March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), which started with the first IWD gathering in 1911 and continues to this day in “celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.”

This year’s theme is “embrace equity” because it is important to understand the difference between equity and equality.

According to the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.”

Cisco’s purpose is to Power an Inclusive Future for All, and we realize that gender equity is crucial in meeting this goal. That’s why we asked women leaders from Cisco Social Innovation Investments (SII) partners, “How are you increasing equity through your work?” and this is what they had to say.

Olasimbo Sojinrin, COO of Solar Sister

A woman wearing a black shirt and smiling.
Olasimbo Sojinrin, COO of Solar Sister

Olasimbo Sojinrin, the COO of Solar Sister, is passionate about using renewable energy to empower women entrepreneurs in rural Africa. She believes that the work of Solar Sister is not only about promoting equality, but also increasing equity.

“Equality means treating everyone the same, while equity means giving everyone what they need to succeed. Solar Sister is increasing equity by providing women with the tools and resources they need to thrive in the clean energy sector.”

Every woman’s life and needs are different; therefore, we tailor our training and business strategy to accommodate these differences. Solar Sister encourages diversity and leaves no woman behind by giving them the tools to modify the model to their specific needs.

In addition to addressing energy poverty, Solar Sister’s approach advances gender equity. By meeting women where they are, Solar Sister is challenging conventional gender roles and increasing women’s economic independence, promoting them as business owners, and allowing them to generate income.

This approach not only helps women entrepreneurs succeed, but also has a ripple effect on their families and communities. “When women have access to clean energy, they can save money on fuel and invest in their businesses and their families,” she explains. “This creates a more sustainable, equitable future for all.”

Solar Sister is increasing equity by addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by women in rural Africa and empowering them with the resources they need to succeed in the clean energy sector.

Chandra Roxanne, Managing Director, Astia Edge

A woman smiling broadly for the camera, wearing a black top and learning forward.
Chandra Roxanne, Managing Director of Astia Edge

Chandra Roxanne joined Astia’s Investment team a year ago as Managing Director of Astia Edge.

“Equality levels the playing field by removing the barriers to access. Equity, however, is focused on repair; it is two-fold. First, equity acknowledges the gaps in access created by chronic inequality that remain when the barriers are removed.

Second, equity bridges the gap. Since Astia discovered racial bias towards Black women, as well as Latina, founders in its investment decision-making process, we acknowledged the gaps and our role in creating it in our paper, Astia Edge: Our Failure to Invest in Black Founders and What We Have Done About It.

Following our acknowledgment, we embarked upon repairing the gap in access to funding, relative to Astia, by launching the Astia Edge Fund. This fund will invest in high-performing seed-stage companies founded and led by Black women and Latinas.

Beyond offering bespoke access to our network, we position said companies to achieve great returns by right-sizing the seed-stage check. Through a right-sized check we aim to address perpetual undercapitalization and underfunding which stifles the ability of said companies to compete and scale.

To truly move the needle, equality must work in tandem with equity. And In truth, the work of increasing equity is humbling, requiring courage and intentionality.”

Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, President and CEO of Trickle Up

A woman wearing a black suit, sitting outside.
Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, President and CEO of Trickle Up

Trickle Up’s mission is to partner with women in extreme poverty to build economic opportunity and drive inclusion. The amazing women we have the privilege of working with in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are forging resilient pathways out of poverty and increasing their confidence and agency, buoyed by the solidarity they find in women’s savings groups.

In rural communities experiencing extreme poverty, women are often marginalized, lacking rights, opportunities, and voice. But women are agents of change. We support an enabling environment through training, mentorship, seed capital, and the formation of all-women savings groups so women can create their own economic empowerment.

We increase equity by accompanying participants on their journeys to become micro-entrepreneurs and community leaders, and even run for political office.

Equity is about having the tools you need to succeed, working in solidarity to change not only cultural and normative barriers holding all women back but celebrating an individual’s belief in herself.

One day, we’ll live in a world where equality in opportunity, regardless of gender, race, and background, exists. Until then, we must invest in equity by providing inclusive opportunities for the economic, social, and political empowerment of women, resulting in the equality we seek.”

Anushka Ratnayake, Founder and CEO, myAgro

A woman wearing a bright blue scarf in front of a field.
Anushka Ratnayake, Founder and CEO of myAgro

myAgro helps small-scale farmers generate more wealth from their farms by closing the equity gap: farmers in the west have easy access to data, technology, and technical expertise but farmers in Africa do not. Our layaway model makes it affordable for farmers to access the modern techniques and supports—seeds, insurance, fertilizer—to double their harvests and increase their incomes by 50 percent. We use data and technology to lower the cost of serving farmers, making access to information more equitable for farmers living in rural and remote areas of Africa.

