Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, discusses the gender gap in access to mobile technology with Isobel Coleman, director of CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative. Research conducted by Blair’s organization has found that the gender gap is particularly wide in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. "A very big problem is actually what you might describe as cultural factors, which perhaps particularly explains the figure for Asia, where women are confined and not encouraged to grow their potential," says Blair. "There are a lot of assumptions about how freedom for a woman that the mobile phone represents could be a bad thing."
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everybody. If you could please take your seats, we’re going to get started. Since we have three terrific speakers and lots of interesting ground to cover and lots of people in the audience, so we will get started. Feel free to keep eating your lunch, to come up and get dessert or coffee. We do keep it informal here, but we will get going with the program if that’s OK.
I know many of you in the room, not everyone. I am Isabel Coleman. I’m a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Civil Society Markets and Democracy initiative, which has as a very central component to it the Women and Foreign Policy Program, which I have directed for many years here.
If we could take that as a little cue, as a reminder to shut off our cellphones too. Thank you.
And we have as part of the Women and Foreign Policy Program been looking at women and technology for the last several years and have done a series, a broad series, Women in Development, which is very generously sponsored by ExxonMobil, and have focused on women and technology over the past year in that ExxonMobil Women and Development series. And thank you to Beth Snyder (sp), who’s here someplace -- oh, good -- from ExxonMobil.
Some of you may know Laurie Jackson (sp), who has moved to another exciting opportunity within the ExxonMobil world out in Pittsburgh, and Beth is now heading up the initiatives there. So we’re thrilled to have you here, Beth. Thank you.
As part of this series on Women and Technology we’ve looked at a number of different issues and developments in this space. Technology around agricultural productivity, technology around banking and money. That was a great session that some of you came to. We had Anne-Marie Slaughter, who used to be head of policy planning at the State Department, here talking about why the U.S. government has been really focused from a development perspective on women and technology, and how it’s trying to structure some public-private partnerships to really push progress in this space, and we’ll get into some of those issues today.
But our focus today is really looking at women and mobile, which to me is a fascinating development and landscape full of opportunity. And I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing on this topic because there is so much innovation going on in this space, from mMoney, being able to use money on mobile phones; mHealth delivered through mobile phones, everything from texting midwives in Afghanistan to keep up their best practices and hygiene and new learning, to texting money to fistula ambassadors in Ethiopia who use it to pay bus fare for women who have fistulas to travel to health centers in urban areas to have life-changing surgery. Really some very innovative things that are going on.
But we know that women do not access technology in the same ways that men do, for a whole variety of reasons, and we have three really terrific panelists here today who will help us understand the challenges and opportunities better. To my right is Cherie Blair, who really needs no introduction. A longtime very noted lawyer and longtime champion of human rights, and also the founder in 2008 of the Cherie Blair Foundation, which focuses on women and economic development.
We also have Maura O’Neill, who is -- I have to read it because it’s such a great title. Not only are you a senior counselor to the administrator at USAID but she’s also the chief innovation officer at USAID. And she, I think, holds this title with some credibility because she is a serial entrepreneur, having started a number of companies herself, which that real hands-on business experience I think is too often lacking in our government today, but really understands the crux of innovation and is helping to bring that into government.
We also have Trina DasGupta, who is the -- let me get this right -- program director for the GSM Association, GSMA, which represents the interests of the worldwide mobile companies in the communication industry. She’s program director for mWomen, which is what we’re going to be talking about today.
So Cherie, I’d like to start with you. Maybe you can tell us why when you had so many different opportunities, and interests, no doubt, presented to you when you were no longer serving as first lady of Great Britain, why did you start the Cherie Blair Foundation and why did you focus on this particular topic?
CHERIE BLAIR: Well, actually the reason for that is about my own history, I suppose. Partly because in my background I was brought up by two very strong women, my mother and my grandmother, neither of whom had great educational opportunities, but both of whom shouldered the main burden of bringing up their families.
Secondly, I think because of my own experience of being a woman, going into the law in the 1970s. I’m a barrister and in a sense I am my own small business in Britain. We are all self-employed professionals, and so I had an experience of building up my practice, my business at a time -- when I first went into that profession only 10 percent of women at the bar -- only 10 percent of the practices at the bar were women.
And I encountered there the feeling which I’m sure many women around this room know, of going into a room and being the only woman, of going into a room and them all assuming that I was going to serve the coffee, of going into the room and finding them actually flabbergasted to think I was actually going to stand up and speak. And in starting in a career and wanting to know what a woman lawyer looks like, I’m looking around and actually finding it very difficult to see a visible role model for myself. I could find role models, but nevertheless I was very conscious of what it can be like when you’re the first or the only or one of a few in a country. Now I know that we’ve still got a long way to go but practically we can acknowledge that in the developed world women have come a long way.
And when I left Downing Street I wanted to do something to help women in the developing world, those with the emerging economies, where maybe they are more in the position that either my mother and grandmother were, or at best where I was in the ’70s, where women are starting to enter the marketplace, starting to make their way in the economic world, and yet where they’re still very much facing those difficulties of being the only or being the first, not being taken seriously, of not having structures and systems geared up to the idea that women would do these things at all.
I thought that if it’s taken us in our countries so long to do that that we could actually, by sharing our experience and helping to make sure that women are accelerated more quickly and don’t have to wait quite as long as we had to wait to take their rightful place in the world.
