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The 2021 WE Empower UN SDG Challenge honors innovative women leaders committed to solving challenges in their communities through their business by advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

From across the globe, these changemakers engaged in a pitch competition and a two-day conference during the 76th UN General Assembly in September 2021. Now in its fourth year, the program has invested in 21 women entrepreneurs from 16 countries.  

In 2021, the program honored the following five Awardees, representing each of the five world regions: 

  • Aline Sara, Co-Founder and CEO of NaTakallam (United States) 
  • Panmela Castro, Founder and CEO, Panmela Castro Arte e Cultura and Rede Nami (Brazil) 
  • Nidhi Pant, Co-Founder and Head of Finance and Partnerships of S4S Technologies (India) 
  • Olufunto Boroffice, Founder and CEO of Chanja Datti Ltd (Nigeria) 
  • Sara Saeed, Co-Founder and CEO of Sehat Kahani (Pakistan) 

The program ignites awareness of the valuable contribution women entrepreneurs can make to the SDGs to solve the world’s greatest challenges, coupled with networking opportunities, unique trainings, visibility, and credibility for their work. During the week-long program, Awardees had the opportunity to connect with a global network of experts and peers to advance their enterprises. As a culmination of the experience, WE Empower Awardees participated in a dynamic pitch competition, hosted by fashion designer, activist, and Vital Voices Board Member Diane von Furstenberg, for the opportunity to receive a $20,000 grant for their business. 

During the virtual pitch competition on September 22, each Awardee presented a 3-minute pitch to a panel of business experts and a global audience of over 400 people, followed by a period of Q&A from the panel. The event was hosted by Stephanie Mehta (Editor-in-Chief, Fast Company) with a panel of experts that included: Lisa Milburn (Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, BMO Wealth Management)(Chief Marketing Officer, Mary Kay), Julie Hansen (Global Executive Advisor, Salesforce), Karen Fang (Managing Director and Global Head of Sustainable Finance, Bank of America), and Jamila Belabidi-Chahid (Global Purchases Director, Proctor and Gamble) 

At the start of the pitch, Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson remembered the passing of two remarkable former Awardees and inspiring women leaders, Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel and Mavis Nduchwa, who tragically passed away during this past year. In their honor, WE Empower launched two additional awards for WE Empower Finalists who continue the legacy of both Shimrit and Mavis through their shared values and commitment to the SDGs for a better, more sustainable world. 

The Mavis Nduchwa SDG Impact Award was presented to 2021 Finalist, Marisol Villalobos, Founder and CEO of Amasar, an agricultural company leveraging locally-grown breadfruit to grow Puerto Rico’s economy while fighting poverty, hunger, and climate change. The Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel SDG Excellence Award was presented to 2020 Finalist Inna Braverman, Founder of Eco Wave Power, a green energy company in Israel that is leveraging technology to produce clean, affordable energy from oceans and sea waves. Both awards come with a $2,500 grant and will be awarded annually to honor the legacy of Mavis and Shimrit.  

After the pitches and panel questions, the audience voted Olufunto Boroffice as the winner of the pitch event. Olufunto delivered an incredible pitch on how her company, Chanja Datti Ltd, extracts value from waste collection and recycling to create jobs and financial empowerment for communities in Nigeria. The runner-ups also received a grant of $5,000 that will help support their work. Congratulations to Olufunto and all the WE Empower Awardees for their dedication to making positive impacts across the globe. 

Following the pitch competition, the Awardees and Top 25 Finalists of the program were invited to a two-day conference featuring influential speakers and industry experts facilitating capacity-building trainings and networking sessions to help Awardees and Finalists scale their work.

Some highlights of the conference included:

  • Meeting with the Salesforce Venture team to discuss trends in impact investing and how entrepreneurs can get their business ready for investing;
  • A training with Vital Voices network leader Aida Bakri and her lessons on SDG storytelling and communication;
  • A discussion with Amanda Ellis of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory™ at Arizona State University to learn about the current state of gender equality globally and how to increase advocacy across countries. 

At the end of the conference, Awardees had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and discuss how they will leverage their new skills to continue making the world a better place. Awardees will also receive tailored support and will participate in speaking opportunities throughout the next few months. 

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