Women's economic participation is critical to global growth and prosperity, according to global data from the World Bank, IMF, McKinsey, and the OECD. Yet despite the consensus around women's role in the economy, today nearly 90 percent of nations around the world still have laws on the books that impede women's economic participation and, as a consequence, hamper growth. Neal Keny-Guyer and Ann Miles discuss the barriers to women's financial inclusion that must be addressed in order to grow economies worldwide.
This meeting was made possible by the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
LEMMON: Welcome. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome, welcome. I am honestly thrilled—first of all, thrilled to see the turnout, thrilled to see so many people who bring so much to the conversation here, and thrilled about our guests who are joining us today.
So happy Friday to everyone. And I am Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations. And I want to begin, first of all, by saying this meeting is on the record. So whatever you’re going to say, know that it will be shared, and with delight and pleasure. So I feel like everything is on the record now, even when it’s off. That is why I voted for on, and I’m delighted that both Ann and Neal agreed.
And I want to thank the Gates Foundation, which has really made a huge difference in supporting this week, both Rosita Najmi, who is here in person, and Amy Jerrett, who is joining us on the phone.
I also want to highlight a report that we’ve done. It’s funny coming from television many moons ago, where, you know, I’m always wondering if people actually read reports. But this one does seem to have gotten read. And I would urge you to read it because it is about inclusive economies, inclusive economic growth that includes women.
You know, I have been at a number of events on inclusive growth that have actually not even mentioned women or included them in the conversation. And I really do think that should change, not because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the economically wise and smart thing to do when you’re talking about tapping into untapped potential sources of growth in a global economy that clearly needs it.
So, with that, I am really delighted to introduce Ann Miles, MasterCard Foundation, and Neal Keny-Guyer of Mercy Corps. And we’re going to have a discussion. First I will have the privilege of asking them some questions, and we’ll have some dialogue about the role of, you know, how do we think about legal reform and financial inclusion that includes women.
And I want to get past the words, because legal reform and financial inclusion are not words that make you—you know, your eyes go wide and you get really excited to have a conversation. (Laughter.) But what they mean and the ideas they stand for are so very important.
And that’s why both Ann is really on the front line of bringing more women into banking, having more women have access to financial services and proving why that matters to everyone is such—you know, I’m so excited that she’s here; and Neal and Mercy Corps, you know, what they’ve done in terms of trying to bring innovation as well to this.
To include more women for the sake of everyone and for the sake of stronger, more resilient communities is something I really am delighted that we can talk about.
So with that, let’s start with Ann. And I’d like to just toss you the question we were discussing before. So according to World Bank, the Women, Business and the Law report, 155 of the 173 economies included have at least one law on the books impeding women’s economic opportunities and limiting women’s economic opportunities. So that’s 155 of 173.
And Ann, I wonder, where do you think government policy makes a difference on this? I know you have experience with Canada, but also where do you see the legal reform meeting economic growth? How do you see that intersection there?
MILES: First of all, I’m very happy to be here. And thank you for this really nice invitation to have this conversation.
This was a hard question. I thought, where do I start? This is pretty comprehensive. And how do I begin to even research this? Because this is not my domain, really understanding legal reform. So I took a shortcut. And I have a team of financial-inclusion experts. Many of them are women. And they come from the countries where we work. Our focus is primarily Africa.
So I sent them an email and I said help me answer this question. If, in your country context, you could think of one area of the law that you’d like to see reform, what would it be? And then I wanted to see what they would come back to me with. And, interestingly enough, it was not around property rights. It wasn’t around inheritance. It wasn’t around some of the things that we typically think about that we should be working against. They said those laws are important. That legal reform is important. That’s something worth thinking about. And in some cases, some of our—you know, some of the country contexts that we work in, there’s been some progress on that.
The real problem is gender violence. And women can’t leave their homes safely. They can’t get to the market safely or in a secure way. They’re harassed if they have money; all of these things that actually you need to have in place, some security, that actually help women work, help them travel and leave their homes and do the things they need to do.
So they said—this was overwhelmingly the response that I got from my team. And I went, wow, OK, this is—this is a little bit outside of what we normally think about in financial inclusion, which is more about, you know, access to a bank account, ability to save, et cetera.
So I’ve thought a lot about that. And they said even in the cases where there is some protection or legal protection or law in place, how it’s then actually implemented in society, we still have a long way to go. And so I thought that’s actually going to make me rethink a little bit some of the work that we’re doing and exploring within the foundation around how do we have more of a gender lens on the portfolio that we’re managing, because we haven’t yet done it explicitly outside of targets.
And I think what we’re learning is that’s just nothing, at the end of the day. You actually have to have a view in terms of how your programming is going to influence and affect women and some of the unintended consequences that your programming may cause. So it’s caused the Foundation to really rethink how we think about gender.
We have a Gender Policy Group now, working group in place. We’re going to really rethink our approach, especially with respect to young women, because, as some of you here around the room who know us, we are focused on youth. So how we think about this in the context of young women going forward will be really important.
Just quickly on Canada, because MasterCard Foundation actually is domiciled in Toronto. We’re not a U.S. foundation, even though we were funded by MasterCard’s IPO in 2006. But we are actually domiciled in Canada.
Canada has a very interesting feminist aid policy that was just announced in June 2015. Take some time to read just the executive summary. It is fantastic. And I’m looking forward actually to working with them a lot more closely in the countries where we have a common interest, because they will be more—they will be focused on Africa.
LEMMON: Thank you. And I think you get at two points that I want to chime in on and then come to Neal on, was you talked about women being harassed if they have money. And that’s where a lot of people have said digital, right, can make a difference.
