This International Women’s Day, the Charles Koch Foundation honors excellence and innovation in our grantees

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are proud to highlight the work and innovative thinking of our grantees who are making bold, forward-thinking contributions to their organizations and fields. These women represent a small selection of our grantees and how they are working to meet challenges now and into the future. Three scholars, three distinct points of view, but with similar goals: to understand how we can unlock value, increase engagement, and heal divisions to pave a civil path to a just society.

In her work and research, Rajshree Agarwal looks for ways that collaboration and engagement can promote personal and professional growth and long-term, systemic change, as well as finding new value at all levels of an organization and in society. Now the director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets at the University of Maryland, Agarwal came to the United States nearly three decades ago with two suitcases in hand, inspired and energized by the ideals of American individualism and self-determination. “It’s the reason I came to this country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” she told us in an interview. “Not the right to it, but the pursuit of it.”

Jennifer Murtazashvili, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs, also looks at engagement through her work with the school’s Center for Governance and Markets. “Our goal is to be a global hub for scholars who are trying to understand why certain problems exist, and how people in their own communities, representing their own interests, come together to solve the challenges facing them,” she said. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Murtazashvili uses her research to examine global problems through a community-based perspective. Her mission and the center’s: to explore diverse ideas to shine a light on how governance institutions and markets affect peaceful coexistence, freedom, and well-being.

When Ashley Berner began teaching in Louisiana in 1994, she was startled by the lack of academic preparation she found among her students. Now, as deputy director of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy, Berner wants to better understand how educational pluralism — the democratic norm around the world — could erase educational inequities in the American educational system. “A pluralistic system doesn’t pit entire sectors against one another,” she said. “It assumes that schools should be distinctive, that they’re all part of public education, and that public education exists for the common good.”

These challenges are all unique and deeply divisive, but through these scholars’ work, progress is being made, little by little. Mending divisions, erasing inequity, and creating space for individual freedom by opening up value for every member of a society: as ambitious as these goals sound, these women work every day to move toward them. We salute them and their work. And we look forward to seeing and celebrating more incredible women like them.

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