#InnovationMadness: Who is Your Favorite Unsung Fearless Innovator?

Earlier this month, a thought-provoking video from Microsoft caught my eye. In the video, young girls are asked to name inventors. After quickly rattling off names like Nikola Tesla, Einstein and Edison, they are then asked to name female inventors. Sadly, this question is met with almost deafening silence. Each and every one of these future innovators is left stumped.

Which made me wonder, how many female innovators could I name?

One of the girls featured in the video provides brilliant insight when she says, “In school it was always a male inventor.” That definitely struck a chord with me. Thinking back to my own textbooks, it wasn’t hard to find examples of great inventors who used their grit or genius, or a combination of both, to change the world. My own science and history lessons were filled with stories of inventors and innovators commended and applauded for their ingenuity—it’s just that they happened to mostly all be men.

We know about Marie Curie and maybe a handful of other female trailblazers, but there are so many other women in arts, sports, science, technology, business and medicine who are not yet household names—not because they don’t exist but because they simply did not have the same recognition in their day, or the same spotlight and celebration of their contributions.

While we all could name Thomas Edison for instance, we probably don’t think of Margaret Knight, nicknamed “the lady Edison” and credited with receiving 27 patents in her lifetime for inventions including an internal combustion engine and shoe-manufacturing machines. Or take Beulah Louise Henry, also referred to as “Lady Edison” (notice a trend here?), who was awarded nearly 50 patents over her lifetime and had more than 100 inventions to her name including the can opener.

Women are responsible for an endless number of inventions and innovations that improve everyday life, from the car heater (Margaret A. Wilcox) to the fire escape (Anna Connelly), to the life raft (Maria Beasely) and medical syringe (Letitia Geer). It was Tabitha Babbitt who invented the circular saw, Sarah Mather, who made the underwater telescope possible, and Dr. Maria Telkes and Eleanor Raymond who built the first home entirely heated by solar power in 1947.

In the fields of science and discovery, the contributions of women have changed the world and our understanding of it. The work of Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people in her book Silent Spring, led to the nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. Her work inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the EPA. Dr. Anne Tsukamoto, an inventor named on seven issued U.S. patents related to the human hematopoietic stem cell and gene transfer methods, today is credited with advancing the field of stem cell research.

As another Women’s History Month draws to an end, we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to start changing the conversation about innovation and ensure that we are lifting up equally innovators who in years past may have been unsung, as well as those that emerge in our contemporary times.

Today, the Case Foundation team kicks off its first ever “Innovation Madness,” a clear nod to the NCAA’s basketball tournament, but also a way to celebrate women innovators that too often go unnoticed and unmentioned. Over the next ten days, we will profile fearless women who have transformed the world as we know it by modeling audaciousness and remarkable achievement across disciplines. Check out the instructions on how to participate in #InnovationMadness and vote for your favorite innovators on Twitter. While we have a serious goal of spotlighting extraordinary women so their stories are known, we also hope to have some fun along the way. I hope you’ll join us and help spread the word about the amazing accomplishments of some of these extraordinary women.

Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa: Expanding Women-led Businesses in Africa

Global Entrepreneurship Network is now accepting applications for Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa!

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Kenya put a spotlight on the rising stars of entrepreneurship and the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa. The summit showed how the people and companies of Africa are ripe for real financial investment to grow their businesses, strengthen their communities and provide solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems. The Case Foundation was honored to join GES and get a first hand look at the individuals, communities, policies and programs driving competitive and novel business ideas to scale. And we were particularly honored to pivot the main spotlight to shine on women entrepreneurs and the economic and business case for investing in their success.

Part of that spotlight includes a new partnership with the Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa (WVXA), a pilot launched at the Summit with Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), the Mara Foundation and U.S. Department of State, WVXA will provide four African women entrepreneurs the opportunity to scale their business through access to strong mentorship and capital networks in Nairobi. The program is designed to help established women-owned businesses expand beyond the borders of their own countries—gaining access to new regional markets, research and insights into best practices.

The entrepreneurs will be selected based on their company’s likelihood of successful regional expansion, the business’s growth stage, the uniqueness of the concept and their professional ambitions for their time in Nairobi. WVXA will be focused on drawing entrepreneurs who have established their businesses locally and are poised for cross-border expansion within East Africa.

We look forward to seeing the results of the first cohort of entrepreneurs and building upon the evidence base from our own work in driving more inclusive entrepreneurship – entrepreneurship that is more inclusive of under-represented groups, more inclusive of under-leveraged places and more inclusive of businesses that shoot for financial AND social impact returns. We are thrilled to see the belief in the power of entrepreneurship continue to thrive in every corner of the world, and look forward to seeing how WVXA unlocks the huge potential in the four women entrepreneurs selected to participate this year.

For more information or to apply to the WVXA program visit the Global Entrepreneurship Week website. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until October 23, 2015. Stay tuned for more updates as the application and selection process develop!

