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(India and Brazil)

Helping social entrepreneurs to become a catalyst for large-scale social change for women and girls.



The project

“Being a WomenChangeMakers fellow has helped our organization to increase our partners’ network and be able to know people we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The fellowship is opening a lot of doors and we believe as time goes by, the impact will be even bigger than anticipated.” – Alice Freitas, WomenChangeMakers Fellow 2012-2014, founder and CEO of Asta (Brazil)

The Challenge

According to the UNDP, women perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property[1], whilst only 21.4% of the world’s parliamentarians are women[2].

When women and men have equal opportunities and rights, economic growth and social development accelerate and poverty rates drop more rapidly for everyone. But today equality is still a distant goal. Women and girls in the developing world still face barriers across all aspects of life – social, economical and political – to a far greater degree than men[3]. This is a result of systematic discrimination in education, health care, employment, and control over productive resources.

Many policies and institutions around the world still fail to take gender disparities into account. And, with too few seats at the tables where decisions are made, women themselves have limited opportunity to spark change.

[1] The World Bank, International Finance Corporation (2012), “Removing barriers to economic inclusion”,

[2] UNDP (2014), “Fast Facts: Gender Equality and UNDP”,

[3] ONE (2015), “Poverty is sexist: Why Girls and Women Must be at the heart of the fight to End Extreme Poverty”,

About WomenChangeMakers (WCM)

Womanity believes that empowering women and helping them to improve conditions within their community instigates lasting social and economic development, at the local level and on a global scale. The WomenChangeMakers program supports outstanding individuals whose projects have the power to generate progress for women.

The program aims to identify, support, and connect leading social entrepreneurs addressing women’s access to education and healthcare, and economic and political participation. WomenChangeMakers builds an ecosystem of partnerships which helps its Fellows grow, expand and replicate their project, increase synergies and scale-up their impact.

The Approach

The WomenChangeMakers program was launched in 2010 to identify and then aid social entrepreneurs to achieve large-scale social change by contributing to progress for women and their communities. The program aims to help social entrepreneurs strengthen and scale-up their ongoing efforts to promote women’s empowerment. Strategic partnerships are built with professionals who assist program Fellows to enhance their capacity, reach, and impact.

Our Fellows head projects that have been successful and are ready to replicate and grow. They are identified in their countries by the Womanity Foundation and its partners, and then carefully evaluated by the WomenChangeMakers’ team. Selected Fellows are then granted a three-year support package. This includes access to like-minded professionals and relevant resources, as well as mentorship opportunities, through the WomenChangeMakers’ network, of which they become life members.

Please scroll down to read how the program supports Fellows, and about our selection process.

The Impact

  • Alice Freitas was a finalist in the 2013 Folha de São Paulo and Schwab Foundation Social entrepreneurship award, selected to attend the Ashoka Globaliser Program 2014 and selected to participate in the Visionaries Program run by Endeavour. Rede Asta’s co-founder, Rachel Schettino, was selected as a panelist at the first Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Brazil.
  • Rede Asta has supported 812 handicraft artisans in 60 production groups to date.
  • Alice Freitas and Rede Asta were featured on Mundo SA, a television show on one of Brazil’s largest channels. This led to monthly average income increasing threefold.
  • Mulher em Construção had a project approved by the Brazil Foundation to train 100 women in construction work in Rio Grande do Sul, following an introduction by Womanity.
  • Rede Nami trained 1,000 teenagers in using socially conscious urban art to allow them to articulate messages of gender equality across their communities through graffiti.
  • In December 2014 and in partnership with Brazil’s most prestigious social entrepreneurship award Prêmio Empreendedor Social, WomenChangeMakers Brazil was delighted to inaugurate three awardees as Honorary WomenChangeMakers Fellows.
  • In 2014, Educate Girls launched a pilot for the world’s first Pay-by-Results (PbR) program in education and in India, connections with the investors were facilitated by the Womanity Foundation.
  • The number of beneficiaries reached through the Educate Girls program has grown from approximately 567,000 to 1.1 million, bringing over 80,000 girls back to school. 4,500+ groups of volunteers known as “Team Balika,” are working as agents of change in their communities, encouraging girls’ enrollment and school reform.
  • Bandhan Konnagar, through its Targeting Hardcore Poor Program, has been serving 5,880 additional beneficiaries since the last half of 2014, raising its cumulative beneficiary number to 25,547 poor and marginalized families.
  • In 2014 Educate Girls won a prestigious WISE Award, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation and was chosen as a winner of the 2014 Stars Foundation, Education Impact Award. In 2015 Safeena Husain was honored by the Skoll Foundation with an Award for Social Entrepreneurship.



