Together, Women's Earth Alliance (WEA) and United Religions Initiative (URI) developed the concept of the Ripple Academy, a global training initiative that activates women’s grassroots leadership to heal deep societal challenges, build bridges of cooperation, and create scalable solutions for peace, prosperity, and environmental protection.
Ripple Academy participants will be trusted leaders identified through the URI and WEA networks who engage in a year-long training “deep-dive” with a cadre of peers from different regions and sectors. They will be equipped with a holistic set of practical skills in entrepreneurship, leadership, peacebuilding/conflict resolution, environmental solutions, and project development/management/scaling. Leaders will design their own community-driven action plans and receive seed funds to launch sustainable and high-impact environmental and peacebuilding initiatives. Their innovations will be customized to meet the urgent needs of their regions and informed by the context of global benchmarks, theories of change, and best practices so as to maximize their ripple effect.
It is internationally recognized that women’s empowerment is an essential precursor to economic growth, environmental protection, and peace, however this has not translated into investment of resources-- be they financial, human, information, or physical. Deep structural inequities rob 51% of the global population of their full potential to profoundly shape our communities, our values, and our future on this planet. The Ripple Academy meets emerging grassroots women leaders where broken systems fall short -- centering their unique first-hand knowledge, catalyzing their ideas, bridging their efforts, and energizing their movements for inclusive, thriving communities.
PROSPERITY, PLANET. WEA equips women with the skills and tools they need to protect our earth and strengthen communities from the inside out. With local leadership guiding each project, WEA designs capacity-building trainings for women in environmentally threatened regions to access skills and tools in appropriate technology, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. Participants gain seed funding, mentorship, and a global alliance. With these resources in hand, leaders launch their own income-generating projects and train others to do the same. Today WEA graduates are winning political positions, building grassroots movements, expanding economic opportunities, protecting the environment, and introducing innovative solutions that transform their communities.
WEA brings a global network of grassroots leaders, 11 years of field-tested trainings, and best practices in scalable environmental programming. Since 2006, WEA has worked in 18 countries – training, funding, and catalyzing 5,000 women to advance clean water, clean energy, regenerative farming, women's land rights, and more. WEA graduates have equipped 750,000 more people with life-giving environmental solutions that directly improve living conditions, peace, health, local economies, and the environment.
PEACE. In 2016, WEA teamed up with URI, a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. Founded in 1993 by former Bishop of California, Rev. William Swing, URI has implemented local and global initiatives that build the capacity of more than 850 member groups in 101 countries, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights.
In 2004, URI created The Interfaith Peacebuilding Guide, which brought together proven conflict transformation skills and methods with social change approaches to build strong communities and implement positive action for peace, justice, and healing. In 2008, URI developed the Moral Imagination Project, training leaders around the world in an “action/reflection” model of peacebuilding. URI's Traveling Peace Academy also trained peacebuilders to put skills into action around the world with remarkable impact in places including: Rwanda, Philippines, Northern Uganda, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.
The Ripple Academy: peace, prosperity, planet
WEA and URI’s new global partnership, the Ripple Academy, combines each organization’s expertise in peacebuilding, women-led economic development, and environmental protection into a unified strategy. The Ripple Academy weaves WEA’s training, leadership, and ripple effect model with URI’s peace, justice, and conflict resolution work — ultimately leveraging over 28 years of collective organizational best practices and integrating our complimentary and global grassroots networks of leaders in over 100 countries combined. Our program directly addresses the programmatic, leadership, network, and funding constraints that grassroots leaders face in making the transition from ideation to scalable projects with far-reaching impacts.
How will it work?
Selection: The Ripple Academy’s rigorous selection process will identify grassroots women leaders within URI and WEA’s combined global networks. These leaders will have years of experience building community trust, knowledge, and credibility and track records of effective grassroots organizing and community-based solution generation. They will be masterful interfaith/intercultural bridge-builders, but seeking more skills and technical training in order to translate their communities' priorities into high-impact projects with strategies for sustainability, scalability, and ongoing improvement.
