WISE100 Women in Social Enterprise 2024: Award winners revealed

Meet the winners of the 2024 WISE100 awards, who were announced at a London ceremony last night.

The winners of the seventh annual NatWest WISE100 awards were revealed last night at a celebration in central London.

The WISE100 is an initiative by Pioneers Post in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital, to champion, support and share expertise among women in social enterprise across the UK. 

The annual WISE100 list, plus 30 Ones to Watch, were announced last month, naming the top 100 women in social enterprise across the UK, while yesterday's awards ceremony unveiled the winners in five categories: Social Business Woman of the Year, Equality and Empowerment Champion, Environmental Champion, Social Investment Champion and Star of the Future.

The ceremony took place at NatWest’s headquarters in London, with an audience of more than 100 people from the WISE100 network joining in person and many more joining online. Pioneers Post editor Julie Pybus, associate editor Anna Patton and multimedia reporter Estelle Uba co-hosted the celebrations.

Introducing the awards, Estelle Uba said: “Pioneers Post provides what we like to call intelligent journalism for social entrepreneurs, impact investors and mission driven businesses around the world. And one of the things we really love to do is to explore and amplify the stories of the best social entrepreneurs in the world, as well as build a community of people who are all working towards the same goal: creating an impact through business. So the WISE100 fits into this, as an initiative to celebrate and share expertise, learning and inspiration among you, women in social enterprise across the UK.”

Victoria Papworth, CEO of NatWest Social & Community Capital, said: “The annual WISE 100 awards are a highlight for NatWest Social & Community Capital and an integral part of our work supporting social enterprises. We hope these awards shine a well-deserved spotlight on the amazing organisations we partner, and especially the strong, inspiring women leading them. As NatWest Social & Community Capital celebrates our 25th anniversary this year, we are excited to continue in our mission to enable social enterprises, charities and community businesses to make a positive impact in UK communities.”

The ceremony included a performance by Isabelle Kabban, actor, writer and founder of SpeakUp Theatre. Kabban’s performance explored the pressures of being a young woman trying to live up to the ideals of bettering yourself and wellness culture. 

In a keynote speech to conclude the ceremony, Patricia Hamzahee, co-founder of the Black Funding Network and GiveBLACK, highlighted that although 60% of the UK’s social enterprises were led by women, from 2012 to 2022 just 14% of venture capital went to women and just 0.14% went to black women.

Hamzahee said: “Despite many excellent efforts by many parts of the social enterprise and social investment community, progress on DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] is still limited. While access to funding for all social entrepreneurs is a challenge, for black and minoritised social entrepreneurs it is existential. A key driver of this is how little representation can be found in those allocating funding. The leadership in social impact investment, the boards, the investment committees, senior leadership and deal teams is still a landscape of whiteness with a sprinkling of double X chromosomes. Bring us into your spaces. Let’s not waste these talents.” 

Read on to meet this year’s winners…



 WISE100 Social Business Star of the Future


For a CEO or leader showing star qualities relatively new in their social enterprise career, with five or fewer years of leadership experience.

Winner: Sophie Pender, The 93% Club

Highly commended: Sol Escobar, Give Your Best, and Becky Lane, Furbnow

Sophie Pender is founder and CEO of The 93% Club. Despite 93% of the population being educated in state schools, state-educated people occupy a much smaller percentage of top roles: 34% of FTSE 350 CEOs, 35% of senior judges and 43% of the House of Lords, for example. The 93% Club aims to bridge the state-private divide in education and foster a sense of community and support for state-educated people both on campus at university and in the workplace.

Pender was raised by a working class single mother on a council estate in North London and balanced two jobs alongside her schoolwork. In 2014, she became the first student in her school's history to achieve straight A*s at A level before moving to the University of Bristol to study English. In Bristol, Pender’s working class, state-educated background left her alienated and at odds with university life.

While simultaneously pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer, Pender launched the 93% Club in 2019 and led it through a period of remarkable growth. The 93% Club has grown into two expansive networks: 93% Students, a 10,000 member strong network of 35 on-campus societies, and newly launched 93% Professionals,which since launch in October 2023, onboarded over 1,000 founding members from a waitlist of over 7,500.

In 2023 93% Students experienced unprecedented growth, with membership expanding to 6,297 from 51 universities. The network’s flagship event, The Social Mobility Factory, directly benefited over 600 students nationwide. Pender's initiative also led to the creation of the State School Roadshow, visiting four cities and significantly enhancing the professional networks of 94% of the 259 students and 81 professionals in attendance.