Supporting women in India and Brazil


Read our latest report on WomenChangeMakers 2015 in English or in Portuguese.

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Meet the Fellows

2012 Edition

Alice Freitas

Founder and CEO, Rede Asta, Ashoka Fellow and Avina Leader

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sector: Livelihoods

Model: Go-to-Market Strategies for a Direct Sales Network

Working primarily with women-owned enterprises in the lower income segment, Alice Freitas has created Brazil’s first direct sales network that addresses the issues of economic empowerment and social equality. Enterprises at the bottom of the pyramid are most often handicapped and intimidated by the challenges of large-scale distribution and the competition in the open market economy. In order to create a level playing field, Rede Asta engages with about 600 marginalized producers, 93% of whom are women, through access to markets, know-how, and facilitative networks. The last involves the creation of a network of trained sales agents equipped with an intimate understanding of market realities, producer profiles, and the history and social impact of the product. This, in turn, opens up a direct communication channel between the producers and consumers.  Moreover, 97% of the 650–700 resellers and 86% of the RedeAsta team are women. Beginning in 2008 with sales of BRL 600 per month, Rede Asta presently grosses monthly average sales of BRL 50,000. In five years it aims to support 85 producer cooperatives comprising 1,400 artisans, generating average gross monthly sales of BRL 300,000.

The organization’s goal is to create a brand that spurs consumption patterns to fast track economic inclusion for women and replicate the model throughout Brazil and beyond.


Safeena Hussain

Founder and CEO, Educate Girls

Location: Pali district, Rajasthan, India

Sector: Girls’ Education

Model: Public-Private Partnership

The first WCM Fellow from India, Safeena Hussain, launched Educate Girls with the vision to create a sustainable model for the education of the girl child in government schools in India. Gender disparity remains a significant barrier to education across India, particularly in rural areas, with more than 3.7 million girl children out of school in India today. Even with the Government of India’s Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, there remain 26 districts across the country termed “critical gender gap districts”. Nine of them are in Rajasthan, where Safeena started her work in 2008.

By leveraging existing community and government resources, the model promotes the concept of community ownership to improve school infrastructure and advocates for the rights of the girl child and give her a voice. It serves as a catalyst for sustainable, scalable and holistic reform. Educate Girls’ focuses on enrolment, retention and increased academic performance for girl children. Team Balika, a cadre of village-based youth leaders, works in the schools as well as village communities spreading awareness and in turn boosting enrollment, retention, and learning outcomes for all girls.

The model works on orchestrated synergies, top-down, with government officials at different levels, and bottom-up, with villagers and village committees. Alongside partnering with government, private sector funding and strategic alliances remain crucial to the expansion and development of the Educate Girls program.

In the short span of five years, Educate Girls has enrolled over 80,000 girls to school by reaching 5,500 schools.


2013 Edition

Panmela Castro

Founder: Nami Rede Feminista de Arte Urbana

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sector: Women’s Rights

Model: Activism through Art

Panmela Castro is one of Brazil’s top female graffiti artists who has gained international attention for her activism through art as well as the work she does with the NGO that she started in 2010, called Nami Rede Feminista de Arte Urbana (Rede Nami), a feminist collective of urban artists. Rede Nami’s mission is to contribute to gender equality through graffiti arts, with a specific focus on addressing violence against women. Rede Nami trains and prepares artists and art educators to respond to prejudice and racial, ethnic, class, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination. Its activities involve training and art workshops, running projects, performing cultural events for civil and public partnerships, and organizing seminars and artistic productions. All of its activities seek to defend and promote women’s rights. Agência Nami Grafitti is Rede Nami’s social business, which relies on urban arts professionals, experts in gender and women’s rights, and capable artists to run graffiti workshops, deploy thematic walls, and lead seminars. In addition, the agency contributes to Rede Nami’s financial sustainability.

