Campaign to unite global voices around women’s digital empowerment. Nearly 600 submissions from all over the world revealed a frustrating level of digital access challenges that largely concentrate the benefits of technology in the hands of a privileged few. But they confirmed something else as well: Grassroots women leaders, like alchemists, are using every bit of digital technology at their fingertips to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
The seven social entrepreneurs profiled below exemplify this phenomenon. Their ambitions are varied—from addressing the language needs of deaf children to ending violence against women—and their tactics are diverse. But they share some common ground. Each is rooted in her own experiential wisdom and immersed in the unique challenges of her community.
They are using the communications technologies available to help make the leap from a simple vision to a powerful reality.
1. Iffat Gill | Netherlands | ChunriChoupaal
As the IT industry grows to dominate the future job market, support is needed to ensure the equal participation of women in this sector.
The Vision: A meeting place for future women leaders and change agents to come together, discuss their issues, learn, and share skills.
The Leader: Iffat’s family hails from a small town in Pakistan. Though she came from a community where women are encouraged to stay behind closed doors, she made it to international forums to tell her story. Now she is determined to spread access to technology to other women.
In the Netherlands, Iffat is working to address the digital skills gap for women re-entering the job market.
Globally, her organization ChunriChoupaal provides digital training and mentorship opportunities. The Work to Equality Campaign surfaces stories of gender bias in the workplace and the Code to Change program prepares women in the Netherlands for careers in the technology sector. Iffat is working to re-invent a library in Pakistan into an innovation hub to allow women and girls to have safe access to information and e-skills.
The Tech:Digital technology is a cornerstone of Iffat's work. She is partnering with tech companies to develop an online mentoring platform for participants of the Code to Change program. In addition, Iffat is getting ready to launch a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to train women and girls in remote and rural areas in Pakistan.
2. Ilori Oluwafunmilayo | Nigeria | iRead Mobile Library
The Vision: If the people are not going to libraries, take libraries to the people.
The Leader: Ilori aims to revive the reading culture in Nigeria. She began her business as a one-woman enterprise going from house to house with a basket of books and audio-visuals for rent. Today that basket has become a full-fledged library on wheels, capable of reaching the most isolated communities. The first of its kind in Nigeria, iRead Mobile delivers books and educational services to subscribers’ doorsteps. The initiative launched in Lagos state, but Ilori hopes to expand throughout the country. This year Ilori was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and secured a grant to extend the reach of the mobile library to underserved communities.
The Tech: Ilori is working on integrating computers and digital tools into her mobile library. A partnership with Tumblebooks will add e-books to the library’s offerings.
3. Rim Siam | United Arab Emirates | WEBB Middle East
The Vision: Connect women entrepreneurs across the Middle East to learn from and empower each other.
The Leader: Rim Siam is inspired by the ability of digital technology to connect girls and women to markets, help them search for jobs, and foster entrepreneurship. She created her own web platform and she helps prepare women for employment opportunities in the digital economy.
The Tech: Rim Siam drew on her 22 years of business experience to establish WEBB Middle East in 2012. This online platform aims to close the digital literacy gap and promote “techpreneurship” among businesswomen. The website includes an online store where women can market and sell their products.
4. Godess Bvukutwa | Zimbabwe |Mambakwedza Women’s Center
Godess Bvukutwa vividlyrecallshow three boys in her math class would shout the answers to every question, monopolizing the teacher’s attention. Meanwhile, she and the rest of her class lost out. Today, she witnesses this same dynamic play out on a larger scale in her country.
“Public institutions in towns are now all connected to the Internet; church pastors now read the Bible from their tablets in church; members of parliament walk around with the iPads and smartphones; ebanking is all over the place and it seems from afar that we are all moving at the same pace,” she writes. And yet, amidst the exciting advances of the digital era, Zimbabwe’s rural girls are consistently on the margins.
The Vision:Instill confidence and leadership skills in teenage girls so they have the same chances as boys to achieve their dreams.