LEMMON: And mobile can make a difference. And one thing was interesting. I was in India interviewing women who were opening bank accounts as part of this—you know, the demonetization push there, right. So, I mean, I had all this cash. I had come from Liberia, where you have to use cash for everything, right, and then gone to India and I couldn’t use cash for anything. You know, everybody’s, like, I don’t want your cash; you know, give me your card.
And I went to a training at a bank that was doing financial literacy as women were opening bank accounts. And so I started asking questions. And I said, you know, thank you for your time. Can you tell me, do you like—how many of your mothers had bank accounts? And about a third of the room put their hands up. Two thirds had—did not have hands in the air.
And then I said and how many of you prefer the ATM card versus—do you prefer the ATM card for your bank account or the thumb print, because now you can use your thumb. And all of a sudden all these women did this to me. (Laughter.) And so I looked. I said, OK, why? And this woman put her hand up and she said, well, the very obvious answer is that our husbands can’t take our ATM card, right. And we have to be part of the transaction now.
And so it was affecting the power dynamics in families in very, I think, unexpected ways that were not originally intended or necessarily foreseen by folks who were putting these programs into place. And, you know, it was just an interesting look at the very on-the-ground realities, because I think talking about policy is great, but it’s where it translates to on-the-ground reality and to families’ lives that makes the biggest difference.
And with that, Neal, I’d love to ask you about innovation, digitization, because I know cash transfers has been part of what Mercy Corps has done in the innovation piece.
LEMMON: And the digitalization piece has made a difference.
KENY-GUYER: Right. Great. Well, thank you.
First of all, good afternoon to everybody. It’s great to look around and see a lot of friends. It’s always encouraging when friends show up to something you’re doing. (Laughter.)
The second is I see, you know, a lot of real experts around this table in this field. And so I look forward to learning from all of you.
And finally, it’s just wonderful to be—to do anything with Ann and Gayle is a privilege and an honor. So thank you all for including me.
I do want to pick up on first, very quickly, something that Ann said, and Gayle, that you made a point of. You know, in the humanitarian space, as you know, there is a big move toward cash, which I support, Mercy Corps supports, many of the organizations here support.
And there is a cautionary tale in a lot of the work we’ve done in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly when you’re giving cash, even digital cash, to women, they will often report that on the day of that payment there is increased pressure on the part of the husbands. Gender violence goes up during that day. And so you have to surround that both with protection programs, with literacy programs, with education programs. Even though it’s good to give people cash instead of stuff, I think that’s a better move. And it enhances the dignity.
You know, we do have to really look at it in a way that anticipates and overcomes some of the unintended effects of that, or you can rush headlong into something that’s going to cause other problems. So—
LEMMON: Can I just ask you—
LEMMON: —did you find—when you found that people were facing domestic violence, heightened violence, how do you then think through that? Just as you’re answering, can you talk to us too about how that shapes what you do?
KENY-GUYER: Yeah. So that—I mean, for us it puts in place—I mean, actually, once we learn of that, we have responsibilities to then put in place protection programs. And a lot of these are education programs. Some of these are more formal protection programs. Some are actually initiating local law-enforcement action where it’s in extreme cases. But we have a responsibility to act once we’re aware of that, along the most appropriate fronts that are there.
And it’s—I think for all of our organizations in those kind of environments, we’ve had to invest significantly in protection programs. And a lot of that protection is to deal with gender violence within it—violence against women.
So but I just—on the innovation front, let me come back. Often I think we think that innovation is about the latest, greatest, the new digital product or service, you know, the new new thing, as someone described it. And in our experience, what we have found is that the real innovation happens when you think in terms of an ecosystem and when you think of yourself as a catalyst in that ecosystem. So the innovation in the digital space is really about how do you connect vital information that women need or farmers need or clients need with financial services linking banks, linking mobile-phone operators, linking market players along those supply chains.
And then technology allows you to link in ways that lowers costs, improves access. And that’s really the most important area of innovation. There’s always going to be, you know, the kind of changes along the digital infrastructure that lower cost, improve access, and so forth. But the real innovation, the real value-add—to me, the real innovators are the integrators who see the connecting points and can think in terms of ecosystem solutions.
And I’ll tell you, as an NGO, doing that—and big thanks to the MasterCard Foundation for helping to support some of those—you know, some of those initiatives—but for us, it’s been—thinking and acting that way has enabled us to bring in players like the Safari.coms, like a lot of the private-sector players, who want to think in terms of market solutions. And when you talk about enhancing financial services, you’re largely talking about private-sector market players, albeit you need good public policy and a good regulatory framework to incentivize and support those activities.
You know, so we—so my first point on innovation is think in terms of being a catalyst, an innovator in the ecosystem. And then from there we can move down to what some of the more promising digital technologies are. And then, finally, I think where we’re all seeing a lot of promise—and we can come back and talk to later—is the ability to capture big data, and particularly on the demand side, gives you an understanding of the behavior of women. Particularly if you can cleverly apply design thinking, then you’re able to base solutions on real evidence of behavior aggregated over a large enough sample as to really be relevant.
LEMMON: Well, I think that that piece is the challenge, right, because you can have great policies, but if there are structural issues or if there are legal challenges or if there’s enforcement challenges, right, I find, you know, people don’t live in silos, but often policy attacks the challenges as if they do. And so, you know, really what I wanted to ask you to this point, Ann, is you were talking about how it’s not enough to have a target, right, that you really have to design programs aimed at financial inclusion, aimed at addressing legal challenges, right, with women in mind from the start.
And I wonder, A, how do you do that? And, B, how does that change what you were doing before when you start from that framework?
MILES: So I’ll admit we’re learning. So what we did—and we’re only starting this now—is we did an audit of some of our portfolio, probably about a third of it, to understand it from the gender lens. And that audit revealed—we used a few tools, one adopted from Plan International, and it revealed that we weren’t thinking about this in a holistic way. We weren’t thinking of the unintended consequences.
