By Women, For Women: Spotlight on winners Sonya Passi and Teresa Njoroge 

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We can’t think of anything that represents Women’s History Month better than women changemakers dedicated to championing and lifting up other women. 

That’s exactly what two of our Elevate Prize winners have dedicated their lives to and are working towards on a daily basis: 2023 winner Teresa Njoroge, founder and CEO of Clean Start Africa, and 2024 winner, Sonya Passi, founder and CEO of FreeFrom.

Teresa and Sonya are leading organizations that not only focus on women’s rights, but are driving real progress towards gender equity and safety. What’s more, both organizations share a belief that change should be community-based AND systemic.

Clean Start Africa works with women and children in Kenya whose lives have been impacted by the prison system, offering opportunities for reintegration.  

 “Our direct beneficiaries are the women, girls, and children who have been impacted by the criminal justice system,” Teresa told us. “They’re in [prisons] purely because they’re poor and marginalized… [We] have to work and reform the criminal justice system, because if we don’t, then it continues to channel these vulnerable and poor women over and over again.” Re-framing what justice could be  – and should be – is central to Clean Start Africa’s strategy.

Similarly, FreeFrom is focused on supporting survivors of intimate partner violence and reframing  how we, as a society, think about it, so that rather than being seen as a product of bad luck or bad choices, it’s treated as the systemic issue that it is. 

“The number one obstacle of survivor safety is financial insecurity,” says Sonya. “In other words, intimate partner violence is a structural economic issue with both economic causes and economic consequences…Our work is based on the premise that we can’t end gender-based violence unless survivors can afford to heal and rebuild their lives.”

Teresa and Sonya both bring profound lived experiences to their work. Teresa, having been falsely accused and imprisoned, intimately understands the injustices faced by women within the criminal justice system. This firsthand experience drives her mission at Clean Start Africa. Sonya, meanwhile, has been a dedicated anti-violence activist since she was a teenager. Her long-standing commitment suggests a deep-seated drive to address and end gender-based violence. Both women leverage their unique backgrounds to forge meaningful, systemic solutions.. 

“We have to build a truly survivor-centered and inclusive movement—one that welcomes and works for all survivors by starting with and centering our own communities in the design of policies, programs, and resources,” Sonya notes. 

By drawing from their own lived experiences, and deep-rooted partnership with their communities to fuel policy change, both organizations are tackling the symptoms and the causes of inequality – and making the world a safer place to be – for women, for girls, and for everyone.

At Elevate, we’re proud to work with and learn from them–—this Women’s History Month and beyond.