Turning great ideas into healthier communities

Denise Raquel Dunning, PhD, MPA

Executive Director, Rise Up

Dr. Denise Raquel Dunning is the founder and Executive Director of Rise Up, which activates women and girls to transform their lives, families, and communities through investment in local solutions, strengthening leadership, and building movements. Since 2009, Rise Up’s powerful network of over 500 leaders has directly benefited 7 million girls, youth, and women, advocating for over 100 laws and policies impacting 115 million people in Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the US. Rise Up achieves large-scale change by advancing health, education, and equity for girls, youth, and women everywhere. Through a range of innovative programs, we invest in emerging leaders and local solutions, and partner with global and in-country organizations to leverage collective resources for expanded and sustainable impact. Rise Up unifies the power of Let Girls Lead, Youth Champions Initiative, and Champions for Change to benefit 115 million girls, youth, and women globally.

Denise has recently taught courses at UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University. She has previously worked for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and served as a Fulbright Scholar in Honduras. She has a PhD in Sociology from the University of California Berkeley, a Master’s in Public Affairs from Princeton University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duke University. Denise is a renowned global speaker whose work has been featured in the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post, and she is now writing a book about girls’ empowerment globally.

2016 – 2018 ENGAGE (Enabling Girls to Advance Gender Equality)

Rise Up received $2.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create ENGAGE (Enabling Girls to Advance Gender Equality), an innovative approach to ending early marriage and enabling Malawian girls to finish school. We are honored that First Lady Michelle Obama selected ENGAGE to be part of the White House Let Girls Learn initiative.

2017 Rise Up Youth Champions Awarded Grant Funding to Advance Health & Rights

Rise Up is thrilled to award grant funding to visionary Youth Champions from Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, and the United States. These young leaders graduated from Rise Up’s Youth Champions Incubator in Silicon Valley, where they learned about leadership, technology, innovation and health. Rise Up’s grant funding will enable these inspiring young leaders to create game-changing initiatives to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in their countries. 

Champions for Change

Champions for Change saves the lives of women and children in Nigeria by empowering local leaders and organizations to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health through advocacy, education, storytelling, and strategic partnerships. Champions for Change leverages a program model developed by its sister initiative, Let Girls Lead, which has contributed to improved health, education, and livelihoods for more than 3 million girls globally since 2009. This powerful model drives change through the passage of national laws, implementation of programs, and distribution of funds to ensure access to quality healthcare, education, and economic opportunity.

As of 2017, this program lives on under the work of Rise Up. 

Collective Impact Partnership: Increasing the Economic Power of Girls and Women in India

Rise Up, in partnership with the Global Fund for Women, How Women Lead, Public Health Institute, and World Pulse, is leading a three-year project, “Collective Impact Partners: Women’s and Girl’s Economic Empowerment Advocacy in India” to increase the economic power of girls and women in India, where currently only 29% of women formally participate in the workplace.

The Collective Impact Partnership (CIP) focuses on strengthening women leaders’ advocacy, individual leadership, and digital capacities by investing in women’s efforts to advance economic empowerment and justice for women and girls in Maharashtra, India. These activities and targeted strategies will be supported by a $2.1 million grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project will work with a cohort of 20 India-based women leaders to advance their own initiatives and will award grants to eight organizations. The Collective’s advocacy and leadership development approach will enable women leaders to:


  • Advance public policies that enhance economic empowerment for women;
  • Improve the implementation of existing legislation to enhance economic justice and empowerment;
  • Increase resource allocation to support women’s economic empowerment programs; and
  • Create a safe, curated online space for Indian women and girls to connect and raise awareness among allies and influencers on economic justice and empowerment, campaigns, and policies.


As a group, the CIP members have ties to more than 1,000 partner organizations across India, on-going relationships with more than 3,000 individual leaders, and more than 100 years advocating for gender equality. For more information, click here to see the Rise Up one-pager.

Let Girls Lead

Let Girls Lead is building a global movement of Champions who empower girls to attend school, stay healthy, escape poverty, and overcome violence. Let Girls Lead invests in girls and their allies to lead social change through advocacy, education, storytelling, economic empowerment, and strategic partnerships. Since 2009, Let Girls Lead's proven model has contributed to improved health, education, livelihoods, and rights for more than 3 million girls through the passage of national laws, implementation of programs, and distribution of funds to ensure access to quality healthcare, education, and economic opportunity. 

As of 2017, this work lives on through PHI's Rise Up.

Youth Champions Initiative

Rise Up is building a powerful global network of young sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice (SRHRJ) leaders who are improving access to quality family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, and abortion services. With the Packard Foundation’s support, Rise Up will enable a new cohort of visionary Youth Champions from Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, and the U.S. South to advance innovation and quality in the field of SRHRJ globally.

Financial Literacy Summit Panel Discussion: Bridging the Gender Gap (2017)

How does equal access to financial education tools and resources change by region? Which demographic is most at risk for not having equal access to...

View Details »

Guide to Girl-Centered Advocacy (2014)

We are proud to share the Guide to Girl-Centered Advocacy, from PHI's Let Girls Lead—a full capacity-building curriculum that engage...

View Details »

PHI50 Videos (2014)

In honor of our 50th anniversary in 2014, PHI created a series of videos that looked back at what public health has accomplished in the last half c...

View Details »

Economic Empowerment Strategies for Adolescent Girls (2013)

This report by PHI's Let Girls Lead provides a needed policy analysis of economic empowerment programs for adolescent girls in the Gl...

View Details »

Let Girls Lead 2013 Annual Report (2013)

The 2013 annual report highlights the ways in which the advocacy work done through Let Girls Lead is transforming the lives of adolescent girls in ...

View Details »

Let Girls Lead External Evaluation (2013)

Commissioned by the United Nations Foundation, this independent evaluation demonstrates that Let Girls Lead’s AGALI program has contributed t...

View Details »

Capacity Building & Training

With diverse public health programs spanning the globe, PHI understands how strong leadership and organizational management can enhance the success...

View Details »

Coalition & Network Building

Building strong coalitions and networks is essential to solving today’s pressing public health issues. The Public Health Institute (PHI) can ...

View Details »

Health Equity & Social Justice

Health is a fundamental human right. But in the U.S. and around the world, people of color, low-income communities, people with disabilities and ot...

View Details »

Leadership Development

Today's public health challenges are complex, rapidly evolving, and call for a new approach to leadership development—one that advances h...

View Details »

Outreach & Dissemination

The Public Health Institute is dedicated to lifting up public health best practices, while actively cultivating an engaged community of public heal...

View Details »