So we can’t stop those programs. I mean, in some cases we can make some adjustments to them. But, more or less, we’re thinking now about, OK, how do we step back? First of all, we have to do gender awareness-building within the Foundation. That’s where we start, believe it or not.
LEMMON: So it’s not just women’s stuff?
MILES: Right. Yeah. And, yeah, so there’s some work to do there, even though, when you look at our gender balance, that’s not an issue at the Foundation. That’s not the problem. We have primarily a female senior leadership team. But our board is not necessarily gender-balanced. But our staff is reasonably gender-balanced. But it’s also—we’ve got multiple cultures. So it’s understanding across the cultures how we all think about this. So we are going to do, with the help of IDRC in Canada, some gender training.
MILES: Yeah. That’s where we start.
LEMMON: And I think that’s so fascinating. I just want to push on that for a second, because I think a lot of people come and say, you know, women matter, but then they go back to a room where they don’t necessarily—not that people would say, oh, women don’t matter. Nobody’s going to say that really that publicly. But it is easier to omit than—
LEMMON: —to deal with the specific obstacles. I say that coming from many cultures in which, you know, that’s the case, right? And how do you get at that? Because it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have.
MILES: Yeah. I—you know, we’re just at the very beginning. And so I think one thing we have to do is actually say, OK, that’s going to be handled by a small working group, primarily of women, right; got to change that. It’s got to move beyond just a small working-group effort with women. It’s got to become much more diverse, and it has to be much more out there at the front. So we are thinking about in our—we’re about to launch a new strategy starting next year. This will be much more prominent.
Then the second step was—will be how do we work with our partners to understand how we’re thinking about this? So when an organization works with us today, whether it’s Mercy Corps, Bill with IYF or others here that are in the room, we have a little checkbox on our kind of project review note that says are you—what is your gender—do you have a gender policy? Check. Great. But, you know, it doesn’t mean—(laughter)—much more than that. So we’re actually going to have to probe that a lot, lot more deeply and think about that.
You know, I’ve worked at women’s world banking for six years; five, six years. It was—at the time, the way we thought about our work was how do we help financial-service providers design products that work for women. I’m not sure that’s the right approach either. So I think there are a lot of ways you have to think about this differently.
I was at a very interesting event last week in New York, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women. Now 100,000 is the goal. There was one man in the room. There were 40 of us. I counted before this event how many men will be here. At the time, when I looked at it, it was 13. It’s less, I think. So thank you for being here—(laughter)—those of you who are here. But it’s still largely, you know, a female conversation. So how do we continue to mix that up?
LEMMON: What is so interesting, we—last year I had an event on child marriage in fragile states the same day they were having an event on the Quadrennial Defense Review. And I’ve done a lot of work on national security. (Laughter.) And I kept saying if we just put the same people—(laughter)—in the same—conference room.
Because nine out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are also considered fragile by OECD, right. And if you don’t understand what’s happening in fragile frameworks with families, then you can’t look at the security. And actually I do find that the Pentagon is actually very open to that discussion. But we have so much distance still to travel for that to be an actual holistic discussion.
But, yeah, so how do you think about programming now with women in mind? Then I have a question for you.
MILES: So I think, you know, we’ve put—we’ve slowed down our programming right now. I mean, we have a huge—you know, across our programs, especially in our education portfolio and our youth livelihoods portfolio, and financial inclusion, more than 60, 70 percent actually of the clients or recipients are women and girls.
So I think our next step is to think beyond that. So it’s not just about the percentage of women and young women that are receiving or benefiting from these programs, but we’ll have to go—we’ll have to explore that much further. So that’s—that’ll always continue to be important. But I think we’ll have to add dimensions to understanding that and the ultimate impact it’s having on their lives.
We’re also looking at some work around leadership, and what can we do with women’s—we’re calling it transformative leadership. So what will that look like as well? It’s very much going to be based—because the Foundation is switching—we’re moving to a country-based strategy. So it will—we will start to go deeply into understanding what are the policies and what’s in place and how do we work with government on these particular issues.
We have an interesting project in Ghana that’s around construction—interesting—where we’re trying to increase the number of women that are involved in what is a very high-growth industry. And it’s not just about the building side of construction, but all the attendant businesses that go with that and trying to engage people in thinking about what is possible for women outside—you know, when you think construction, yes, it’s this limited sector, but—in terms of just bricks and concrete, et cetera—but how do we think of everything that supports construction and extend that to women and opportunities for them?
So that’s one particular program that we’ve been challenging. In this case our partner is Global Communities, the former CHF, here in—based in Bethesda, helping us think through this. And we got real pushback, honestly, from the board. How are you going to do this with young women in Ghana? How is this going to work? So we had to—you know, are you aiming too high? And we said, no, we really want to push this further. So—
LEMMON: Well, I think it’s excellent.
MILES: That’s a small example.
LEMMON: Well, I think it’s a great one. And two quick points. One is that, you know, I do think that when it comes to the women conference, we aim low and think small. You know, it’s like let’s do bite-size progress. And, you know, it’s—but when you actually are with women on the ground, that’s not how they’re thinking, right. They’re thinking very big and they’re thinking much larger. And I think it’s in fancy rooms with light and power and water and infrastructure and schools that work that people think very small and aim low for them.
MILES: But just quickly, Gayle, to follow up on this, I met a fascinating woman last—two weeks ago from Nigeria who’s heading up—who’s started an oil-and-gas—she started an oil-and-gas business a couple of years ago. This is tough, you know, in that context. And then there—she’s developing other logistics business around it. And I said I’m going to keep my eye on you, because you’re in a tough sector in a very tough environment. And I’m very curious to see. And she’s—she’s succeeding.
