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Let’s face it. Celebrated founders tend to be men. There’s a litany of reasons for this, but one that’s hard to dispute is that less than 20% of founders in the for-profit sector are women. Depressing stat alert: there are more Fortune 500 CEOs named James than there are female CEOs. On the other hand, 47% of tech nonprofit founders are women. That stat is a small victory for women in tech. What’s most inspirational to me are the outcomes of what these fearless founders have built: significant returns on impact. So as we enter a new year, I’d like to take a moment to look back on some of 2018’s positive impact wins from the women leading tech nonprofits.
Mitchell Baker, Co-Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation
Net neutrality, ethics in tech, and the overall state of the internet were hot topics in 2018. This year Mozilla - the tech nonprofit working to create an internet that is open, accessible, humane, and inclusive – focused on solutions. (You may know Mozilla as the organization behind the Firefox browser.) Under the leadership of Mitchell Baker, Mozilla fought tooth and nail to fight for people on the web through litigation, legislative advocacy, and product development. A fierce advocate of a healthy internet, the Webby Awards recognized Baker’s contributions with a lifetime achievement award.
Mozilla teamed up with Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies to launch the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, a call for methods to integrate ethics into computer science education. Baker marked Mozilla’s 20th anniversary by inviting others to make a pledge for a healthy internet to fight division, violence, hatred and misinformation online.
Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and CEO of Code for America
Government can work better for the people who need it most. Code for America proves that. Led by Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America made tremendous strides in 2018. Their program GetCalFresh has supported over 500,000 people get food stamps. Additionally, Pahlka’s team is focused on helping hundreds of thousands of people break the cycle of poverty and incarceration through Clear My Record. The product automates the process of clearing old, low-level convictions, which can be a barrier to employment, banking, and housing.
And they are mobilizing a national movement, with 77 active volunteer teams (known as Code for America Brigades) working with local governments across the U.S. to drive change in their communities. Code for America was also honored with a 2018 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Anushka Ratnayake, Founder and CEO of myAgro
If you haven’t heard of myAgro, it’s the tech nonprofit enabling smallholder farmers to pay for seeds and supplies, little by little, using their mobile phone. In 2018, through a bank-less digital payment (or mobile layaway) system, 47,000 farmers across Western Africa used their own funds to buy seeds, fertilizer, and agricultural tools that safeguard for the future. Led by CEO and founder Anushka Ratnayake, myAgro saw a 40% year over year increase in users.
Last year alone, myAgro farmers made around 1 million digital investments in their farms. Accordingly, they grew 16,000 metric tons of food, or enough to feed nearly 200,000 people for a year. In addition, Ratnayake was recognized as a World Economic Forum Global Leader. The seeds of 2019 look to be fruitful as operations in Tanzania ramp up.
Sneha Sheth and Sindhuja Jeyabal, Co-Founders of Dost Education
This powerhouse co-founder team is helping parents in India set their children up for educational success. In India, 150 million women are low literacy, making it a challenge to support their children’s early education. To solve this, Dost Education delivers 1-minute voicemails to parents.
In 2018, Sheth and Jeyabal, along with their team, grew their impact 100x, reaching 30,000 families while maintaining a weekly listener rate of 80%. And Dost provides this service for just $3 per family. Additionally, Sheth was dubbed a Mulago Rainer Arnhold Fellow, and they partnered with Stanford to develop socio-emotional learning content for their platform. In 2019, Dost will pilot a new program with 20 government schools to improve support for caregivers and parents.
Jess Ladd, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Callisto
Sexual misconduct in the workplace had a reckoning in 2018. Jess Ladd built Callisto, the much-needed solution. Callisto is the sexual assault reporting software that allows survivors to anonymously file and, if they wish, report perpetrators. It began as a product for college campuses, and still serves thousands of students through its 13 university partners.
In 2018, Ladd and her team launched Callisto Expansion, a product designed to detect repeat perpetrators of sexual misconduct and to keep the startup founder community safe. In tandem, Callisto authored The Survivor’s Guide, a resource guide for survivors of sexual assault, rape, and professional sexual coercion. Callisto will continue its expansion into professional industries in 2019, starting with the tech industry. Under Ladd’s leadership, Callisto was selected for the prestigious Skoll Award, and received a grant from leading tech nonprofit donor, Reid Hoffman.
Kiah Williams, Co-Founder of SIRUM
There are 50,000,000 Americans who skip filling prescriptions every year due to cost. Thanks to SIRUM, the tech nonprofit Kiah Williams co-founded to connect surplus medicine with those who can’t afford their prescriptions, this number is steadily decreasing. In 2018, SIRUM officially helped launched Good Pill Pharmacy, which delivers medicine that’s been donated by pharmacies and health facilities to the front doors of low income patients, for just a small admin fee. Good Pill is changing how families get their care, providing transparent, low-fees, and focusing on access. Plus, in 2018, SIRUM grew its medicine donor base, which will result in tripling the volume of medicine in its network in 2019.
Despite the plentiful tech lows of 2018, these entrepreneurs give us reason to celebrate tech’s positive impact. From instilling ethics in tech, to using technology to support victims of sexual misconduct, tech nonprofits prove that tech can be a vehicle for positive change. It’s my hope that their leadership inspires others to build the tools we need for social change in 2019.
January 8, 2019 at 04:04PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs