Giving Women’s 7th Annual Conference

Economic Autonomy for Women at the Bottom of the Pyramid



Every year Giving Women organises a conference which focusses on a particular theme. This year we decided that it is time to take a critical and deep look at livelihood creation for women at the bottom of the pyramid, identify the best practices and understand the reasons for the slow progress of women up the economic ladder. We will address issues such as the limitations and opportunities of vocational training leading to employment versus access to finance and enterprise development.

The Giving Women conference is a half-day event with an attendance of approximately 120- 150 participants from the philanthropic, business and development worlds.

The purpose of the conference is to address a broad audience and expose what is happening in the area of women’s livelihood creation, show best practices, and bring different actors together from UN and International organisations, NGOs, Civil Society and private sector to inform, share, reflect and act.




We’ll provide an overview of effective programmes addressing the economic empowerment of women in various contexts across the globe. How have women’s lives changed and how have their families and communities benefited? We will explore the challenges, opportunities and key learnings to transform vulnerable women at the bottom of the pyramid into economic actors. We will see how giving women economic autonomy can lead to significant improvements not just for themselves, but for their families and communities.



We’ll highlight some of the innovative and successful projects that have developed livelihoods for women. Our panellists will share stories from projects and women and try to distil key learnings from their work and suggest what they believe is needed to effectively empower women economically.



What else do women at the bottom of the pyramid require to engage in economic activity? Beyond technical support, financial services and markets, this panel will reveal some of the important obstacles that hold women back: e.g. their families, their self-confidence, appropriate infrastructure, access to healthcare and childcare, a voice in the political process, etc… How do we overcome these important barriers to truly emancipate women economically?



Following the break out panels the participants will reconvene for a short film followed by testimonials from women who have benefited from economic empowerment. We will hear about one organisation that ties in many of the key elements to support sustained improvements in the lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid.


Mary Ellen Iskanderian

President and CEO, Women's World Banking

Theo Sowa

CEO, Africa's Women Development Fund

Yves Moury

Founder, President & CEO, Fondación Capital

Ziad Ayoubi

Head of Livelihoods Unit, UNHCR

Dorothea Arndt

Co-CEO & Head of Communications and Corporate Partnerships, Hand in Hand International

Tracey Chambers

Founder & CEO, The Clothing Bank

Emmanuelle Werner

Director, Friends International Switzerland

Meenu Vadera

Founder & Executive Director, Azad Foundation

Meagan Fallone

CEO, Barefoot College

Leila Delarive

Founder, BeCuriousTV

Katharine Samara-Wickrama

Programme Officer, Oak Foundation

Mary Ellen Iskenderian is President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, the global nonprofit devoted to giving more low-income women access to the financial tools and resources they require to achieve security and prosperity. Ms. Iskenderian joined Women’s World Banking in 2006 and leads the Women’s World Banking global team, based in New York and also serves as a member of the Investment Committee of its $50 million impact investment fund. Prior to Women’s World Banking, Ms. Iskenderian worked for 17 years at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank. Before, she worked for the investment bank Lehman Brothers. Ms. Iskenderian is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a 2017 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Fellow, as well as a member of the Women’s Forum of New York and the Business and Sustainable Development Commission. Ms. Iskenderian holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a Bachelor of Science in International Economics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Theo Sowa is an independent advisor and consultant, specialising in international social development with a particular emphasis on children’s rights and protection issues. She is currently the CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund.

Born in Ghana, she has lived and worked in many countries in Africa, as well as the UK, Europe, and the USA.  Her work includes advisory roles to African and other international women and children’s rights activists and leaders, plus policy development and advocacy with a variety of international agencies and organisations. She was Senior Programme Advisor on the UN Study on Children and Armed Conflict (the Machel Report) and led the five-year review of the report.

Theo is a board member of various national and international civil society organisations and grant making foundations, including being a trustee of Comic Relief (a multimillion grant making foundation) and Chair of Comic Relief’s International Grants Committee; a member of the African Advisory Board of the Stephen Lewis Foundation; a Patron of Evidence for Development; a member of the UBS Optimus Foundation and a board member of the Graça Machel Trust.

She has authored many publications, including being a contributing editor to ‘The Impact of War on Children’; a contributing author and co-editor of a Harvard Law School/UNICEF Innocenti publication on ‘Children and Transitional Justice’; and co-author of ‘Groupwork and Intermediate Treatment’.

Theo was awarded a CBE in June 2010.

Yves Moury is the Founder, President, and CEO of Fundación Capital, a global organization and pioneer in inclusive finance, economic citizenship, and scalable, cost-effective solutions for the bottom of the pyramid.

He also is the CEO of KGroup, a holding company taking shares in disruptive social enterprises. He is a Schwab Foundation's 2017 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee -World Economic Forum-, the winner of the 2014 Skoll Global Award for Social Entrepreneurship and a member of the Leadership Council of the Microcredit Summit Campaign.

The majority of his professional career has been dedicated to poverty reduction worldwide; he has worked as a consultant, entrepreneur and social entrepreneur in Europe, Africa, Asia, and more extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean.