MILES: Some very—that’s unusual. It’s unusual to see it at that level.
LEMMON: Well, and I was in Liberia and with some of the Mercy Corps team earlier this year. And what was interesting was—to the point of financial inclusion and legal barriers—was an entrepreneur I met who has sort of the Jiffy Maid service of Monrovia that she’s starting. And part of—as she’s growing her business—and Mercy Corps was working with her; they’re on the ground.
And as she’s growing her business, she’s looking at women who are from the poorest parts of Monrovia, who are not educated, who haven’t had the opportunity for formal schooling, and she’s going to employ them. And as part of it, she’s trying to look at how do they bring banking and opening of bank accounts and that step into those women’s lives. And so, you know, I would say, you know, Mercy Corps works in a lot of fragile contexts, and we don’t necessarily think of a lot of this conversation as also happening in fragile states.
I just wonder, is there anything unique to those contexts? Or how do you approach this question of financial inclusion, legal challenges? How do you get women into the pulmonary arteries, or—
KENY-GUYER: (Laughs.) Well, I wish there were silver bullets and fast fixes to any of these tough problems, and there aren’t. But what I would say, though, I think, for all of us, you know, who believe in the Sustainable Development goals, who want to build a better world, we’d better get better at working in fragile states. And there is a dearth of capacity of organizations, of funders, of players, who can operate with any scale in fragile states, who can—and the reason I say that, because almost everything we care about—extreme poverty, poor health outcomes, poor education outcomes, access to financial services, clean water—they’re all clustering in fragile states.
And, you know, and it’s why so many of us say, you know, if the Sustainable Development goal 16 is the key to achieving all the other ones, if you can’t unlock that, you’re not going to make progress elsewhere. Or progress elsewhere is probably going to happen regardless of what all of us do; I mean, not that it’s good work.
So I do think this clustering—and you see it there. The vast majority of the world’s unbanked today live in fragile states. You know, if you think, what, there’s 2 ½ (billion), 3 billion people that don’t have access to formal financial services, two thirds are in fragile states and the number is growing consistent.
So the first point is I think it’s absolutely critical that all of us be working in fragile states. I can’t think of a case why we wouldn’t be if we want to be driven by where the needs are and where the real transformational potential is.
Now, that said, I think that then, particularly when you’re talking about financial inclusion, you know, digital solutions give us opportunities that, you know, we never had before. It’s that you can—you can leapfrog. And—but you have to be intentional about your focus there.
And I just—you know, you told some wonderful stories in Liberia. And, you know, I look at some of the places where we are having success. And, you know, I think in Gaza. And again, some of you know we run an initiative called the Gaza Sky Geeks. And we don’t brand it as—probably one of the reasons it’s been so successful is we don’t brand it as Mercy Corps. (Laughs.) You know, and there’s a perception this is really an indigenous, local—and, you know, it’s one of my favorite. It’s like for all of us. It’s kind of like your children. You can’t pick your favorite project. But this is one of my favorite.
And I just—you know, again, this is where you had to intentionally—in order to get women entrepreneurs to get in to be involved where they could go out and pitch and get permission—you know, there’s where you have to do the things like go meet the parents, go meet the father, work out arrangements so the cousin can travel. If you don’t do that, it’s impossible.
But, you know, this—last year the IFC and the World Economic Forum recognized the top 100 startups in the Middle East. Two of them came from little Gaza Sky Geeks. One was a woman—(laughs)—so 50 percent, at least, of what we brought forward there. And, you know, and I take a lot of pride in that. And I think it demonstrates, from there to agri-pastoral areas in Ethiopia to northern Uganda to the Central African Republic to Niger, I could give similar examples where, with an intentional strategy, you know, using a gender lens.
But I just wanted to make the point—and everyone here knows that, and all of us know that, but I think it sometimes gets conflated—you know, there’s a difference between programs that are specifically designed to enhance women’s empowerment, participation in the political system, and using a gender lens. A gender—and where our community has advanced a lot are all the tools that we now have to ensure that we look at the impacts, the consequences, often unintended, of all our programs, particularly on women, but also segmented with girls, also boys, also men.
I mean, that’s what brings the power out, right, not that it just gives you information on women. And that’s where I think our programs can be more tailored and more impactful because of these tools.
LEMMON: I think that’s an—it’s an excellent point. And just—we’re about to start opening it up to questions. I’d just make one point. I do think that it has to be intentional. I mean, and I also think narratives matter. Storytelling matters. The way we see these stories matters.
We were just in Syria doing a number of reports for PBS “NewsHour” and some others. And I remember—(laughs)—we kept trying to interview men, and the women would genuinely elbow them out of the way—(laughter)—to talk with us. And they were so powerful and so eloquent that we actually had to go back and look for men to put in our pieces. (Laughter.) And I’m not joking. We were really—I said, you know, we need some men in here, because I was saying we can’t have it lopsided in the other direction.
But the easiest thing was honestly to put these three moms in this piece who were just so moving. And we had to keep thinking about how are we showing this, right? You know, let’s make sure. But you really do have to think in everything about—to take a step back, and are you sort of giving a snapshot that—and if you’re not giving a snapshot that’s fully representative, then being honest with your viewers or with your participants about that.
One last question to both of you, and then please do put your cards up just like this if you have a question. And I would start with just both—with Ann and then Neal, if you’d give a quick—like, what’s the role of the private sector?
MILES: Oh, I think it’s huge. So I think you need, especially, you know, what we’ve seen in Africa with mobile technology, that’s a full engagement of, you know, your mobile network operators, your phone companies, telecommunications, and in many cases your banks and other providers.
