WISE Story

Led by Ashoka Arab World’s Regional Director and Vice President of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, Iman Bibars, WISE sets forth a groundbreaking vision for paradigm shift in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem toward recognizing and supporting scaling up and deep impact – a form of impact commonly led by women social innovators where policies are changed and mindsets, social norms, and patterns of behavior are affected.

Story Of WISE

The Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE) was born out of an international gathering of 10 Fellows in Egypt in 2011, where participants had the opportunity to connect around their work with women and identify potential avenues for collaboration.

In October 2018, Ashoka Arab World played a key role in organizing the soft launch of WISE in San Francisco, convening three Fellows from the United States and international partners for a dialogue on the challenges women innovators face and a discussion on how they overcome these obstacles. We launched WISE on a formal scale at our 2019 Arab World Social Innovation Forum, giving women participants the space to have their voices heard and highlighting their original work and leadership strategies.

Since then, we have led conversations around WISE at Rockefeller’s Bellagio Center at the “Future for All Conference”, where the 19 participants reflected on the state of women leadership and gender equality in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem and gained perspective on the barriers and challenges women face and the ways they define success.

We also led a session on WISE at the Skoll World Forum in 2019, and since then, we have worked to advance WISE through a range of events, programming, and online services.

How Women Impact

While initiatives run by men tend to span wider regions and accrue larger revenues, female-led initiatives tend to focus more on influencing cultural norms and patterns of behavior within specific communities. These types of initiatives “scale up” and “scale deep”, impacting laws, policies, ideas, and values toward institutional change.

world and hand

Scaling Out

An impact model where large numbers of people are reached and a larger amount of revenue is accrued

Law and justice

Scaling Up

An impact model that changes laws and policies


Scaling Deep

An impact model that affects mindsets, cultural norms, patterns of behavior, and ultimately, societal systems.

WISE Objective

WISE aims to serve as a platform for women leaders who scale up and deep in their work to come to the fore, creating opportunities for these innovators to source ideas from one another and harness their collective expertise to brainstorm ways of advancing women in social entrepreneurship.

1. Paradigm Shift:

To change current definitions of success, encouraging the development of an innovation ecosystem where scaling up and deep impact and the women entrepreneurs leading such work are valued and advanced.

2. Elect:

To increase the number of Ashoka women Fellows to at least 50% of the Fellowship community.

3. Accelerate:

To provide tailored and effective systems leadership and acceleration support to enable women Fellows to access valuable networks and scale their impact.

4. Youth Programming:

To include girls and young women changemakers in the movement to advance the presence and power of women in social entrepreneurship.

5. Storytelling:

To share the stories of women Fellows who are leading scaling out, up, and deep impact.

WorldWISE Storytelling Project

WorldWISE is a global storytelling initiative that aims to highlight women social entrepreneurs leading innovative and inspirational models and movements for change around the globe.

Why are these women’s stories important? Not only do they serve as a lesson in the value of going against the grain and upending long-standing traditions in the sector that emphasize top-down, fiscally-oriented, and often Western-imposed methodologies for social change, but they bring to light a larger trend within the ecosystem – a move among women leaders toward more holistic, “scaling up” and “scaling deep” models in their changemaking work.

Storytelling is also a model for changemaking deeply-rooted within feminine traditions. Throughout history, women from Maya Angelou to Malala Yousafzai and women-led movements such as #MeToo have told personal stories to share ideas, reflect on current realities, and shape a more empathetic society. Storytelling isn’t about larger revenues or number of consumers reached – it is about challenging mindsets and creating the space for new narratives to grow.


ChangemakHERS Collaborative Platform

ChangemakHERS is an online platform dedicated to women Ashoka Fellows and collaborators, offering our women Fellows a space to connect with and build a larger network of women innovators and providing them with opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and exchange, mentorship, and collaborative action.

Through the collaborative platform we offer collaboration grants to women Fellows in our network to facilitate partnership and co-creation among our women innovators.

Ashoka Arab World Fellows

WISE Up Series:

At our 3-day WISE Up online series in July 2020, we sought to spark discussions at the ecosystem level around how we can better invest in, advance, and learn from impact models that scale deep - ones that prioritize shifts in cultures, values, ideas, and attitudes over reach.

We have seen through our work that women entrepreneurs often lead scaling deep movements for change, and at this series, we got the opportunity to hear the insights and reflections of leading women entrepreneurs and stakeholders in the innovation sector into how they enact change and how this current moment can be taken advantage of to strengthen the innovation sector. The event had more than 860 registered attendees, 28 speakers, and 17 outreach partners.


When we reframe the definition of success in a way that better includes and celebrates women social entrepreneurs, we curate an ecosystem that is more likely to inspire and nurture women changemakers.

Iman Bibars
Founder and Team Leader, Women's Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship (WISE)

Don’t give up when you start young as a woman. You continue, you are persistent, you move toward making that change because there’s always that heat inside your heart that says the gut feeling is that you have to do it. That’s something that comes when you start young.

Hasina Kharbhih
Ashoka Fellow India - Founder, Impulse NGO Network

[Success is] changing someone’s mind, someone who is angry and totally in despair to being someone who wants to change things and who knows she can change things, especially as a girl. It’s so powerful; it’s something that fills your soul.

Greta Ríos
Ashoka Fellow, Mexico -Founder, Ollin, A.C
Greta Rios

Beliefs are deeply rooted, it's character deep, impressively deep and profound is what lasts. We all want to have access and time to make a lasting difference.

Elizabeth White
Director British Council Egypt
Elizabeth White

When I began working on the economic development of the Black population, I understood that it was not enough to work just there - I had to work in the whole environment, the whole ecosystem to make change, influence public policy, create a narrative in media [...]

Adriana Barbosa
Ashoka Fellow, Brazil - Founder of Instituto Feira Preta
Adriana Barbosa

I think creative thinking is best served with wisdom.

T. Morgan Dixon
Ashoka Fellow, US - Founder, GirlTrek: Healthy Black Women and Girls
Morgan Dixon

Organised diffusion is a way of scaling, but actually, the scaling is done from within, through the people themselves. That happened because Tostan was able to implement a three-year program. We actually did deep Scaling first.

Molly Melching
Founder of Tostan

How have we learned to do this over time – first and foremost … to listen to groundbreaking work done at grassroots level, listen to the leaders in communities, to bring out the best practices that stem from all of these different contexts, and to try to bridge the good practices between continents and oftentimes to make them understood to donors...

Miren Bengoa
Director of Foundation Chanel
Miren Bengoa