Launched in 2018 by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green, the WomenConnect Challenge (WCC) is a global call for solutions to improve women’s participation in everyday life by meaningfully changing the ways women and girls access and use technology. After two Challenge rounds, USAID has awarded over $2.9 million to 12 grantees working to bridge the gender digital divide so that women can fully participate in the global economy.

The first round of WCC projects are all in mid-swing and demonstrating how technology can create new opportunities for women’s empowerment in communities where they have otherwise faced restrictions to technology access and use.

The nine WCC projects in round one focus on addressing the social and cultural norms that keep women offline and under-empowered. In some cases, WCC awardees worked with the powerholders in communities to promote positive deviance in support of women’s technology use. In other cases, women addressed societal concerns with technology to help spur economic growth, promote dissemination of information, and identify and discourage practices like gender-based violence, and female genital mutilation and cutting. WCC focuses on local solutions to close the gender digital divide, with an eye on interventions that could be replicated in other communities.

Through close partnership with local awardee teams and community members, WCC has been learning firsthand from these fearless innovators about what it takes to meaningfully shift the underlying cultural norms and structures that exacerbate the gender digital divide. This update will share some of the progress and achievements to-date and pave the way for evidence-based insights of how to close the gap for good.