He is trained as an Economist and Management Engineer from the Louvain School of Management in Belgium, and was for many years Director of a regulated rural bank in Peru that serves low-income clients.


Ziad Ayoubi is the Head of Livelihoods Unit at UNCHR (HQ). He has been working on local economic development since 2002. He joined UNHCR in 2012 and since then he has been managing economic programmes targeting refugees. He is leading the global reform of livelihoods programming in UNHCR and the roll-out of the global strategy for livelihoods 2014-2018.

Dorothea has more than 15 years’ experience managing communications at six international organizations, including Shell and PwC. She was one of the first UK team members of Kelkoo, an e-commerce start-up ultimately acquired by Yahoo! for US $500 million.
She left the commercial sector to lead the digital team at the British Red Cross, where she formulated the organization’s first digital strategy, before joining venture philanthropy organization ARK.
She leads on ARK's Communications and Corporate Partnerships and is acting as Co-CEO during CEO Josefine Lindänge Gutman’s maternity leave, responsible for fiscal management.

Tracey is a Wynberg Girls High School Alumni; a B Comm Hons CA(SA) University of Cape Town; a Chartered Accountant with 20 years’ experience.

Before starting the The Clothing Bank, she spent 9 Years with Woolworths (a leading South African retailer) in various positions and was Head of Finance for the last 5 years.

She left the corporate world in 2009 to pursue her passion for teaching and empowering women.  The Clothing Bank was founded in 2010; its mission:  to inspire, skill and support unemployed mothers to eradicate poverty in their livesIt is now considered one of the best practice examples of sustainable Enterprise Development.

Tracey as founder and CEO of The Clothing Bank has won a number of international awards, most notably The Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016 and the Business Women of the Year award in the Social Entrepreneur category in 2015. 

The Clothing Bank partners with major retailers who donate their excess product to our enterprise development programme and we use this product as to tool to empower unemployed mothers to start small retail trading businesses.  The Clothing Bank has trained and supported over 2000 mothers in the last 7 years and they have collectively generated profits of over R75 million (€5 million).

Emmanuelle is specialized in children’s rights and child protection and this has been driving her career for the past 15 years. Her main areas of expertise are responses to children without parental care, institutionalisation of children, community based care, strengthening of family structures and violence against children. She was part of the founding team of Human Rights Watch office in Geneva and she was active in the field of child protection in Guatemala, Cambodia and China. Since 2009 she works for Friends-International (FI) and opened its first operational office in Europe in 2014. Friends-International is a social enterprise saving lives and building futures of the most marginalized children and youth, their families and their communities in South East Asia and across the world. 

Meenu Vadera is Founder and Executive Director of Azad Foundation and founder of Sakha Consulting, which work in India as a hybrid social enterprise to enable resource poor women to transform their life conditions by providing them livelihoods with dignity. Under Meenu’s leadership, Azad's flagship programme “Women on Wheels” trains young women from urban slums to become professional drivers — fostering economic independence and vastly expanding their life choices.

Women on Wheels has received several awards and recognitions for its pioneering work. Meenu has also been the recipient of Jijabai Award from Shivaji College, University of Delhi in recognition of her work. She was awarded the top honours in Business and Enterprise category of 100 Unseen Powerful Women in the world by One World Women in UK, in 2011.

A graduate of the London School of Economics with a Master of Science in Social Policy and Planning, she has also written and published many articles on women’s rights.


Meagan Fallone is an entrepreneur, a designer and a passionate mountaineer. Bringing these diverse talents together as the CEO of Barefoot College International, she exemplifies exceptional vision and commitment to social leadership while advocating for strong professional practices within a Social Innovation context.

Her commitment to empowering illiterate and semi literate rural women across the developing world through mastery of technology, unlocking rural girls creativity and confidence while leveraging the human potential embodied in poor rural communities; is an inspiring journey of risk taking and respect for the knowledge and skills innately existent within poor communities.

"After obtaining a Ph.D. in Telecommunication Law from the University of Lausanne in 2001, Leila Delarive was a Partner at MCE Law firm from 2003 until 2008. She then obtained a GED in CAS Real Estate and Construction Law from the University of Fribourg in 2009, which led her to founding Leximmo, the first legal office specialized in construction and real estate law, where she practiced until 2013.

Strongly attracted to the world of media, Leila changed career paths in 2014 and founded BeCuriousTV, a crossmedia platform which enhances user-generated content and stimulates critical thinking. With this new type of media, BeCuriousTV seeks to create an unconventional and didactic entertainment space a platform which promotes the exchange of views and opinions"

Katharina Samara-Wickrama joined Oak Foundation in May 2013 as Programme Officer for the Issues Affecting Women Programme. Katharina is an Australian lawyer with 20 years experience working in the humanitarian sector. She worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for over a decade in their legal division and in the Refugee Women and Gender Equality Unit where she focused on developing programmes to enable refugee women to better access their rights as well as mainstreaming a gender equality perspective across UNHCR’s programmes.  Katharina then spent 4 years setting up systems and training for NGOs to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries. Most recently she has worked with NGOs to ensure that their programmes are accountable to communities affected by disasters and crises.