Rede Nami has the potential to positively impact thousands of women, men, and youth across Brazil through their socially empowering street art interventions. It also provides a platform to economically empower women urban artists by providing them with important spaces of exchange, professional capacity building and opportunities to sell and publicize their work through Rede Nami’s network.

The WCM Fellowship to Panmela will support Rede Nami to become a financially sustainable organization with a solid business model by building a network of partners that could train at least 1,400 women and men in preventing gender-based violence each year across several Brazilian cities.

Through the WomenChangeMakers’ network, the Ford Foundation approved USD 100,000 to fund “Afrografiteiras”, a project where Rede Nami will train and support 30 young black women to express and promote women’s empowerment through graffiti art.


Maria Beatriz ‘Bia’ Kern

Founder and Director: Mulher em Construção

Location: Canoas, Rio Grande do Sol, Brazil

Sector: Livelihoods

Model: Gender perspectives in skills development

Bia Kern is the founder and Director of Mulher em Construção (MEC), an organization that launched in 2006 in Canoas, Rio Grande do Sul in the South of Brazil to train and qualify women to work in civil construction with the aim of social and economic empowerment. MEC’s approach involves building the capacity and professional development of women and connecting them to the job market in this sector. MEC offers courses and workshops to women from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds in construction skills such as masonry, tile-laying, painting, electrical installations, plumbing, among others.

MEC also is one of the only organizations in Brazil that mainstreams gender as an integral element in training women as civil construction workers – the organization includes trainings in citizenship, and generates entrepreneurship with technical and vocational skills training for low-income women. Thus MEC has an opportunity to tap into the uncovered demand in construction for skilled labor and, simultaneously, advocate for women’s rights. The organization is already participating in public biddings and there is an opportunity for it to show how empowered women can contribute to civic resilience through urban development. MEC is also setting up the first professional school in Brazil to train low-income women in construction skills for future stable employment.

The WCM Fellowship to Bia Kern will support MEC to become a financially sustainable organization in the construction sector. In three years, MEC wants to replicate its model across Brazil and train at least 5,000 women per year.

The partnership between Womanity Foundation and the University of St. Gallen generated an interesting case study on the impact of Mulher em Construção (MEC). Linda Koenig, Master student of the St. Gallen University, São Paulo HUB, conducted her research in the area of Impact Investing and Social Finance studying the socio-economic impact of MEC’s training of women in construction work and gender empowerment.Read the research paper here: st-gallen-university_master-thesis-linda-koenig_mec

Neelam Chibber

Co-founder and MD Industree Crafts Private Limited

Location: Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Sector: Rural Livelihoods

Model: Hybrid Social Enterprise

Neelam Chhiber co-founded the for-profit Industree Crafts Private Limited (ICPL) as a social business to improve market access for the artisans and where the profits generated are ploughed back into production and the skilling of artisans.

The non-profit arm, Industree Crafts Foundation, established in 2000, works with rural producers on design development, and technical and skill initiatives in the natural fibre sector. In time, the Foundation’s mandate broadened to include other crafts as well. The Foundation also sought to build up the production base and enable artisans to become owners of their enterprises.

In a nutshell, Industree is a hybrid social enterprise that works on two levels – it supports the livelihoods of rural producers and agricultural workers in the natural fiber crafts sector across India by manufacturing contemporary products, mainly home accessories; and connects rural producers to urban markets, through the company’s high-end retail stores across the country – Mother Earth.

In the last fiscal of 2013, the retail venture targeted a revenue of Rs 30 crore. Ninety percent of the more than 10,000 producers engaged presently with Industree are women. The WCM Fellowship aims to support Neelam’s goal of scaling the Foundation’s capacity-building initiatives for sustainable livelihoods, mainly for women artisans.

