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On Thursday, March 8, countries all over the world will celebrate International Women’s Day. Since 1909, International Women’s Day is a day to recognize the achievements of women while also raising awareness about the fact that global gender equality has yet to be achieved. In an effort to maintain the momentum and motivation for achieving equality, the campaign theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress[1].

Last year, we learned through the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report that the pace of achieving economic equality for women has slowed, with current estimates indicating that women will not achieve equality for over 200 years. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the power of women entrepreneurs to create and accelerate prosperity in their communities. While the potential for prosperity is immense, it is critical to accelerate the growth of women owned businesses by providing access to tailored and practical business skills training, as well as catalyzing the growth of networks that provide support, advice, and access to resources.

Through the VV GROW Fellowship, Vital Voices has supported 313 women owners of small and medium sized businesses from 67 countries around the world who are driven to grow their businesses, create jobs, and accelerate progress in their communities. Fellows such as Rasha Abu Safeh are creating new opportunities and hope. Rasha, a 2016-2017 fellow from Gaza and Capacity Building Manager and Co-Founder of Gateway for Outsourcing Information Technology Social Enterprise has almost tripled her number of employees, providing highly skilled jobs in a community with one of the highest unemployment rate in the world.

VV GROW fellows receive a full scholarship for the fellowship, receiving access to the business skills training, networks and resources at no cost to themselves. After completing the program, fellows Pay Forward the significant investment made in them by training, mentoring, and advocating for women’s empowerment and expanding their leadership roles and commitments in their communities. To date, program alumni have impacted over 150,000 people through such activities. 2018 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards Economic honoree and 2015-2016 VV GROW fellow Lina Khalifeh, Founder of SheFighter in Jordan, has been spreading her message of women’s empowerment all over the world. Lina shares, “With the success I feel I just need to just keep on going because I’m actually just growing more and I’m actually growing within myself, not just the company. …I’m changing the way I think as well, just by meeting other cultures and just opening up to the whole world.” She is also changing culture in a strategic way through working with communities and groups to shift norms and grow her impact step by step.

The VV GROW fellowship, supported by the ExxonMobil Foundation, the Global Founding Partner and Platinum Sponsor FedEx, is now in its fifth year. Through providing training and access to resources needed to drive business growth and greater economic opportunity, VV GROW fellows work towards achieving equality for all.

“I’ve learned so much, and I don’t want it to be boxed up inside me. I want to share it with other women. I want to be a mentor.” – Habiba Ali, Nigeria, 2015-2016 VV GROW fellow.

Founding global partner:

ExxonMobil Foundation: The ExxonMobil Foundation is the primary philanthropic arm of Exxon Mobil Corporation in the United States, providing funding globally to improve basic education, promote women as catalysts for development and combat malaria in developing countries.

Platinum sponsor:

FedEx: FedEx is dedicated to transforming lives and economies around the world and in the communities where employees live and the company operates. The company is committed to investing $200 million in more than 200 communities by 2020 through collaborations with trusted NGOs and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Contributor: Eugenia Podesta, Senior Director, Economic Empowerment & Entrepreneurship