Rim-to-Rim to Beat Brain Cancer

This week, Ironwoman BethAnn Telford of TeamBT and endurance cyclist Maria Parker of 3000MilesToACure will cross the North Rim of the Grand Canyon together with a shared mission: to beat brain cancer. In one grueling day, they will race Rim-to-Rim: from the North Rim down to the canyon floor, across the canyon, then up to the South Rim over 21.1 miles with more than 10,000 feet of elevation change.

Telford is an Ironman World Champion triathlete, a serial marathoner and a 10-year brain cancer survivor who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for research and development of cures for the disease. As Telford wrote recently in her blog, the Rim-to-Rim journey is “a powerful metaphor for the race to end brain cancer. The canyon represents the valley of death of underfunded research.” Her Rim partner Parker is an accomplished ultra-marathon cyclist and was the winner of the 2013 Ride Across America, dedicating her victory in honor of her sister’s battle with brain cancer. She and her family founded 3000 Miles to a Cure—a charity dedicated to raising $1 million for brain cancer research.

Part of their journey includes the filming of “Crossing the Canyon”—a short documentary film about their passage and the organization. The film will extend their impact beyond the walls of the canyon, inspiring and giving hope to those battling brain cancer.

Proceeds raised from their journey will benefit Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), a Case Foundation grantee and nonprofit organization that drives cutting-edge research and treatments for brain tumors. ABC2 was co-founded by Jean and Steve Case, and Stacey Case after Steve Case’s brother (and Stacey Case’s husband), Dan Case, succumbed to the disease after a fight with brain cancer.

Since its inception, ABC2 has awarded more than $20 million in brain tumor research funding to highly qualified investigators and physician-scientists from more than 40 research institutions. Brain cancer is the leading cause of tumor cancer deaths among children and young adults. There are more than 600,000 people in the U.S. today with a brain tumor diagnosis, and another 66,000 new diagnoses are expected this year. It is a uniquely challenging disease that is in need of strategic, focused research funding.

Together, Telford and Parker will cross the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, into the valley, and climb the other side as they bridge effective treatments for brain cancer. These two fearless agents of change are women whose impact will extend beyond the walls of the canyon, inspiring and giving hope to those battling brain cancer. Good luck to them both!  Follow their journey on Twitter at #CrossingtheCanyon.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Global Press Institute

This Spotlight is authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

Global Press Institute (GPI) is an award-winning, high-impact social venture that uses journalism as a development tool to educate, employ and empower women in the developing world to produce professional news coverage. Using this innovative model, “we employ women journalists in places where opportunities for economic empowerment and literate leadership are very few,” says Cristi Hegranes, founder and executive director of GPI.

This bold organization is no stranger to making big bets and letting urgency conquer fear—and its reporters embrace those same characteristics. GPI now has a staff of 135 reporters, full-time and part-time, from underprivileged, underrepresented communities in 26 developing countries. This cohort of journalists includes members of the untouchable caste in Asia, former sex workers in Africa and indigenous women in Latin America. Many have no professional background in journalism and limited formal education when they join the program. Others possess formal education and work experience, but live in communities where unemployment and dynamic opportunities for women are extremely rare.

In GPI’s 2014 Annual Report, a Congo trainee, Merveille Kavira, revealed, “Before GPI, my job was that I took care of my elder sister’s children and in return she would buy soap for me… GPI will help me to be self-sufficient. I will be independent and I will no longer work taking care of someone’s children. I will be a powerful woman in my society. I will be empowered.”

All of the women use their unique perspectives to provide coverage of issues often overlooked by mainstream media and “disseminate the news they find both locally and globally through GPI’s networks and subscribers,” Hegranes says. Recent coverage by GPI reporters features topics such as: citizens’ right to access government information; human trafficking; and election violence. In some countries with little or no freedom of the press, “the ability to identify stories that no one else is talking about is fearless,” she explains.

It’s not a simple job; working as a female reporter in a developing nation, often within a culture that typically expects women to devote their energies primarily to marriage and motherhood. GPI offers women a daunting array of challenges and opportunities. “We ask our reporters to be fearless every day in bucking social norms and challenging cultural and family norms.”

To help the women navigate the challenges that come with the job, GPI’s in-country reporters all receive intensive training in safety and security. While interviewing their own countrymen and men “gives us extraordinary access” it also leaves them more vulnerable to attack. “It’s very difficult work. They’re not white people in SUVs with tons of equipment,” Hegranes says.

No matter where GPI hires its reporters—now in 26 developing nations and looking to expand in North Africa and the Middle East—there “are always safety concerns.” But that’s part of being fearless: giving women opportunities wherever they need it most, no matter what—not to mention bringing unbiased news of current events to those who need it most. Which might be why Hegranes says northern Nigeria, home to extremist Islamic group Boko Haram—known for targeting government offices, the United Nations, and civilians—“is our next big target spot for Africa.”