The Foundation targets skills development and capacity building of 200,000 artisans over the next 5 years. The Fellowship’s key focus thereby will be to help the Foundation create strong, high quality training systems; develop a sustainable funding model; enhance network linkages; and strengthen the monitoring and evaluation systems, which will include assessment tools to measure the initiative’s impact on women’s empowerment.


Chandra Shekhar Ghosh

Founder and CEO, Bandhan

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Sector: Microfinance

Model:  Microfinance-plus

C.S. Ghosh founded Bandhan that was set up with the dual objective of poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. The model incorporates two entities: Its non-banking financial company (NBFC) and Bandhan Financial Services Pvt Ltd (BFSPL). The aim of the entities is to bring financial stability to poor women through micro-loans in the 22 Indian states and one Union Territory in which it operates. To date, it has reached out to 4.8 million disadvantaged women. Bandhan-Konnagar, the non-profit arm of the organization, aims at fostering a deeper systemic development by focusing on ultra-poor women (or the ‘hardcore poor’, such as destitute or homeless women), who fall outside the lending net of most Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs). Through its “credit plus approach,” it brings them on par with those to whom MFIs and banks will give credit. Bandhan Konnagar lends muscle to the women’s financial advancement through community-based programs targeted at education, health, and livelihoods.

The WCM Fellowship to C. S. Ghosh will support Bandhan Konnagar’s expansion plan for the next three years, with a goal of reaching 10 states covering 2,000,000 households through five community development programs. The key focus of this Fellowship will be to strengthen the organization’s communication strategy, improve its use of technology, enhance the networking and fundraising capacities, review its monitoring and evaluation systems and advance its women empowerment programs.


2014 Edition (Honorary Fellows)

Marianne Costa

Co-founder: Raizes Desenvolvimento Sustentàvel

Sector: Economic empowerment

Model: Social business for women’s access to market

Marianne Costa co-founded a tourism consulting firm and three years later a social business to improve the handicraft generation and market access for women artisans, and heads of households in Jequitinhonha Valley, Minas Gerais. Three years after this, the two ventures merged to form Raízes Desenvolvimento Sustentável a social enterprise combining ethical tourism and volunteering with handicraft production and livelihood development.


Raquel da Silva Barros

Founder: Lua Nova

Sector: Protection

Model: Social integration of street girls

Raquel da Silva Barros of Lua Nova developed a successful model for the social integration of street girls who are pregnant or have small children, using motherhood as a positive turning point in their lives. The young women are hosted in the Lua Nova community with their children and are offered therapy, drug rehabilitation and taught healthy parenting. The program also offers training and employment opportunities in catering, construction, sewing and silkscreen.


Carlos Zuma

Co-founder: Instituto Noos

Sector: Domestic violence

Model: Rehabilitation courses

Carlos Zuma’s Instituto Noos offers people and judicial courts a more constructive remedy to cases of domestic violence. Zuma, a trained family psychologist, used his hands-on experiences to open channel for judges to refer male, and female, abusers, to six-month rehabilitation courses that are showing promising results. Carlos is creating a way for families, judges, and psychologists to collaborate in constructively addressing the epidemic problem of family violence in Brazil.


2015 Edition

Ajaita Shah

Founder: Frontier Markets

Location: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Sector: Economic empowerment

Model: Training rural women

Ajaita Shah started Frontier Markets (FM) in 2011 to address the lack of access to regular and reliable electricity and lighting in rural India by providing affordable, appropriate high-quality solar energy products. Frontier Market’s innovation lies in its user-centric distribution and service model, which creates easy access, trains local women to educate rural households on the socio-economic and health benefits of clean energy products and to provide after-sales’ service, thus turning these women into clean energy advocates and entrepreneurs. FM works closely with users and product design companies to fine-tune their products to best serve customers’ needs. Ajaita was nominated by WCM India Fellow Neelam Chibber and by Audrey Selian of Rianta Capital. 

The WomenChangeMakers Fellowship to Ajaita Shah and her organization Frontier Markets will seek to accelerate their growth, especially by building their organizational efficiency in the area of systems’ development and processes, human resource management and capacity development, and data and information management.


