Foundation 500

With Foundation 500 we wanted to challenge stereotypes and pave the way for women entrepreneurs. As a blink to the Fortune 500 list we created our own list – the ”Foundation 500” – an all-female list of 500 outstanding business leaders growing their companies in the harshest of start-up environments. We took important insights from our global programme for Equality and created a narrative of hope to inspire action and make change happen.

During 2014-2020, H&M Foundation and its partner CARE supported over 200,000 women entrepreneurs from emerging markets with seed capital and skills training to start and expand their businesses.The biggest insights during the program were the lack of female role models when it came to entrepreneurship. This made women hesitant to even try to start their own business because they didn’t think it was possible and the general perception in their communities was that women can’t be leaders. 

At the same time, we know that empowering women is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and create economic growth. Women who are empowered, educated, and healthy are able to pursue their dreams, earn higher wages, and have healthier families. This can help reduce poverty and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality.

The entrepreneur is the hero of our time. But you can’t be what you can’t see. Women rarely make the covers of business magazines, in fact, when we looked into it during 2017, the last time a woman was on the cover of Fortune Magazine was October 2014. So, role models are not even visible there. 

Media can play an important role in empowering women by unveiling inspiring stories that change the mind-set and attitudes toward women entrepreneurs globally. But how could we get their attention and put the spotlight on some of the most amazing female entrepreneurs driving their businesses successfully, against all odds?

As a blink to the Fortune 500 list we created our own list – the ”Foundation 500” – an all-female list of 500 outstanding business leaders growing their companies in the harshest of start-up environments. 

6% of news stories in print, television and radio highlight gender equality, 46% uphold gender stereotypes.

Global Media Monitoring Project

The women were part of our Global Program with CARE, reaching women in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Zambia. The women became entrepreneurs and business leaders in a world where women are consistently refused the same access to education, financial service and bank loans as men. Therefore, the 500 companies are also 500 stories about life-changing bravery, independence, role models and gender equality.

To back up the list, CARE in collaboration with H&M Foundation, developed and launched a report serving as a framework on what needs to be in place for women entrepreneurs to reach their full potential.

After a couple of days and some eager pitching from our side, Fortune Magazine published the list on their website with the headline of our dreams.


By advancing gender equality, US $12 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025.

McKinsey Global Institute, 2015

Foundation 500 is a list of entrepreneurs growing their businesses in the harshest startup environments in the world. Even more, it is a list of 500 women, who are actively changing the future for themselves and creating an impact on the economy.

To be able to present power portraits and stories of women entrepreneurs from emerging markets in the same manner business magazines usually portray male business leaders, renowned photographer Malin Fezehai travelled to meet the women in their communities taking their portraits. We encouraged media to use our photos, stories and reports, and to join us in telling these stories. Stories that would otherwise go untold.