Champions for Change – 2016 Honoree Bios

This year, to celebrate 40 years of research empowering women and girls, ICRW will confer the Champions for Change Awards on Melinda French Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Justice; and Jill Sheffield, Founder & President, Women Deliver. In addition, the inaugural Paula Kantor Award for Excellence in Research – launched to honor the legacy of former ICRW colleague Paula Kantor while recognizing the work of a young, promising researcher – has been awarded to Dr. Soumya Gupta.

Melinda French Gates
Co-Chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The 2016 Champions for Change Leadership Award to Melinda French Gates for her unwavering commitment to ensuring that every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life. The Award also recognizes her leadership in galvanizing global momentum toward the empowerment of women and girls around the world.

Melinda French Gates is co-chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Along with Bill, she shapes and approves the foundation’s strategies, reviews results, and sets the overall direction of the organization. Together, they meet with grantees and partners to further the foundation’s goal of improving equity in the United States and around the world.

Through her work at the foundation over the last fifteen years, Melinda has seen first-hand that empowering women and girls can bring transformational improvements in the health and prosperity of families, communities and societies. In 2012, Melinda spearheaded the London Summit on Family Planning, which adopted the goal of delivering contraceptives to an additional 120 million women in developing countries by 2020. Her work has led her to increasingly focus on gender equity as a path to meaningful change.

The second of four children, Melinda grew up in Dallas, Texas. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics from Duke University in 1986 and a master’s in business administration from the Fuqua School of Business in 1987.

After joining Microsoft Corp. that year, she distinguished herself as a leader in the development of multimedia products and was later appointed Microsoft’s General Manager of Information Products. In 1996, Melinda left Microsoft to focus on her philanthropic work and family. Melinda lives with her husband and three children in Seattle, Washington.

The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court
Associate Justice

The 2016 Champions for Change Award for Vision to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for her unwavering commitment to women’s health, well being, and equal citizenship stature, and her courageous vision for legal systems that respect the dignity of all humankind.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Clinton as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in June 1993 and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, she served from 1980 to 1993 on the bench of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. From 1972 to 1980, Justice Ginsburg was a professor at Columbia University School of Law; from 1963 to 1972, she served on the law faculty of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. She has served on the faculties of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, and as a visiting professor at many universities in the United States and abroad. In 1978, she was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California.

In 1972, then-Professor Ginsburg was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Throughout the 1970s she litigated a series of cases solidifying a constitutional principle against gender-based discrimination. Her bar association activities have included service on the Board of Editors of the American Bar Association Journal, and as Secretary, Board member and Executive Committee member of the American Bar Foundation. Justice Ginsburg served on the Council of the American Law Institute and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Justice Ginsburg has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. (J.D.) from Columbia Law School. She holds honorary degrees from 30 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities, and Lund University (Sweden).

Justice Ginsburg’s late husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, was a professor of tax law at Georgetown University Law Center; her daughter, Jane C. Ginsburg, is a professor of literary and artistic property law at Columbia Law School; and her son, James S. Ginsburg, is a producer of classical recordings.

Dr. Soumya Gupta
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative at Cornell University

The inaugural Paula Kantor Award for Excellence in Field Research to Dr. Soumya Gupta, for her critical research assessing the empowerment status of women in India in relation to agricultural determinants and nutritional outcomes.

Soumya Gupta is a post-doctoral fellow with the Tata Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative (TCi) based in New Delhi, India. She successfully defended her PhD in Applied Economics, Cornell University, in July 2015 as TCi’s first supported graduate student. Her work at TCi has been focused on the linkages between women’s empowerment, diet and iron status in the Chandrapur district in Maharashtra. Soumya received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hindu College (University of Delhi) and the Center for Economic Studies and Planning (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi). After her master’s, she spent two years teaching economics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women and Sri Ram College for Commerce.

Even as a bachelor’s and master’s student, Soumya showed an inclination for research, working for the Center for Civil Society, The National Council for Applied Economic Research and UNICEF. These research projects dealt with topics as varied as the Public Distribution System, school level education, agricultural subsidies and birth registration. At Cornell University, she was selected to be an Associate with the Food Systems and Poverty Reduction Integrated Graduate Research and Training (IGERT) program, which brought together students from a variety of disciplines to train them in interdisciplinary research on food systems. As an IGERT Associate, she was part of an interdisciplinary team studying community based forest management in southwest Ethiopia. She joined the Tata-Cornell research group in 2013 and conducted one year of field research in India. Soumya’s research focused on understanding the relationship between women’s empowerment and nutrition outcomes in rural Maharashtra.

