Women Are Leading The Tech Nonprofit Sector. Meet Six Solving Problems They’ve Lived.

By Shannon Farley

The share of women in tech leadership roles recently dropped to 28%. This gender gap presents a huge problem, and not only for workforce diversity. Women experience the world and its myriad of problems differently than their male counterparts. This difference in experience can result in better, user-center designed products. When you have lived the problem, you likely know how to solve it. Good news: change is coming. Just look at the tech nonprofit sector.

Fast Forward, the organization I co-founded, just launched its 10th annual tech nonprofit Startup Accelerator. 60% of the tech nonprofits in this cohort are led by women. Tackling a range of issues, like mental health, human rights, and climate, each of these leaders has personal experience with the problems they’re solving. Meet them.

Road to Uni

Cielo Villa will never forget getting dropped off on her first day of third grade. She had just immigrated to the U.S. and didn’t speak English. Her mother said to her: “Be the best in your class. In this country, the only way to go to college is on a scholarship.” Villa was on a mission to get to college. But as a first-generation student from a low-income family, she didn’t have a roadmap for how to make it all happen – until she was accepted into a college access program. It changed everything.

Cielo designed Road to Uni to be a scalable college counselor, designed specifically for those from first generation, low-income families. The chatbot guides students through each stage of the application process. It answers questions around how to prepare for college applications, where to apply, and how to apply. It also provides social context missing from a simple Google search. Like, how to draft a request for a recommendation letter.

After she graduated with a full scholarship from Wellesley College, Villa became a private college counselor. To extend her support to more students like her, she turned to Instagram. Villa began meeting and mentoring students via DMs, and has used those insights to inform the platform she built.

Road to Uni is already making a meaningful impact. With Cielo’s vision, Road to Uni aims to provide every student with quality support for the college application process, regardless of their zip code.


Over half of mental illness issues start before age 14, and, sadly, young people’s mental health symptoms are often missed. The pandemic has made the situation worse. Enter: Closegap. This platform provides K12 students in all 50 states with a safe space for emotional discovery. The first step in mental wellness. It asks students, “How are you feeling?” A simple question, to be sure, but students’ answers have uncovered cases of self-harm, suicidality, trouble at home, and bullying that would have gone unnoticed in schools.

This is a problem that is deeply personal to Closegap founder Rachel Miller. She received life-changing mental health support from her teachers as a young student. She built Closegap to make this kind of help available to all. “I built the tool I wish I had as a young person,” she says. And she’s scaling that support. To date, Closegap has captured over 5M check-ins. With Closegap’s innovative approach, reaching kids where they are 5 days a week with compassion and consistency, more young people will get the mental health support they need.

Mobile Pathways

“Equity means equal access to insight, information, and influence,” says Poesy Chen, Co-Founder of Mobile Pathways. Mobile Pathways created an SMS platform that connects immigrants with advocates and lawyers. It matters. ⅔ of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants go without an attorney. This often results in people having to return to the places from which they fled. With the support of Mobile Pathways, immigration community-based organizations and advocates can reach their clients digitally to help reach more migrants across language, laws, and legal costs, and receive support they deserve – all for free.

Poesy Chen and Ana Ortega-Villegas built Mobile Pathways to solve a problem they’ve each experienced. Mobile Pathways has already helped inform 1M migrants. This teams’ novel approach pairing tech and information access makes Mobile Pathways well-situated to restore access to justice in a broken immigration system.


An underutilized ally in the fight against climate change? Nature. It’s simple: growing more trees removes carbon from the atmosphere. It’s called restoration. Tech nonprofit Restor knows that to unlock the power of restoration, we must work together.

Restor brings together thousands of worldwide restoration projects on its platform. It then empowers activists with data on native plants to restore, information on who can help them, and visibility to funders in the space. Founding CEO Clara Rowe is building Restor because she wants to protect wild places like the Costa Rican forests in which she grew up. She went on to spend over a decade building sustainability solutions with communities around the world.

“Restoring nature can heal our planet. It sounds obvious, but not enough attention is paid to the potential here. Restor makes it easy for restoration projects to thrive,” says Rowe. Restor is using nature to fight the climate crisis, restoring the planet for future generations.


Adolescence is hard for everyone. It’s especially challenging for queer youth. 39.4M LGBTQI+ and questioning youth live in countries with discriminatory laws and harmful social norms. SameSame is creating a safe, affirming, and effective online mental wellness space for LGBTQI+ communities in countries where support is difficult to access.

SameSame co-founder Dena Batrice was inspired to pursue this work after living through the experience of coming out and not being accepted by her family. As a queer woman of Arab descent, Batrice had to come to terms with her identity without supportive resources to guide her. She went on to become a social worker, and has spent the last decade delivering mental health care in Africa.

SameSame’s WhatsApp chatbot delivers evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy and wellness techniques to users in their local languages. The chatbot is secure and designed to be accessible to users in countries where their identities are illegal or culturally prohibited. Context matters too. SameSame is bent on localizing content and user experience to be as supportive as possible.

“It’s important for us to share our stories because only we know the immeasurable pain that others in our community are experiencing,” says a user who fled their country after being disowned by their family. “My story can help others heal in the same way that their stories helped me.”