In its first year, the Ripple Academy pilot program will convene leaders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Great Lakes region of Sub-Saharan Africa. These regions represent areas where natural resource shortages cause significant religious and cultural tensions. They are also regions where WEA and URI have strong networks of diverse stakeholders and women leaders who are actively engaging their communities around the shared values peace, prosperity, and a safe and healthy planet. Simultaneously, the Ripple Academy will develop and run a U.S.-based parallel leadership and skill-building training course that will also help fund the tuition of their overseas cohorts and offer meaningful cross-cultural collaboration and learning.
Year-long Training: Over the course of one year, cohorts of leaders from different regions will participate in a coordinated training curriculum that will include in-person intensives, peer engagement, community-based exercises and “homework,” and remote learning via a virtual educational platform. Within regions and sector interests, participants will work in peer groups to build skills in entrepreneurship, leadership, peacebuilding/conflict resolution, environmental solutions, storytelling, design thinking, project design and management, and monitoring and evaluation. They will develop action plans for launching high-impact environmental and peacebuilding initiatives with strategies for sustainability, scalability, learning, and iteration. Each action plan will be customized for its region yet strengthened by a global network and experience repository.
Projects launched by Ripple Academy leaders could range from women’s clean cookstove microenterprises in Kenya to community seed banks in Egypt, from sanitation media campaigns in India to water rights education in Jordon, Israel, and Palestine. Across regions, Ripple Academy participants will share strategies, build each other up, gain additional mentorship and visibility, and grow a powerbase for their work. An essential component of participants’ action plans will be that they create a ripple effect, meaning the projects have a strategy to “fund-forward” new knowledge and skills to others, multiplying their impact exponentially.
Here is an example of WEA's training model:
(The Ripple Academy is a scaled-up version of the above model that coordinates training for women across different regions.)
Initiative Launch: Once leaders graduate from the Ripple Academy, they will have the skills and tools to launch their initiatives, implementing their own local, regional, and even national solutions for peace, prosperity, and the planet. Ripple Academy graduates will be awarded startup seed grants to launch their initiatives based on customized action plans they develop (with peer support) through their Ripple Academy year. Leaders will integrate income-generation strategies into their environmental and peacebuilding initiatives to support themselves and scale their work in the long-term. Ripple Academy learning materials will be available through the online platform, which graduates will access and contribute to on a continual basis.
Participants will be partnered with other leaders within their cohort, including members of the U.S. Ripple Academy, based on their sectors of focus, e.g. water and sanitation, regenerative agriculture, land/resource rights, clean energy, religious tensions, and refugee and host community conflict. The Ripple Academy will provide guidance to peer groups to carry out post-training peer support with each other following graduation. Peer groups will hold each other accountable for their individual project benchmarks, troubleshoot challenges as they arise in real time, share new opportunities, encourage and inspire each other, and even visit each other’s projects if and when possible. In addition to the peer support mechanism, the Ripple Academy will appoint each graduate a staff point person to support with more technical challenges that might arise during the first year of implementation, such as developing and managing budgets, forming legal partnerships, and implementing rigorous monitoring and evaluation systems.
Sustainability. The unique contribution of WEA and URI to the Ripple Academy is the weaving of our global grassroots networks that offer dynamic follow-up and accompaniment mechanisms to local leaders around the world. Leaders have ongoing access to: global assemblies; peace and conflict transformation trainings; revolving mentorship; communication with leaders and stakeholders across cultures and sectors; funding opportunities; international visibility; network-building; and global communities of mission-driven women who build each other’s capacity to achieve shared goals of peace, prosperity, and environmental protection. These benefits ensure that Ripple Academy graduates will have long-term support, both from WEA and URI, as well as from the extensive peer network that the Ripple Academy strategically builds among leaders, present and graduated.
what's the rollout plan?