The variety of research projects she has been involved in have given Soumya extensive experience in both field based research as well as analytical techniques. She maintained her interest in teaching undergraduates even as she pursued her PhD by serving as a teaching assistant in several courses taught at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University. She has presented her work at several conferences and is the author of eight articles, of which four have been published. She has been a frequent contributor to the TCi blog, communicating her experiences in the field to both research and non-research audiences. She has been the recipient of the International Women’s Day Leadership Award, in recognition of her work on women’s issues as well as the recipient of the International Hunger Program grant from the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca.

Jill Sheffield
Founder & President, Women Deliver

The 2016 Champions for Change Lifetime Achievement Award to Jill Sheffield, for her enduring dedication to women’s reproductive rights and lasting contributions to the improvement of maternal health across the world.

Jill Sheffield is a global educator and advocate who has worked to promote women’s health and rights around the world for more than three decades. Sheffield is the founder and president of Women Deliver, an international advocacy organization that convenes global leaders to galvanize action for girls and women, specifically their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Sheffield hosted the first Women Deliver conference in London in October 2007, which was credited with putting Millennium Development Goal 5 on the international agenda. The fourth Women Deliver conference will take place in Copenhagen this May, and will be the largest conference on girls and women issues in over a decade.

Sheffield’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights in developing countries was inspired while volunteering for a family planning clinic at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Kenya in the mid-1960s, where she initially worked as a teacher. At that time, while the feminist movement was flourishing at home in the USA, the Kenyan women she met through the clinic were barred from using contraception without their husbands’ permission. This inequity became the driving force in Sheffield’s transition from teaching to a global crusader for women’s reproductive rights. She believes if you cannot plan your pregnancy, you cannot plan your life.

In 1987, Sheffield co-founded Family Care International (FCI), a non-profit global organization committed to improving the maternal health of women in the world’s poorest nations; she served as the organization’s President for more than 20 years, during which time the organization received the 2008 United Nations Population Award for outstanding work in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Sheffield and FCI played an integral role in leading the Safe Motherhood Initiative, also launched in 1987, which helped guide global efforts to improve maternal health over the past two decades. Prior to founding FCI, Sheffield served as Executive Officer for the International Program of Carnegie Corporation of New York, and as Africa Regional Representative and Director of Programs for Latin America for World Education.

Sheffield received her MA in Comparative and International Education from Columbia University, where she was recognized as a distinguished alumna for her international work in women’s health and education. In 2008, she was honored with the American Public Health Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Sheffield is on the board of Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Chair of International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)’s Working Group on Contraception. Most recently, Sheffield was one of few civil society representatives appointed to the UN Secretary General’s Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.


Geeta Rao Gupta
President Emerita, ICRW, former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF

geetaGeeta Rao Gupta, served as Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), at UNICEF from 2011 to 2016. In that capacity, she served as a member of the senior executive team and oversaw UNICEF’s programmes, emergency operations and supplies.

Prior to her appointment, Ms. Rao Gupta served as a senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from 2010 to 2011. She acted as the senior advisor to the Global Development Programme on the strategic direction and management of a cross-cutting range of issues and projects.

From 1996 to 2010, Ms. Rao Gupta was the president of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW). She conducted and oversaw research on topics ranging from the social and economic factors that affect women’s use of maternal nutrition and health care services, to girls’ and  women’s vulnerability to HIV. Under her leadership, ICRW catalyzed policy and programmatic change for women and children around the globe.

Over the course of her career, Ms. Rao Gupta has served on several boards, such as the Global Partnership for Education, GAVI – the Vaccine Alliance, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, the MAC AIDS Fund and the Moriah Fund. She has also led and participated in numerous high-level, global initiatives for women and children, including the U.N. Millennium Project’s Task Force on Education and Gender Equality and the U.N. Secretary-General’s Youth Employment Network.

Ms. Rao Gupta is the recipient of numerous awards, including Harvard University’s 2006 Anne Roe Award and the 2007 Washington Business Journal’s “Women Who Mean Business” Award. She earned a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Bangalore University and an M.Phil. and M.A. from the University of Delhi, India.

Ms. Rao Gupta is married and has a daughter. She was born in India, and is an American citizen.


The Champions for Change Award celebrates the possibilities of a gender equitable world and honors the leaders and visionaries who are helping to make that world a reality. Past Champions for Change celebrations have featured awardees of the highest caliber, including: The Rt Hon William Hague MP, Leader of the House of Commons and Former Foreign Secretary of Great Britain (2015); Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Georgetown University (2013); Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, US State Department (2012); and Bobbi Silten, Gap Foundation (2011). The Paula Kantor Award for Excellence in Field Research is designed to honor the legacy of former ICRW colleague Paula Kantor, who was killed while working in Afghanistan, while honoring the work of a young, promising researcher.