Speaking via Zoom after being announced as winner, Pender said: “The UK has a really big class problem. And I think even in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion circles, it’s not addressed. It’s completely absurd that in the UK we accept the fact that you can pay for a better quality of education and connection. It’s been a taboo that we’ve all been annoyed about for a very long time and I just thought ‘why are we not solving it?’”

The guest judge for this category was Nicole Helwig, executive director, Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, who presented the award. 

Helwig said: “What stood out about Sophie was not just that she’s had an incredible year from the business perspective, but she’s really mobilising as a social movement behind the work that she's doing and has done it in such a short time.”




 WISE100 Social Investment Champion


Winner: Sarah Hopley, Venture Studio from Crisis

Highly commended: Catrin Price, Fair Finance

Venture Studio from Crisis was created by the homelessness charity Crisis to invest in and scale companies working to help increase access to or the supply of good quality, affordable homes. Hopley joined the Venture Studio in 2021, contributing her lived experiences to address the housing crisis through innovative investments. 

Hopley secured the first £200k for the Venture Studio’s new venture fund. Under her guidance, two companies raised follow-on funding rounds totaling over £1m. Additionally, her leadership has helped other partnerships to grow their impact, including Agile Homes, which secured contracts to build 200 genuinely affordable homes.  

The strategic partnerships Hopley has secured, including one with the Conduit on venture philanthropy, will emphasise the importance of social investment in addressing social issues and highlight how people can contribute to this work. 

Speaking after collecting the award, Hopley said: “As somebody who doesn't come from a finance background, it's pretty overwhelming to be awarded this award. Being able to do something that shows that we don't have to do things the way that things have always been done is really amazing. And getting to support founders from diverse backgrounds that maybe don’t get access to finance so easily elsewhere is really amazing.”

The guest judges for this category were the NatWest Social & Community Capital team.   Loans officer Tracy Thomson loans officer presented the award on behalf of the team. 

Thomson said Sarah demonstrated a laser focus on advocacy, collaboration and the value of lived experience in designing support. She worked across diverse spaces, from policy level decisions to on-ground support of entrepreneurs and colleagues. 




 WISE100 Environmental Champion


For a woman doing pioneering work in the social enterprise space with a focus on climate change and environmental issues.

Winner: Karen Balmer, CEO, Groundwork North Wales

Highly commended: Katie Alcott, Frank Water, and Elizabeth Beall, Finance Earth

Karen Balmer has led Groundwork North Wales with distinction since her appointment in 2011. Groundwork North Wales is a group of charitable trusts which exists to improve the environmental, social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of the people of North Wales.

Over the last year Groundwork North Wales delivered 3,592 qualifications, made 629 energy savings advice visits, improved 92 public spaces, managed the conservation of 15 nature reserves, issued £42k of fuel vouchers, conducted 37 community clean-ups and 43 woodland improvement initiatives, planted 187 trees, and diverted 637 tonnes of waste from landfill.

Karen leadership has delivered the development and refurbishment of a former HSBC bank into a repair and reuse centre and café, the successful stewardship of the Community Rail Partnership for the Chester-Shrewsbury-Crewe railway line and the transformation of the dilapidated Minera Lead Mine site into a event venue and community space. 

Minera features as a key component of Karen’s bigger plan for the Clywedog Valley as she leads a partnership of interested parties sharing a vision to transform it into a thriving, resilient and inclusive cultural attraction and resource, hosting a diverse programme of events benefiting local communities and visitors alike.

Speaking via Zoom after being announced as winner, Balmer said her key areas of focus currently were on sustainability and financial resilience: “Everybody’s in a very tough economic climate at the moment. Maintaining our reputation and our ability to deliver quality services at an affordable price is something that’s key. We have to be financially viable to continue to deliver for the benefit of our communities and our purpose.”

The guest judge for this category was Angelica Santodomingo, programmes director at  Impact Hub London

Santodomingo said Balmer was an example of leadership in the intersection between environment and inclusion who drove an inclusive culture throughout Groundwork North Wales to ensure her impact was from and of the community she was part of. 




 WISE100 Equality & Empowerment Champion


For a woman who is leading the way in issues of equality and diversity, particularly (but not exclusively) in gender equality, equal participation and leadership.

This new award is supported by the Diversity Forum

For a woman who is leading the way in issues of equality and diversity, particularly (but not exclusively) in gender equality, equal participation and leadership. This award is supported by the Diversity Forum. 