The Leader:Godess began the Mambakwedza Women’s Center as an afterschool program at a secondary school in the Mashonaland West region where she grew up. Mambakwedza is a Shona word that means ‘dawn’.The program encourages girls to stay in school longer and inspires them to become positive role models for others. Godess plans to expand this success to the wider community through dialogue forums, and training for teachers on gender issues.
The Tech:Godess relies on the Internet to connect with global allies and supporters. She accesses toolkits and webinars online and spreads the word about her work through her website and social media. The Internet has also enabled collaboration, like a project withPearls Heels n Dreamsto distribute reusable sanitary wear to the girls at the Center.
5. SilvanaVeinberg | Argentina | Canales Asociación Civil
This is the case for many deaf children. Studies show that reading in early childhood is important for future school performance. However, 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. In Argentina, many of these children do not have early access to literature. Some don’t have access to a language-rich environment until they enter school with other deaf children.
The Vision:Videobooks and contact with deaf adults to enrich the language development of deaf children.
The Leader:SilvanaVeinberg founded Canales Asociación Civil after seeing how the educational system in Argentina was failing deaf students. Her organization provides accessible materials for deaf children and their parents and teachers. Videobooks, the core offering, make popular children’s books accessible in Argentine Sign Language. The books include voice-over to allow deaf and hearing individuals to engage with the material together. Canales Asociación Civil also promotes inter-generational female leadership by connecting deaf grandmothers with deaf children. The children gain language skills, and the women have an opportunity to pass on the storytelling tradition that is so central to deaf culture.
The Tech:Deaf people are a small minority in any country. In the sprawling country of Argentina,Silvanarelies on the Internet to connect this dispersed community.Silvanaremembers when deaf people had to communicate over the phone through an intermediary. Now she can reach her deaf audience through email, social media, and text messages—and the videobooks, which can downloaded from anywhere in the world.
6. BusayoObisakin | Nigeria | Women Inspiration Development Center
The Vision:A safe haven and network for women and girls to discover their purpose and create new possibilities for themselves without fear.
The Leader:The visionBusayowas carrying for 20 years became a reality after a few months of connecting to the world through the Internet.Through social media, and a weekly appearance on a radio show, she has helped raise awareness on the struggles women in Nigeria face and has inspired others to take action.
The Tech:Busayofounded her organization in 2008 to address violence against women in her community in Ife Ife, Nigeria. The center supports survivors, and prevents violence by promoting awareness among women and men.Busayohas since expanded the center to provide vocational training and holistic support for women in her community. She is currently working on acquiring land to create a cyber cafe and library just for women.
7. Sherna Alexander Benjamin | Trinidad and Tobago | Organization for Abused and Battered Individuals
Even today, as an advocate who provides support and validation to other abuse survivors, Sherna still constantly battles with silence and stigma. When she sought computer donations for her program, she was met with resistance from companies who did not want their name connected with the topic of abuse and domestic violence.
Raising her voice for silent victims is never an easy road, she says. But it is the only road she can imagine for herself.
The Vision: "Until society stops seeing this issue as 'not my business' this crime, which undermines the fundamental human rights of individuals, will continue," says Sherna.
She envisions a society free from gender-based violence. Her approach combines healing for survivors with prevention through training and economic empowerment opportunities for women. She is working on establishing the country's first prevention and training center, which will include temporary housing and a computer lounge for training and education.
The Leader:Sherna began her organization in the living room of a home in Arima, Trinidad. As she began to openly share her own story, something miraculous happened. It opened the floodgates for others to speak out and seek help. While she still faces barriers, she is motivated by the vocal community of support she has built. Last year, she was recognized for her work with a National Youth Award.
The Tech:Sherna relies on technology to access resources and spread awareness. Through Google Hangouts, the organization’s counseling services now reach beyond the borders of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Through Youtube and online radio, the voices of survivors are reaching a global audience.