The whole emerging growth of fintech companies is all coming out of sort of private-sector models. But—and also on the, I think—I was thinking about this because you asked us a question. I was surprised to learn that the Goldman Sachs initiative, the 10,000 Women, that started out, is now at—you know, they’re aiming towards 100,000 women. I just checked in with the IFC yesterday. It’s now at about 60(,000). So they’re on track to meet the 100,000. But they’ve mobilized over $600 million to fund women entrepreneurs through this initiative.
And to me that’s a successful way of working with the private sector to engage in some of these issues, whether it’s around entrepreneurship, whether it’s around digital financial services, whether it’s even business models that will employ women, even startups.
You know, just to your point, Neal, on the digital side, we’re seeing some really interesting digital startups from women entrepreneurs in Africa. And that’s pretty exciting. We’re seeing women employed as mobile agents. And in fragile states, actually, that’s where one of our biggest success stories is with the IFC, which is working with women agents in the DRC.
KENY-GUYER: Right, right.
MILES: So I do think you need private sector, but it’s hard. They don’t see the business case. They see this as a nice little project maybe to do. So you have to find ways to get that investment and then, over time, show that it can be scalable and that you can recover your investment. But I do think, longer term, that, together with government—you know, to Neal’s earlier point, it’s an ecosystem of players. And none of us are going to be able to come at this sort of in our individual way of working.
KENY-GUYER: Yeah. No, I would agree with Ann. I think you hit all the important points there. And I think it would be a mistake to not start with the private sector, particularly in this arena. That’s going to drive the innovation. It’s going to drive the scale. And there are some exciting players.
And, you know, obviously—I mean, again, we’re all here because we all believe in multi-stakeholder solutions as well. So, you know, clearly it can’t be—it’s got to be the beginning of the story, but it can’t be the end of the story. There is—you know, you’ve got to work with government. There has to be the right incentives, the right regulatory environment. There are, you know, consumer protections that are important in the financial-services field. There’s—you know, there’s things government can do that are absolutely critical.
There’s things NGOs, civil society can do to help de-risk, to help provide consumer-client information to the private sector, even some of the innovation being the catalyst, you know, we can do as NGOs. So a lot of groups in this room do that. It’s important. But the scale—if we get it right, the scale will come from the private sector.
And I think that’s absolutely critical that we all understand that. Otherwise what you get—what you tend to get are a series of kind of boutique projects here and there. And you put enough money in any of us, we can get change where we’re working, right? But that change is rarely enough to add up to a tipping point or to move a system. And so that’s where I think the role of the private sector.
I do—my final point in this, though, is I think there’s sometimes a tendency to think that the big transnational players are the most important private-sector—you know, the MasterCards of the world is the company.
MILES: OK, that’s—(inaudible). (Laughter.)
KENY-GUYER: And we work with MasterCard, and they’re a great company. But the reality is it’s local private sector that is going to have the greatest impact. It’s the local private sector that are often the players along all the supply chains, the demand chains, when you—when you really market systems that are—so I think that investment and that partnership with local private sector is really the key.
LEMMON: Yeah, I did a—(inaudible)—piece once on Afghan tech startups. And, you know—
KENY-GUYER: I remember that, yeah.
LEMMON: And this, you know, sort of—these kids who were really driven, being part of the local economies and working on e-government and things like that. People say, oh, e-government in Afghanistan, what a joke. But they’re leapfrogging, you know, those systems, right, because they didn’t have them.
I’m delighted with all the questions. I’m going to take them two at a time just so we can get to everyone.
I’ll take Mira, and then—I’m sorry—
LEMMON: Ava, OK.
Mira, if you could start.
Q: Sure. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the focus on technology. My name is Mira Patel. I’m a fellow at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
And I was particularly interested to hear your thoughts on where partnership with Silicon Valley has gone well and where there may be pitfalls. I think one example that comes to the top of mind is Internet.org and its reception on the ground, literally and figuratively. And then I’m curious in particular if putting a gender lens on that—I worked for Secretary Clinton at the State Department on women’s rights and LGBT rights, and I’m curious if there are particular ways that successful partnerships can happen with Silicon Valley through that gender lens, either domestically or internationally.
LEMMON: Thank you very much.
Q: Hi. Maybe I’m pessimistic, but actually I found your presentations very encouraging. I see that there’s a lot going on in the world that at least I didn’t necessarily know about.
I wanted to ask both of you the question—the age-old question of the tension, ideological tension, between wanting to do the right thing, which is, say, elevate women, but perhaps others seeing it as the wrong culture. And, you know, you both—you all actually raised the issue of we try to make legal changes; we try to make economic changes; we try to make educational changes.
But the devil—(laughs)—at the core of it is culture, or others would say the saint of it. I mean, that’s a, you know, American perspective. So have you run up against forces that say to you stay out of our lives; this is the role of women in our society? And, by the way, there are many women who feel that way, not just men, or at least if I watch the right videos I see that. Have you run up against that? And how do you deal with it? How do you explain yourself?
LEMMON: Thank you. That’s great.
KENY-GUYER: Great question.
LEMMON: I’m going to interdict one thing, which is that when I was in Afghanistan I remember meeting Kamila, who’s the protagonist of this book I wrote, who was—I mean, in Afghanistan Taliban context, almost couldn’t get more dramatic than that. And what I have always found is that these women are long in their communities, well before any foreigner comes and long after any foreigner goes, fighting for their own rights.
And what—and the challenge, I think, where NGOs meet, and where Ann and Neal can address, is what happens when you meet those people who are already fighting for their own rights within their own culture?
So, with that, I’ll turn it over to both of you, both the question about Silicon Valley and culture.
