Voices from the Field features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is authored by Dana J. Hyde, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
In the global fight against poverty, we can’t afford to give up the $12 trillion that could come from gender equality. As CFR Senior Fellow Rachel Vogelstein has written, improving gender equality and strengthening the economic standing of half of the world’s population is the key to unlocking broad-based economic growth.
Changing gender norms and addressing gender disparities is not easy. But as CEO of the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, I am encouraged by the inspiring women who are leading the way to advance growth and lift communities out of poverty around the world.
I think about the female plumbers in Jordan who are helping to preserve precious water resources in their communities; the female farmers in Senegal who received formal rights to their land are told me they are now planting crops to increase their families’ income; and the female community leaders in the Philippines who managed implementation of locally driven development projects.
I am proud to lead a team of development experts where more than half of the senior leadership team and more than half of our agency are women. And in an extraordinary first, women currently lead four of MCC’s major U.S. Government partner agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
I am also inspired by a unique cadre of women among MCC’s implementing partners – a local entity known as a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) leads MCC projects in our partner countries. These MCAs are entirely locally staffed and include a locally appointed Chief Executive Officer. As MCC CEO, I have been honored to work alongside seven female MCA CEOs who have managed the implementation of more than $2 billion in U.S. development projects.
Women like Pamela Bwalya, the CEO of MCA-Zambia, represent what women can and will bring to the table in a more equal world. Growing up in Zambia – which ranked 116th out of 145 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Index – she faced regular discrimination. She remembers people around her saying that it was better to send boys to school than girls; and in her professional life, she continued to experience institutional gender discrimination that lay roadblocks along her career path.
But with her family’s encouragement, Pamela persevered. Following university in South Africa, where she earned a master’s degree in economics, she returned to Zambia and rose to become the deputy director in the Government’s Ministry of Finance and Planning. When Zambia signed a $355 million compact with MCC, Pamela was appointed CEO of the MCA. Today, she leads a team implementing projects that will benefit more than one million men and women across the country.
Former MCA-Moldova CEO Valentina Badrajan led implementation of a $262 million compact between MCC and the Government of Moldova. Our partnership helped jumpstart the Eastern European country’s lagging agricultural sector. In a blog post for MCC, Valentina says that women often must have more knowledge or experience than men to achieve the same positions, and that she herself faced challenges throughout her career. As MCA CEO, she led projects that explicitly addressed gender disparity and actively involved women. The compact, for example, funded training events and workshops to enhance women’s business skills and promote entrepreneurship.
Women like Pamela and Valentina—and their counterparts in other MCC partner countries—have become role models for me, and I hope for women around the world. Their drive and determination have helped them overcome challenges and become leaders in their communities. By unleashing the potential of women like them, the United States and its partners can take a vital step forward toward building a better future for everyone.
Hear Pamela and Valentina’s stories, along with those of other women leading MCAs, in MCC’s “Women on a Mission” podcast series.