Bijal Brahmbhatt

Executive Director: Mahila Housing SEWA Trust

Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Sector: Rural livelihood

Model: Pro-poor Housing and Infrastructure

Bijal Brahmbhatt was nominated by the Oak Foundation in India. Bijal, a civil engineer and a habitat improvement expert, has blueprinted and organically developed the work of Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), an autonomous organization promoted by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Under Bijal’s leadership, MHT has transitioned from being a consultative NGO to a facilitator and deliverer of pro-poor housing and related infrastructure (energy, water, solid waste management, roads) for women living in slums. Bijal’s innovation also lies in enabling women to access government subsidies set aside for slum development, and in providing technical services, urban planning, legal expertise, and securing land tenure for slum residents.

The WomenChangeMakers’ Fellowship to Bijal and her organization Mahila Housing SEWA Trust will lend strength to their organizational growth and expansion. The Fellowship is committed to help Bijal form the knowledge hub that she envisions to strategically share information on affordable housing and environment conservation by engaging with a large number of women as partners in change from their beneficiary network.


Ruchira Gupta (Associate Fellow)

Founder and President: Apne Aap Women Worldwide

Location: New Delhi, India

Sector: End sex trafficking

Model: Women’s rights

After winning the Emmy Award for her film on trafficked women, Ruchira Gupta, a former journalist, was persuaded to set up Apne Aap Women Worldwide in 2002 by the 22 prostituted women whom she had filmed. Apne Aap, a grassroots organization that is working to end sex trafficking—an abject form of modern-day slavery—is enabling trafficked women, at-risk girls, and populations threatened by intergenerational prostitution to exercise choices to break out of the shackles of trafficking. Apne Aap does this by increasing choices for her target population through its “Last Girl 10 Assets Programme”, which ensures that women are positioned to access their rights, and by deterring the buying of sex through campaigns social and policy change. Ruchira was nominated for WCM 2015 by Rosanna Arquette.

The WomenChangeMakers Fellowship will support the process documentation of Apne Aap’s “Last Girl 10 Assets Programme”, to enable Apne Aap to share their valuable tool in view of its wider utilization in other geographies, possibly by partner organizations. This will lend muscle to Apne Aap’s global replication strategy.


Anke Riedel

Founder: Casa Angela

Location: São Paolo, Brazil 

Sector: Pre-natal, natal and post-natal care

Model: Humanized birth 

Anke Riedel, a physician by training, oversees Casa Angela’s operations in São Paulo (Brazil), a center founded in 2009 where all women, including the poorest, receive pre-natal, natal and post-natal care and guidance. Casa Angela’s innovative approach towards humanized childbirth and mother and child´s care is exemplary in Brazil and beyond. Anke Riedel also participates actively in local and regional networks promoting humanized birth through dialogue, sharing experience and advocating for appropriate policies and practices.

With the support of the WCM Program, Anke Riedel intends to strengthen Casa Angela’s business model and replicate its methodology in public and private health sectors in order to scale up reach and impact. The goal is to offer a humanized birth approach to a wide proportion of Brazilians of all socio-economic classes and to significantly improve health outcomes.


Lilian do Prado

Co-founder: Acreditar – Capital Humano e Transformação Social 

Location: Pernambuco and Ceará, Brazil

Sector: Women’s entrepreneurship 

Model: Financial and business support 

Lilian do Prado co-founded Acreditar – Capital Humano e Transformação Social when she was 20 years old. With a bachelor degree in Business Administration, she oversees Acreditar’s operations in small cities and rural areas of the states of Pernambuco and Ceará (Brazil), supporting the incubation of businesses, providing financial education, technical advice and productive microcredit, to young people and women who set out to create their own businesses. Through Acreditar, she has successfully fostered a culture of youth and female entrepreneurship in a socio-economic context that tends to stifle creativity, innovation and women’s emancipation. Her achievements have earned her recognition by national and international organizations such as the Brazil Foundation, Ashoka, McKinsey, and the Prêmio Claudia.

Being part of the WCM Fellowship, Lilian aims to strengthen the focus on women’s entrepreneurship and build specific programs and venture funds for women.