MILES: Maybe on the question of Silicon Valley, you know, it’s interesting. At this point, Mira, we’re not actually working with Silicon Valley. So we’re not doing anything yet with any of the big, you know, Facebook, Google. I think we are looking—you know, what’s interesting is to look at the models that are coming out of that and how is it influencing some of the fintech that we’re seeing. We’re actually looking much more locally. So we fund a venture lab, for example, ACCION Venture Lab, which is working with fintechs. But we want them to be local.
So that’s how we’re thinking about it now. We haven’t engaged broadly yet with Silicon Valley. And it’s a good—I’m not sure why, but we haven’t; so on that point.
I think, on the gender piece, I think we’re a little bit worried with digital credit, just as an example. There’s really been an interesting piece that just came out from the Center for Financial Inclusion. And the problem with digital credit, because it’s nano—it’s very small amounts which are very good for women, and it’s quick; you can get it instantly—but the way the algorithms work, you can get on a bad credit record pretty quickly for not repaying a dollar loan. You know, it’s just ridiculous.
So some of the good and the bad around algorithmic models—I mean, we know the potential for harm there. We’ve seen that in credit cards, the credit-card industry, for decades. So I—that’s something we’re a little bit worried about right now, because the digital credit is really exploding, at least in Africa. And we’re a little bit worried about what impact it could have on people. But I’ll give some more thought to the—I may be missing something on Silicon Valley that I haven’t thought about.
LEMMON: Do you want me to hop to the next question or wait until Neal has—
MILES: Maybe I’ll give it to Neal.
KENY-GUYER: So, quickly on Silicon Valley, I would say, as Mercy Corps, we actually do quite a bit with Google, with Facebook, with Apple. And it’s been super-helpful. You know, some of it is where, you know, it’s really shared value, where we’re in—you know, we’re—because some of the products they’re working on have the potential to offer solutions for, you know, that last mile, which is critical connection, and they care about that too. We’re testing those with them, because if we can demonstrate it works, then they can scale it. It’s really not us, you know, asking to do it ourselves, but we’re testing the solutions to that.
Google, I would say, in terms of a lot of our work in the Middle East, they approached it and they said, you know, 5 percent of the Worldwide Web consists of Arabic-speaking people. Less than 1 percent of the Worldwide Web has Arabic content. How—again, how can we invest in the ecosystem that begins to change that? It’s both a business opportunity, but then we know the more you can improve access, you know, there’s an opportunity to create jobs in that part of the world where you have some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Bill—IYF can talk a lot about that.
So, you know, so it’s very, very productive. And we’ve had great relationships. We just got some significant funds in order to—you know, to try to work out—work on solving the youth employment, you know, challenges in the Middle East in particular and in Africa, and significant support from, you know, Silicon Valley.
The down side and the danger that we’ve come across—and, you know, I think we’ve seen it since—I mean, I say it as friends—I think it was some of—in the early days of the Gates Foundation, I think that was—and that is the belief that these tough, really tough challenges, that there are technological solutions alone to them; you know, that technology is going to provide green energy, clean—alone.
And there are always issues of governance. There are always—often issues of conflict and violence, issues of justice. And you can’t separate the context in an—and many of us who have done this for a long time argue that in the long run, and for sustainability, those issues of governance are more important than the actual technological solution. So—
LEMMON: And on the culture question?
KENY-GUYER: So on the culture question, I mean, it’s real and you encounter it. And I’ve yet to encounter a situation that, if you are persistent, if you’re culturally sensitive, if you’re willing to engage in dialogue—Afghanistan for us has been—you know, we’ve been there for years. Our whole focus has been in the south and in Taliban lands. And we’ve been able to do agricultural programs that reach women. We’ve been able to do education programs that educate girls. And, you know, you’ve been able to do sports programs where girls can dress and participate in sports.
When it’s perceived as locally endorsed and supported—if it’s put into a political context as opposing different groups, then it gets—it gets challenged in that. So—and those issues are real, and we have to continue working on them. And also keep in mind, you know, there is a point which you have to balance being culturally sensitive, not imposing one’s own values, and there are some universal standards of justice that are still very important.
LEMMON: I’m going to take Nancy and Carl (sp). We’re going to keep this moving. So we really do—we’re trying to get all the way over here and make sure we get everybody.
Q: Do you want to say something about the cultural question? (Laughs.)
LEMMON: Thank you, Nancy.
MILES: No, the only thing I wanted to add to what Neal said—sorry my face is so obvious—(laughter)—we found—there was an interesting program that we funded, and I went to observe one of the programs in Egypt. And I saw how the young women were sort of confined. You know, they can’t go to an internet café in this area that we were in. And I was thinking, how are we going to deal with this?
So we’ve trained them, you know, through this program. But their livelihood options are going to be constricted or constrained. So I am challenging more the partner about how do we think about this. So I came out of that field visit saying have we really explored all the livelihood options? Have you really explored this as thoroughly as you could? That’s as far as we can get at the moment, but I know we—there’s more to do on that. And it’s going to take—to Neal’s point, it’s going to take time.
But what was interesting is with these young girls, some of them had tablets, you know, with access. And I said where’d you get that? Where are you getting these tools? They said our brothers. I said, OK, that’s really helpful. You know, that’s really—I’m encouraged by that.
LEMMON: But not their boyfriends yet.
MILES: Boyfriends, brothers, whatever. They probably weren’t going to tell me everything. (Laughter.) But I was really encouraged by that, because I thought if they see what their girlfriends or sisters could do, maybe that will start—
LEMMON: I think that’s where it all starts.
MILES: Yeah. That’s maybe where—
LEMMON: That’s where it all starts.
MILES: —some of the steps can be taken.
