2019 WE Empower Winners! ILA’s Work Supporting Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs
By Megan Scribner
Megan Scribner is a program coordinator for the International Leadership Association. She has 30 year's experience as an editor and organizer and is the author of several books, including Leading From Within: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Lead. She is excited about this program and looks forward to interviewing additional WE Empower awardees and their ILA leadership coaches.
The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge honors five women entrepreneurs, one from each of the five United Nations regions, who are advancing the Sustainable Development Goals through their business practices. Through its many lead and supporting partners, WE Empower ensures that the reach and impact of their work is enhanced throughout the year. ILA, one of the original thought-leaders behind the creation of WE Empower, is pleased to continue to be involved as a supporting partner and help advance the program and support the awardees.
In September, WE Empower announced this year’s winners.
- Christelle Kwizera, Founder, Water Access Rwanda (Rwanda)
- Lina Khalifeh, Founder, SheFighter (Jordan)
- Zoya Lytvyn, Founder, Novopecherska (Ukraine)
- Karla Ruiz Cofiño, Founder, Digital Awareness Program (Guatemala)
- Leah Lizarondo, Co-Founder, 412 Food Rescue (USA)
The five awardees were chosen from 25 finalists – five from each region. Each of these entrepreneurs are advancing particular SDGs and inspiring entire communities to create the world we want by 2030. They also demonstrate how they have a multiplier impact on their staff, their customers, and their broader communities.
WE Empower’s mission is to support these women and their work by:
“Honoring innovative women entrepreneurs who are achieving the SDGs through sustainable business practices and inspiring others to follow suit.
Investing in the most inspiring and transformational women entrepreneurs – providing access to unique trainings, capacity building, a network of their peers, visibility and credibility for their work.
Igniting awareness among a global community of stakeholders of the valuable contribution women entrepreneurs can make in contributing to the SDGs and the obstacles they still face.”
WE Empower delivers on its mission! First, it brought the five awardees to New York City during the week of the UN General Assembly and provided them with opportunities to attend high-level dialogues and networking events throughout the week. They also participated in a dynamic pitch competition hosted by fashion designer, activist, and Vital Voices Board Member Diane von Furstenberg. As a result of her presentation, Leah Lizarondo was awarded a $20,000 grant for 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero.
In the spirit of supporting the winners and their work, ILA has arranged for each of the awardees to attend, and if possible, present at one of ILA’s topical or global conference. In addition, ILA has provided ILA leadership coaches for each of the five entrepreneurs.
Last year was the pilot year for WE Empower and ILA’s leadership coaching effort. The awardees and coaches enthusiastically reported on the benefits of this relationship – offering many tangible examples of how this coaching added to the awardee’s success over the past year.
This year, Joanne Barnes, ILA board member and one of last year’s coaches, is helping to direct the program offering support to the ILA coaches and gathering the stories, reflections, and learnings from their leadership journey with the awardees.
We’re proud to share with you this year’s WE Empower awardees and their ILA leadership coaches. Our congratulations to the awardees and great thanks to the coaches!
Christelle Kwizera is the founder of Water Access Rwanda, an award-winning, innovative, social enterprise offering tailor-made solutions in the field of collection, distribution, and purification of water. The enterprise has provided water to over 100,000 Rwandans. An activist at heart, Christelle is involved in initiatives around environmental, youth, and gender issues, for which she has received multiple awards and fellowships.
Patricia R. Johnson is a full-time associate professor of leadership studies in the doctoral program for organizational leadership at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). She has extensive experience teaching and training in a variety of cultural and organizational settings. Prior to her arrival at IWU, she served as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Uganda in East Africa.
Lina Khalifeh is the founder and owner of SheFighter, the first Self-Defense studio for women-only. The company started in the Middle East and has expanded to more than 35 countries. SheFighter has been working to achieve gender equality through spreading awareness among students in schools and focusing on building their physical intelligence. Founded in 2012, the studio has trained more than 18,000 women all over the globe.
Liza Walsh-Howe is passionate about supporting women in their careers. She has benefitted from 15 years’ experience as a practitioner, including working globally for PwC and in academia for over a decade at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. She has led workshops globally to develop competencies for women aspiring to leadership positions.
Zoya Lytvyn founded Novopecherska School — a K12 school for 500 students in the Ukraine. The school has its own unique curriculum, combining national standards with international, cutting-edge teaching techniques. In 2016, upon request by the Ministry of Education in the Ukraine, it became a pilot program for The New Ukrainian School national educational reform initiative.
Randal Joy Thompson lives in El Salvador and is a scholar-practitioner who has been working in the developing and transitioning world as President of her company Dream Connect Global. She was a Commissioned U.S. Foreign Service Officer for 28 years and lived and worked in Ukraine for two years where she evaluated the impact of programs to improve the quality of education.
Karla Ruiz Cofiño is a digital strategist and social media specialist. She developed her own curriculum called the Digital Awareness Program with an innovative methodology on how to use digital media towards positive impact. She is dedicated to helping leaders understand how to use technology and use their influence to improve it. She is also committed to creating a future of interconnected global citizens.
Carolina Bown is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies at Salisbury University in Maryland. Originally from Chile, she teaches all levels of Spanish language and has directed study abroad programs in Ecuador and Spain. Her research interests focus on female leadership in Andean indigenous communities and on language heritage learners.
Leah Lizarondo is the CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, a social enterprise with a technology, logistics, and civic engagement model that aims to fight hunger and promote sustainability by preventing perfectly good food from entering the waste stream. One of the fastest-growing food recovery organizations in the U.S., 412 Food Rescue directly distributes to organizations that benefit those who are food insecure.
Penny de Valk works with talented, ambitious women leaders at all levels who want to amplify the impact they make. She provides advice and coaching to help women build powerful professional lives that make a difference. As a seasoned executive with over 20 years of international experience as a CEO of high growth businesses, she worked in the leadership development space for much of that time and knows what it takes.