Ripple Academy Design Phase and Pilot Year: In the Design Phase, URI and WEA will engage a global team to build the curriculum, faculty, and learning platform. The design team will be comprised of WEA and URI staff, advisors, and past and current participants who will prototype the training components in real-time, inform the overall design process, and shape the end product. The Pilot Phase will roll out the first year of training, beginning with an in-person gathering for first cohort. Throughout this pilot year, we will closely monitor, evaluate, and iterate the model and utilize these learnings to strengthen the program going forward. Each year, the Ripple Academy will grow the size of its cohorts, building to 75 or more leaders by the third year.
Human-centered design: WEA and URI both incorporate design thinking principles throughout our programming. WEA launched its work in 2006 with a collaborative design process whereby 30 women from 26 countries co-created the blueprint for the WEA model. From the beginning, a core belief at WEA is that solutions cannot be imposed. Communities have important knowledge and ideas that, when collaboratively supported with learning and resources, create solutions that work and change that persists.
We will begin the Design Phase with a light-framed and flexible concept, given the rapid pace at which cultures, socio-political climates, environmental conditions, and economic systems change. Our diverse committee of leaders will develop a framework for the curriculum and prototype it in real-time.
The curriculum itself will move participants through a human-centered design process, whereby participants will listen to community members, draw forth their vision, and design their initiatives around these discoveries as well as their own foundational knowledge. Throughout the Ripple Academy trainings, leaders will engage in community asset mapping, role-playing exercises, and joint brainstorming sessions. Trainees will workshop each other’s projects, allowing for rapid idea generation and iteration. Over the course of the year, participants will prototype their ideas, survey their communities, and return to their training cohort to further reflect, iterate, and eventually scale their solutions.
Why this? why now?
More than ever before, our future hinges on creative and nimble grassroots movements that protect our Earth and keep lives safe and strong. Women are at the heart of these movements. In the face of global warming, unstable governments, severe resource shortages, and destruction of vital ecosystems, women are simultaneously the most acutely impacted as well as the best positioned to understand and enact effective solutions. From these frontlines, women stand as key bridge-builders, protecting, nurturing and upholding our communities and our earth. As recognized by governments, research institutions, and thought leaders around the world, women’s empowerment creates the tipping point for peace, prosperity, and environmental protection.
Women and Peace: Women have a positive and significant impact on peace. Research reveals that encouraging women’s (especially local women’s) participation in peacebuilding efforts increases the probability of violence ending within a year by 24%. The UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “In the review of the 15 years of implementing [UN peace resolution 1325], one of the conclusions that was reached was that peace is safer, with more longevity, when women are involved in deciding the peace agreement, in accompanying it, and in participating in institutions of leadership.”
Women and Prosperity: Gender gaps around the world remain pervasive and persistent, even though the human rights case for gender equality is incontrovertible. Global studies prove that empowering women and promoting sustainable economic growth are mutually reinforcing. The 2017 World Economic Forum cited the need for transformational change on women’s economic empowerment as a central goal, which is also the overarching vision of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Greater gender equality means a country is associated with better education and health, more intact environmental resources, higher per capita income, and faster and more inclusive economic growth. A recent report from a UN Secretary-General established panel identifies proven actions that global initiatives can take to close these gaps. This diagram illustrates key strategies, many of which are included in the Ripple Academy design:
Women and Planet: In the new book Drawdown, WEA International Advisor, and climate expert, Paul Hawken concludes that empowering women is the most impactful way to address global warming and achieve drawdown. "Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from disease to natural disaster. At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully — and to humanity’s overall resilience... suppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt everyone, while equity is good for all. These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet."
the ripple academy: women for peace, prosperity and planet
A global academy grounded in a diverse international community and grassroots women’s leadership holds the power to create a new blueprint for a peaceful and thriving world. This is a critical moment to act boldly — when efforts to build bridges of mutuality across nations, design solutions together, and activate people-power are paramount.
The name of the Ripple Academy was inspired by the words Robert F. Kennedy spoke in South Africa at the height of the apartheid):
"Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."