LEMMON: And even when we were just in Syria, there were girls I met whose brothers—you know, who had to stop education under ISIS—whose brothers—who said all they wanted was to be back in a classroom, but whose brothers—we just met them in Ain Issa camp outside Raqqa—and their brothers have been—they’ve been badgering their brothers to keep them educated and literate.
Nancy and Carl.
Q: Just a quick question on women entrepreneurs, if we can just think about women’s business owners for a second. I’m from the Center for Global Development, and we just had an event a few weeks ago about what actually helps women’s businesses grow. And an interesting piece—an interesting piece of evidence came out on the—in the training sphere, which is that there’s a lot of donor money out there to teach women business training; you know, accounting, how to do a financial statement, a business plan, et cetera.
But there’s almost no evidence that has any impact whatsoever, as opposed to training or—I don’t know what you’d call it—some kind of capacity-building, networking, mentoring, which gives women a sense of personal agency and control over their future—confidence, you might call it; totally different kind of training.
So I was wondering, since you both probably have programs which touch on this question of if you’re embarking on a training program, what is actually most effective, and particularly cost-effective, since training is often very expensive, what’s your experience on what really works for women business owners?
Q: And just to pick up on that question of control, so I was struck, Gayle, by your story from India about the women and their thumbs. They’re controlling their biometrics, right? And a close cousin to that, and I think a critical piece of any conversation about women’s economic advancement, is control of their fertility. So, you know, contraception is a question that I think ought to be on the agenda any time you’re talking about this. And I’d just love to have reactions on that.
LEMMON: I’m going to get Gwen while we’re—(inaudible). Thank you.
Q: Thanks. And that’s great. That’s actually one of the questions I wanted to talk a bit too was about threading the needle between the big-data piece, the impact piece, this notion of control and power. So what are we measuring? And where are people sort of going with this? And sort of what types of data, Neal, and Ann as well, are you capturing? What are you missing?
And I ask that because it’s how you use the data and it’s what you tell the story with, but the notion of data, impact, control, and power is all linked, I think.
LEMMON: Neal, I’ll start with you, then.
KENY-GUYER: Yeah. So let me—I’d just, you know, start first with, you know, the question of the kind of training programs. I think we agree with you. I think we all learned that lesson during the kind of microfinance revolution, that actually there was very little correlation if you did business financial training and the ability to pay back a loan, right; that actually the more important training was, you know, empowerment in the community, the peer relationships; you know, the kind of—that stuff was always more important. And I think it—and I agree. I’ve seen the same evidence as you.
So there’s—and what we have seen is the—I’ll just give you an example—it’s unusual. You don’t think about Mercy Corps does some quiet work in this country, but we work with women coming out of prison to help them start businesses and get jobs. And Rosita knows about this.
Again, it’s one of my—it’s probably my second-favorite program in the Mercy Corps—(laughs)—just because it’s so inspiring. But the key there is the—you know, it’s more the ability to have contacts and then mentoring relationships that are so critical for the—to be able to make that transition from prison back into the community, particularly as an entrepreneur within that, because of the stigma of having—of having been in prison. I won’t say—I just would say Carl is right. I always agree with Carl. But I think that’s an incredibly, incredibly important point.
The question—the question of big data—I think, Gwen, we’re—it is—you know, it’s a big subject, as you know, and it’s—we need your advice and counsel. Frankly, we’re, you know, only beginning to form the partnerships with some of the big-data companies, one locally in Africa, one in Silicon Valley, some others, where we’re starting to ask questions.
But in—you know, and what we’ve been talking about here, a lot of it is, you know, can you—you know, can you do things like correlate cell-phone use with women and assign a credit score. And the cost of that is like this. So you don’t have to do all these other things. Can you begin to look at, you know, what are the barriers over an aggregate of enough women—you know, with algorithms that search through that enable you to tailor and customize your services and products in a more smart way.
I mean, that’s how we are beginning—you know, what are those kind of—the information, the proxy indicators that come out that enable us to do a better job and get way more sustainable impact at scale?
MILES: Very quickly, just, Nancy, to your question, actually we’re not doing a lot yet on the women’s entrepreneurship front. But I know anecdotally, when we talk to, let’s say, some of the young women that we’re supporting through other programs, whether it’s scholarship programs, et cetera, who end up becoming entrepreneurs, it’s not so much—to your point, it’s not the business training, but they need capital. So they do need capital. And they do need the mentorship, because sometimes they’re actually struggling within communities and families to be doing what they’re doing, especially the ones that are more entrepreneurial.
KENY-GUYER: Good point.
MILES: So they actually need that support outside to almost validate what they’re doing so that then their community goes, hmm, that’s—she’s actually doing pretty well. I’m thinking of a very—Rita Kimani farm drive. That’s kind of her story. On the flip side, she is doing data analytics. Anyway, that’s another—whole ‘nother story.
To your point on contraception, there is some interesting work being done around the Brock (sp), you know, Daedelus (sp) and girls’ work, which probably many of you are familiar with, which is really about sexual and reproductive health training. The impact—the evidence of that work, especially in Rwanda, is profoundly positive in terms of lower fertility rates, you know, different types of sexual—you know, reduced sexual behavior; all of that very positive. So whenever you see these empowerment livelihood adolescent girl clubs, think about them. Look at them seriously. They’re doing some really good work.
On the data, what are we capturing at the Foundation? We’re not in the data business directly, but we are funding a lot of data tools. One of the things we launched recently with Gates, actually, is a facility to capture data. They’re looking at—we’re doing it on the client sides. We’re trying to capture a lot more information on the client that can be used by banks and other financial-services providers to do better work in financial inclusion.
Gates is doing it, Rosita, on the research side. So we’re trying to coordinate some of these data facilities better, in a better way. But there’s a lot more to be done on that front. And I think you plug for it in your book—in your paper. It was one of the policy recommendations in terms of what can be done in the U.S. with the central banks—well, central banks around the world and then both here in the U.S. in terms of disaggregated. I know that’s particularly sensitive here in the U.S.