Winner: Aakeen Parikh, Minazi Consulting

Highly commended: Zareen Roohi Ahmed, Gift Wellness and Holly Budge, How Many Elephants

Aakeen Parikh is director of Minazi Consulting, an engineering consultancy that specialises in sustainable development and impact solutions to reduce global inequality. 2023 was Minazi Consulting’s first full year of operation.

Minazi Consulting develops design and engineering solutions to tackle inequality and support social and sustainable development. In 2021 Minazi completed three pilot studies: developing bespoke monitoring and evaluation software with Khushi, a Mumbai-based education charity; developing period poverty solutions with livelihood NGO, Dufatanye, in Rwanda; and designing solutions to address food security with Livingstone Tanzania Trust, a charity in Tanzania. During 2023 – Minazo's first full year of operating – it worked on scaling the sanitary pad project with Dufatanye in Rwanda, and also started working with Boafo Pa, an education focused enterprise working on a library for a children's home in Northern Ghana. 

The Minazi Method is the organisation’s in-house design framework, which prioritises collaborative design. The framework leads to high impact sustainable solutions by combining local expertise with engineering and design knowledge.

For the last two years, Parikh has been a guest lecturer at Imperial College London for the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion module in Mechanical Engineering, where she lectures on race and racial inequality in engineering.

Speaking after collecting the award, Parikh said: “I want every girl to go up knowing that there is no limit. I really hope that with this organisation, through all of you guys, through all of us together, we continue to shatter the ceiling.”

The guest judge for this category was Salma Perveen, associate at the Diversity Forum, who also presented the award. 

Perveen said: “The reason I chose Parikh as the winner is because she is an amazing individual. She’s interdisciplinary, working across engineering, race equality, race equity. She’s global and international and she’s collaborative. All while completing a PhD.” 


 WISE100 Social Business Woman of the Year



Delivered by Pioneers Post, in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital, the WISE100 is an initiative to celebrate, support and share expertise, learning and inspiration among women in social enterprise, social innovation, impact investing and mission-led business across the UK. Detailed criteria for each award can be found in our nominations story, and you can read more about pioneering women leaders in our WISE100 collection.

For a CEO, pioneer or leader with more than five years of leadership experience building revenue, social impact and a strong team.

Winner: Zareen Roohi Ahmed, Gift Wellness

Highly commended: Alison Egan, Change Please

Zareen Roohi Ahmed founded Gift Wellness, a social enterprise dedicated to innovating high-quality, plastic-free menstrual products, in 2012 after her daughter was murdered a few years earlier. The enterprise's social impact is profound, with over 6.5m menstrual products donated to date to women in need, supporting those in homeless shelters, refugee camps, food banks and schools. 

Under Ahmed’s leadership, Gift Wellness has achieved a stable financial position and has sparked a global shift in the approach to menstrual health. She also pioneered the Period Angels app, revolutionising the way period poverty is combated in the UK through a community-led model.

Ahmed completed a PhD in multiculturalism with a focus on women's rights and published a book, The Gift, about her journey of turning grief from losing a child into a force for societal change, including by founding Gift Wellness. 

A recognised mentor in social impact business and celebrated speaker, Ahmed has demonstrated a commitment to innovation and drive to create equitable spaces for women. Her work not only exemplifies outstanding leadership, according to those who nominated her for the award, but also embodies the very essence of social business with a heart.

Speaking after collecting the award, Ahmed said: “My mission is to create the kind of world that women want to live in, that we want our daughters to grow up in, that we want our granddaughters to grow up in. For me meant not just addressing the immediate problem of period poverty, but then that opened the next door and the next door. What about girls in the home? What about girls in school? What about when they go to work? So it’s about creating a kind of a mosaic that represents a world of women and problem solving in every sphere of that world.”

The guest judge for this category was Esther Foreman, CEO of The Social Change Nest, who presented the award. 

Foreman said: “10 years ago, period, poverty wasn't really spoken about. In that time, not only has Ahmed created something that is tackling it, she’s made something that has changed the world for women and girls everywhere, but she’s done it and made a profit doing it.”


Header photo by Shenell Ewart-Murray


Thanks for reading our stories. As an entrepreneur or investor yourself, you'll know that producing quality work doesn't come free. We rely on our subscribers to sustain our journalism – so if you think it's worth having an independent, specialist media platform that covers social enterprise stories, please consider subscribing. You'll also be buying social: Pioneers Post is a social enterprise itself, reinvesting all our profits into helping you do good business, better.