Despite the dangers associated with the job, GPI’s retention rate is an impressive 90 percent after nine years. As reporters grow their skills, they often rise within GPI’s ranks to become managers and editors. “Our biggest problem [right now] is being overwhelmed by applicants,” explains Hegranes. “In November 2014, we had four training spots available in the Congo and we received 309 applications.”

GPI, focused on training women to be journalist, is part of a larger global news organization; the Global Press Journal (GPJ) similarly employs training graduates to report. And the stories GPI and GPJ gathers are bought by a wide variety of clients, syndicated by the Global Press News Service to journalism giants like Al Jazeera, PRI and Reuters to curriculum developers, universities, corporations and governments. That revenue proved sufficiently valuable that, in a major shift organizationally, this year Hegranes is spinning off the news service as a for-profit business. “The non-profit income is so necessary to what we do, but it’s slow and it’s risk-averse. We need to be able to generate much more of our own revenue and it will allow us much more flexibility than using restricted funds that won’t allow us to buy a plane ticket or for cameras, for example.”

How does Hegranes and her team make everything work around the globe with a 24/7 news cycle? “In the developing world you have to be nimble, responsive and intuitive and foundations’ pace is just not how we operate. We’ve just got to jump!” she exclaims. She also relies on a seven-member board—“the best we’ve ever had”—as well as a full-time staff of seven, their largest ever. These dedicated individuals help to ensure the success of GPI and its reporters. Hegranes values their willingness to act quickly, unlike the “glacial” pace of large, more conservative groups. “The world changes every second. Who has time for that?”

Together, GPI and its cadre of women reporters have clearly made an impact, at both the policy and personal levels. GPI’s stories have changed laws in Nepal and Rwanda—and 80 percent of its reporters are now the major breadwinners in their family. The work of GPI and its reporters contributes to the development and empowerment of communities, brings greater transparency to countries and changes the way the world views their people and cultures.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Breaking Down the Barriers for Women Entrepreneurs

This post was contributed by Aaron Coleman, intern at the Case Foundation.

When she was only 22 years old, U.S. Marine Ramona Pierson was hit by drunk driver. The accident put her into a coma for 18 months. When she awoke, she weighed 64 pounds was bald, blind and couldn’t move nor speak. Through her grit and determination, Pierson fought her way back–learning once again how to breathe, walk and talk. Her journey of learning how to live again inspired her to found the personal learning tech startup Declara. In only three years, Declara has grown to 65 employees, attracted $32.5 million in funding and even impressed the President of the United States.

Pierson’s story runs against many of the implicit biases women entrepreneurs face. “They are unambitious, they are afraid of risk, they bring in less returns.”  These are words we hear echoing in conversations around the world and they reflect an implicit bias against women as entrepreneurs—who in reality are just as ambitious, eager and creative as their male counterparts. As the recent Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Policy Digest report succinctly states, “research shows that women make great entrepreneurs.” The Kauffman Foundation’s report follows both the disparities and the opportunities surrounding women entrepreneurs, concluding, that while they “remain underrepresented among the ranks of entrepreneurs” the facts show that “women entrepreneurs are key to accelerating growth.”

Here at the Case Foundation we too believe in the power and potential of women in business, and are committed to leveling the playing field for underrepresented communities. We are inspired by Pierson’s story and the prospect of so many more like her. To help organizations get involved with supporting women entrepreneurs, we have included Kauffman’s top five policy recommendations below.


Top Five Policy Recommendations to Support Women Entrepreneurs

  1. Develop and Report Metrics for Entrepreneurship Programs and Initiatives: To understand how entrepreneurship programming serves women, attendance, participation, drop off rates and entrepreneurial outcomes should be collected and reported by gender. Armed with this information, program coordinators and funders can make adjustments to better assist women entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase the Number of Women Represented in Entrepreneurship Programs: When women are leaders at organizations that support entrepreneurs, they can help develop gender inclusive events that attract women entrepreneurs, as well as use their networks to help women entrepreneurs access mentors and financial capital. And in order to level the playing field for women, they need to be included and have equal representation in successful on-ramps for entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Funding to Women-owned Businesses: In 2012, only 15 percent of SBIR awards went to women-owned businesses. Federal agencies should continue to increase awareness of the availability of these awards by partnering with women’s professional organizations and unifying outreach efforts to women entrepreneurs.
  1. Celebrate Successful Women Entrepreneurs: Stories of entrepreneurial success tend to be male-dominated. Government leaders can help deconstruct the false narrative that only men are successful entrepreneurs by lifting up stories of successful women entrepreneurs.
  1. Decrease the Risk of Becoming an Entrepreneur: Explore how various policies can help alleviate pressures and risks facing women, particularly those with young families, that can deter them from entrepreneurial ventures. For example, policymakers should examine whether subsidized child care or preschool could create a stronger environment for entrepreneurship.


Want to learn more about how to support women entrepreneurs? Read the Kauffman Foundation study in its entirety and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Ent4All.