And I learned from someone at the IFC yesterday only three to four central banks in the world capture disaggregated data, gender—I couldn’t believe that. That blew me away.
LEMMON: Yeah, in 2012 this was a big push of Secretary Clinton’s. I don’t if any of you remember that there was a big event that she had had at the time.
We are rapidly approaching—I’m going to come and do a rapid-round of question(s).
LEMMON: Kristin, Mona and Kathleen. And then I’m working very hard to get over here.
Q: Hi. I’m Kristin Lord from IREX.
My question is about the range of partners that are going to be necessary if we’re going to see really meaningful, scalable, and sustainable progress on financial inclusion. Is the solution really going to come mostly from the private sector? Because, frankly, they have an interest. This is a very large market. Or do we really need to look at a more holistic set of solutions with youth clubs and libraries and schools and other actors? And, if so, what might that look like?
LEMMON: Your question.
Q: Mona Yacoubian, U.S. Institute of Peace.
My question is about the particular challenges of financial inclusion amongst refugee and IDP populations, which have a—you know, feature, frankly, a larger number of female-headed households. I’d be curious specifically in the Syria-Iraq context, but even more broadly.
Q: Kathleen Kuehnast, also from the U.S. Institute of Peace.
First of all, I want to congratulate both your organizations for what is a learning process that you’re both undergoing, and appreciated your candidness about it.
I wanted to—in the same way, we’re in a learning process about gender. And much of our work now is focused on masculinity. Working with men in Afghanistan and Ukraine are two of our pilot projects. I’m interested in how you’re approaching the masculinity question in your work and in your field efforts.
KENY-GUYER: Yeah. So maybe very quickly in that, of course, it’s ecosystem solutions. One needs a range of partners. But I do think, in terms of building out the infrastructure and being able to go to scale, the private sector is key. And I say that because sometimes my community undervalues the role of—and we need to be in partnerships there. But for sure you’re right.
Mona, to yours, that—I think we’re all wrestling with that one with refugees and IDPs. It’s a little easier with IDPs because they’re still often within their country, if they haven’t crossed those borders. But it’s still hard. You know, there are the legal issues. And so with refugees, the encouraging news—I do think there’s—you know, because of the Syrian crisis, there’s been a lot of work going on.
You know, can we create kind of a mobile information platform, a legal identify, and a mobile wallet that would go with refugees as they move to different places. And there are some great—you know, my own organization is involved in that. There are others. But I could take that offline.
And then there’s different solutions being applied with IDPs. But there’s a lot of work on that. And, you know, the—maybe it’s a little too long to address, but we’ve got a lot in that in terms of stereotypes in dealing, you know, particularly with bringing armed factions back in in Colombia, and then what drives a young person elsewhere to engage in political violence. And there has to be that component of addressing some of those narratives around masculinity are critical.
MILES: Wow, that’s—OK. Sorry.
I’ll go backwards on the questions, starting with masculinity. That’s not—I think the way we’re getting at that maybe indirectly today is probably through our educational learning work, which is all about—we have a huge scholarship program that’s funding both young women and men to go to both secondary and tertiary schools in Africa, but also outside of Africa. Increasingly we’ll want to do more of that in Africa.
But what’s interesting is what we’re experiencing through that process. It’s more than a scholarship. It’s how do we bring together this community of scholars to do something above and beyond just going to—going to school, but also how do you come back to your communities and give back? So we have a whole piece of work around transformative leadership.
It’s pretty hard, but we’re seeing how this is affecting young men and young women, and especially as they’re working together within these communities. So it’s a start, which we hope will have long-term—this is a scholars program that goes out to 2029. So it has a long—we have a long-term investment here. And that will continue. We’re not doing away with it.
Refugees—just to call out a really interesting program that’s happening in Jordan with the Microfinance Fund for Women, they’ve actually developed an interesting product for Syrian refugees who have been—who’ve migrated to Jordan. They give them credit, some small enterprise credit. And, you know, they’re helping them develop, like, a portable—to your point, it’s not mobile in that sense, but it’s a portable credit history. And that to me could be a very interesting—one way of addressing some of the challenges.
Another piece on financial inclusion that I think will be is what—you know, the continuing role of remittances. And there’s, you know, a lot of work that’s happening around the value of remittances, especially for refugees and IDPs.
Range of partners in financial inclusion is the private sector only. Kristin, to your question, no, but yes. In other words, you really need them. But you need—you know, government, I think, is doing some interesting things. So as government digitizes payments, there is a huge opportunity to do that, to ride the rails, so to speak, of that—of what governments are doing.
So watch something called Better Than Cash Alliance, which I’m not—MasterCard Foundation is not a member of. This is a great public-private partnership. But you’ve got private sector in there together with public sector. And they’re trying—you know, Unilever, for example, just joined it. They’re trying to move from cash to digital. And that will help people become included.
I really think that is going to help us go a long way to what we’re trying to achieve on the—because the banks, it’s just going to take them forever. You know, I was a banker. I know what it—it takes forever—(laughter)—to get a bank, Citibank, to do anything. I know what it’s like to work inside these big machines. So I do think you’ll need a range of partners. But private sector will still probably be the biggest actor.
LEMMON: OK, Beverly (sp), Holly (sp), and Edith (sp), forgive me. I am going to ask Ann and Neal if they will stick around for a moment or two to talk with you. I am happy to.
I want to thank all of you for being part of this conversation and for really helping us take it to the ground level. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. We are working to post it online afterward.
Thank you so much. Have a wonderful afternoon. And thank you again to the Gates Foundation. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript.