WE Empower awardee from U.S. wins DVF pitch night competition

Leah Lizarondo

During the U.N. General Assembly and Climate Week, philanthropist and fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg hosted a pitch night in New York City for the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge 2019 awardees. The five WE Empower Challenge awardees — one from each United Nations region — pitched to a high-level panel of judges selected from WE Empower Challenge partners.

Judges and audience voting determined the 2019 winner of the $20,000 cash prize to be Leah Lizarondo, CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue and entrepreneur-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon University.

After immigrating to the United States from the Philippines, Lizarondo soon realized there seemed to be a third world country within a first world country. This realization hit after she learned that up to 40% of food in the U.S. goes to landfill — where it then creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas — all while millions of people go hungry each year in the U.S. Driven to correct this waste and inequity, Lizarondo set about finding ways she could make positive environmental and social impacts via business.

412 Food Rescue started in Pittsburgh and is now expanding its reach to other areas. The organization uses a technological platform to connect thousands of volunteers with restaurants and other businesses donating unsellable but healthy, viable food to nonprofits who feed those in need. By February 2019, more than 5.6 million pounds of food — mostly fresh food — had been rescued, providing meals to people facing hunger and struggling to feed their families.

We Empower/DVF: Partners

With this impact, it’s no wonder Lizarondo was the 2019 WE Empower Challenge winner. The WE Empower Challenge was launched in 2018 by the United Nations Secretary General and the President of the World Bank at the U.N. General Assembly to promote innovative, sustainable solutions supporting the Sustainable Development Goals by women entrepreneurs from every U.N. region. Designed and directed by Amanda Ellis, director of strategic partnerships for Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the WE Empower Challenge aims to showcase the valuable contributions of women in business to social outcomes.

The WE Empower Challenge was developed in partnership with Vital Voices and is supported by lead financial partners such as P&G, Salesforce, Bank of America, AT&T, the U.N. Foundation and the World Bank Group. Co-chairs of the challenge include Julie Ann Wrigley, a noted philanthropist who has invested more than $50 million in sustainability at ASU; Amanda Ellis, who is also a former U.N. ambassador; Annette Dixon, the vice president for human development at the World Bank; Ana Maria Menéndez, U.N. under-secretary-general; Kathy Calvin, U.N. Foundation CEO; and Alyse Nelson, Vital Voices Global Partnership president and CEO.

We Empower/DVF: Partners

Top photo: The WeEmpower Challenge is a global business competition for women entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inspiring entire communities to act to create the world we want by 2030. Women entrepreneurs present pitches and the most votes for the honoree win $20,000. Photo from DVF in New York, NY on September 23, 2019. Photo courtesy Carey Wagner.