Nominators in each country of operation identify potential Fellows who are aiming to scale and/or replicate their project, and refer them to us (social entrepreneurs do not apply directly to become a WomenChangeMakers’ Fellow). The candidates are then evaluated and tested against a carefully developed criteria, through a series of interviews and tests to ensure that the selected social entrepreneurs and their projects are relevant to our mission.

We invite non-governmental organizations working in the field on women’s empowerment who wish to know more about nominating Fellows to contact us.

Our Selection Criteria

Women’s empowerment and progress: Candidates need to be heading a proven and successful project for the empowerment of women to create an enabling environment and/or lifting the barriers to women’s emancipation. They must be active in one of the following areas –

  • access to education and training;
  • access to health care or improvement of health services for women;
  • promotion of women’s social and political leadership;
  • protection of women’s dignity and integrity and prevention of sexual and other forms of targeted violence;
  • access to economic independence and empowerment.


Inflection point: Candidates need to be at an inflection point; their programs should be proven and tested as successful and efficient, and may already have been approached by or included in other organizations. They must be at a level where they have a need to scale or replicate and grow. The selected Fellows have been awarded recognition by cornerstone institutions in the field of social entrepreneurship such as Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation, the Skoll Foundation and Avina.

Systemic change: The project ideas need to be structured in a systematic way and address the root causes of targeted problems, rather than its symptoms. They should have a strong impact demonstrated by the number of women’s lives changed in a sustainable way, alongside impact on legislation at regional, national, or international levels. At the same time, they should prove to have had an impact in the collective mind and social doings of the communities they act upon.

Social impact: The project ideas need to have the potential to create a substantial social impact and transform the lives of many. At selection stage, it needs to have already demonstrated a social impact with potential for growth.

Sustainability and scalability: The project ideas need to include a critical path to scale including strategies to build sustainable, long-term economic models.

Independence: The organization should be independent as far as secularity and governmental control is concerned.

Our Selection Requirements

Entrepreneurial qualities: We look for individuals with a proven track record of entrepreneurship, a vision, and the determination to reach it by any means.

Creativity: Social entrepreneurs must have the capacity to adjust to changing environments and come up with creative solutions to reach their vision in spite of obstacles.

Leadership qualities: The Fellowship identifies role models for communities. Social entrepreneurs should empower people in their networks to become changemakers.

Personal values: These will be measured based on the deep and consistent commitment to equal rights and opportunities between men and women.

Ethical fibre and integrity: This will be investigated through due diligence and evaluation of entrepreneurs’ track records.

Support to Fellows

WomenChangeMakers offers a full range of tools to its social entrepreneur Fellow to achieve growth. According to their specific needs, support and tools for growth are provided.

  1. Consultancy and Training with Partners: We provide access for Fellows to professionals who can help them address key issues needed to successfully scale and/or replicate their project. This consultancy and training is delivered by our partners who specialize in the following areas:
    • Business Management
    • Human Resources
    • Networking
    • Legal Issues
    • Public Relations, Marketing and Communication
    • Monitoring and Evaluation
  2. WomenChangeMakers Corporate Support Network:Our Support Network is a community of successful business people, entrepreneurs, senior executives, investment bankers, venture capitalists, and consultants who share our beliefs and will engage with our Fellows, committing time and resources to support their work.
  3. Network of Social Entrepreneurs: We provide all the benefits of being part of a network of social entrepreneurs that exchanges best practices, experiences, market information, and more. This takes place in the form of meetings and a virtual community platform.
  4. Financial Support: We award financial support to our Fellows, principally in the form of a stipend (salary) to the social entrepreneur themself or to a key person leading the transition. The aim is to enable the social entrepreneur and their team to take the project to the next level of growth.


Accenture, Ashoka, Avina, EgonZehnder, Ford Foundation, Burson Marsteller, Lex Mundi Pro Bono, Thomson Reuters Foundation/Trust Law, UN Women, Vital Voices, Synergos, LGT Venture Philanthropy, Ogilvy, Newdea, ZIGLA, Chanel Foundation, Paula Cardenau de Njembre, PEOCIT Technology, Trafigura Foundation, Philip Morris International.