We recognize equality is not the same as equity. Women do the majority of farming in Africa, but they get less than a third of the support! In order to close this gap, we take an extra step to design specifically for women like Awa in Mali [pictured in the photo at the top of this blog]. She plants food crops her family eats – like peanuts and okra instead of cash crops like the men in her village who plant maize and cotton. We make it easy for Awa, who earns small amounts of money by selling goods in her village, to make a payment of as little as $1 at a time towards her peanut and vegetable farms. And the results are amazing! Awa has transformed her life over the 5 years she’s been with myAgro—she’s eating 3 meals a day thanks to her bigger harvest, and with her profits, she reconstructed her house to be safer for her kids. She dreamt of owning a store, and now with her profits, she has built a small store next to her house to earn income year-round.

When solutions are designed with women in mind, female farmers like Awa can overcome the extra barriers they face to succeed in a male-dominated space.”

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, CEO, Mercy Corps

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Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, CEO of Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. We support communities—and the most marginalized within them—to emerge from crisis and build towards a more inclusive, resilient future.

Women play an essential role in creating stability, driving progress, and achieving long-term development goals and investing in them is key to accelerating sustainable development.

When we think about supporting women and girls globally, the real problem isn’t women—their capacity or their confidence—but rather the systems that have been designed to exclude them. Equality is the end goal—a state of balanced power relations that gives equal rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and decision-making authority to all people—and gender equity is the process to get there, recognizing that all people do not have the same starting point. It’s the fair treatment of all people according to their respective needs.

Through our operations, culture, and programming, we strive to eliminate inequitable power dynamics, address the systems that perpetuate discrimination and abuse of power, and foster a culture of equity, integrity, and accountability.”

Erin Davis, COO and Co-Founder, Enduring Planet

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Erin Davis, COO and Co-Founder of Enduring Planet

Enduring Planet is a Portland, Oregon-based fintech lending platform providing founder-friendly growth financing for climate tech startups.

A Cisco Foundation Climate Impact Portfolio investee, Enduring Planet invests broadly across small and midsized businesses (SMBs) and startups in the United States tackling the climate crisis, providing these companies with revenue-based financing and grant advances.

This can include teams working to reduce emissions, remove carbon from the atmosphere, or support greater resilience and adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

“At Enduring Planet, a woman-led company, we bake equity into every aspect of our company and how we fund climate entrepreneurs. From the core structure of our products to our marketing strategy to our screening, funding, and ongoing monitoring processes, we go beyond reducing bias to actively and consciously rewarding inclusivity among teams, their leadership, and their mission. Roughly 80 percent of our investments have gone to startups with an underrepresented founder, a diverse team, or companies serving marginalized communities.

We understand the challenges that entrepreneurs face and aim to be true partners in their growth, fundraising, and development; offering fast, flexible financing is just one way we can help them.”

Heejae Lim, Founder and CEO, Talking Points

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Heejae Lim, Founder and CEO of Talking Points

“At TalkingPoints, we believe in the untapped potential of families to support their child’s learning.

Embedded in our work is a relentless focus on removing systemic barriers such as language or capacity that often prevent educators and families—particularly those from underserved communities—from engaging with one another.

Equal access for families to information about their children is the first step.

Equity is when the information is understandable, contextualized, and culturally sensitive so that they are able to develop meaningful relationships with their child’s teachers.

We want every teacher to start off the school year by asking families about their child: what their hopes and dreams are for their child, and how they can partner, together, in achieving the academic and other goals both parties want to see.

Families are the biggest wealth of information about their children, and student learning can really accelerate when schools see families as part of the learning team.”

Dr. Sandra S. Slutz, Vice President of STEM Education, Science Buddies

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Dr. Sandra S. Slutz, VP of STEM Education at Science Buddies

Dr. Sandra Slutz, Ph.D., leads the development of inclusive educational content at Science Buddies. ScienceBuddies.org delivers a vast library of free, high-quality, hands-on STEM resources leveraging low-cost, readily available materials to make engaging STEM learning accessible to a global K-12 audience. Sandra completed a Ph.D. in Genetics at Stanford University, and during her time there, she enjoyed working on undergraduate curriculum development for a new suite of introductory biology laboratory courses.

Through Sandra’s leadership, Science Buddies continues to push the boundaries of going beyond equal opportunities in STEM education and creating equitable access for girls and young women to pursue STEM education and careers. Sandra shared, “We’ve developed an engaging array of popular K-12 projects in rapidly evolving scientific areas, including biomedical sciences, nanotechnology, and robotics. We’ve also built an Academic Outreach Partnership program which facilitates the transfer of cutting-edge research in academic institutes into hands-on inquiry projects for the Science Buddies Project Idea library.”

Science Buddies is looking forward to preparing the girls of today to succeed in the STEM careers needed in the future.


Charu Adesnik

Executive Director, Cisco Foundation; Director, Social Innovation Investments