I think my other main view was that money talks, and although I absolutely acknowledge that my education made a huge difference as to where I ended up, nevertheless, if I hadn’t been able to get and keep my own money, and therefore to have that independence which gave me choices, that I could say no if I didn’t want to do something because I knew I could support myself, then I wouldn’t have had that freedom.
And the final thing was technology. I became a sort of techie manquee. I don’t claim to be -- in fact, my school education was deficient in one sense because in my day we either chose between history or physics, geography or chemistry, and German or biology, and I chose all the things that are not scientific. So I’m not necessarily saying that I’m a woman scientist by any means. I was very good at maths but I became very interested in technology.
In 1988 when my daughter was born -- she’s my third child -- my business, my chambers went from manual bookkeeping to a computer-based account system, and the supplier of that threw in an Olivetti PC with WordPerfect 5. None of the men wanted to do anything with it, and so I was going on my maternity leave so they said, well, Cherie, you can take it home if you like. At that time I wrote all my legal opinions in handwriting and it was join the queue in the chamber’s typists and it would be done. I mastered that and within two years I was chair of the bar IT committee, telling the lawyers why IT was important to them.
When my husband became prime minister I couldn’t have carried on doing my legal practice and at the same time being available to meet -- we’ve been talking about Swaziland here -- the first lady of Swaziland for a cup of tea if it hadn’t been for technology. And I thought if technology can make a difference for fortunate women like me, then we’ve got to make sure that women who are less fortunate also get equal access. And actually that probably takes us to the report, but we can talk -- maybe Trina can talk about the report.
COLEMAN: Well, that’s a great segue. So Trina, why don’t we talk about the report. The report came out last year and quantified the gap that exists in access to particularly -- to mobile technology for men and women.
TRINA DASGUPTA: Sure. We were quite fortunate to partner with the Cherie Blair Foundation on the Women and Mobile report, and the high-level finding is that women in low- to middle-income countries are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, and what that amounts to is a gender gap of approximately 300 million women. So we’re talking about the population of the U.S. in terms of scale. And as we’ve continued to dig into this issue, we actually think that’s a fairly conservative number.
When we break it down further, in sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap is 23 percent, in the Middle East it’s 24 percent, and then in South Asia it’s 37 percent. And there’s four key reasons why the report found that this is happening, which is what we’re working to address now.
The first is the total cost of ownership, and it seems like that immediately makes sense in the countries that we’re talking about, but we’re not just talking about handset costs or air time costs. We’re also talking about the cost of charging your phone because many of the women that we’re working with are in places where there are no electrical grids, and it can be even more expensive to charge your phone than it is to buy the handset itself at times.
Another key barrier was culture. We were privileged enough to launch this program with Secretary Clinton and Mrs. Blair, and one of the lines that Secretary Clinton said that I quote often was that sometimes cellphones represent more freedom for women than they’re deemed to deserve. And so there’s a huge issue around whether women are able to own productive assets and whether men want them to own productive assets.
The third issue is around technical literacy, just being able to know how to use the handset. I akin (sic) that to sort of how I feel when I walk into a car dealership. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m pretty sure I’m about to be taken advantage of. That’s sort of how women feel about mobile phones because -- often because we’re talking about women of limited education and income. They don’t know how to use the phone and they’re nervous about trying to use it and they’d rather just not try.
And then the final reason is a perceived lack of need, the idea that all the phone can do is make a phone call, and that everyone you want to speak to is around you in some sort of way. But as was mentioned earlier, we know that mobile phones now can do so many other things. And so those are the core report findings that we’re working on addressing.
COLEMAN: Maura, this has been a really interesting public-private partnership that you are spearheading at USAID, this mWomen imitative. Can you tell us how USAID is thinking about it, and how you’re making this an effective relationship? Maybe describe what it is.
MAURA O’NEILL: OK. OK. So let me put in some context. This month we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of USAID’s global development alliances. This is our public-private partnerships. We’ve done a thousand of them and we’ve leveraged about $10 1/2 billion against our investments. We particularly are interested in that intersection where there’s an opportunity for a game-changer, which is what we saw in the mWomen and the pioneering research that the Cherie Blair Foundation and GSMA did, and we want to be ahead of the curve rather than behind, and also do it in a way that has long-term sustainability.
The drive accelerates the development outcome and has long-term sustainability that doesn’t require donor investment forever. And so we looked at this and we were just struck in our hearts and in our minds by three things. One was, what a travesty it would be in this technological revolution to leave women on the sidelines, and that if we didn’t actively look at this we would wake up one day and realize that the gap had gotten wider rather than narrower. So we said, this is a moment in which we need to intervene.
The second is that we know from lots of research that if you invest in women and you invest in girls, it changes the outcome of a country. And so we knew that if we didn’t take advantage of the technological revolution that mobiles had that we couldn’t hope to accelerate development outcomes and have these countries be better off, both for themselves and for the rest of the world.
And three, we knew that there had to be a business basis for it, and that’s where the partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation and GSMA was really intriguing to us, is that we knew at the end of the day you could give women these phones, but if they didn’t have the electricity or they didn’t have apps that really made sense to them --. And so we said, we have got -- and so what our partnership is about is we funded, along with Australian Aid, the development of business cases for these mobile operators. They are business people first and foremost.
So if we went to them and say, forget about those young teenaged men that you are marketing to, we want poor women -- like, that we would be a conversation that would be about 15 seconds long. (Laughter.) And so we said, let’s talk in words that they understand. Let’s build a business case for why they should invest in this market and why it makes financial sense for them.
So we started out in this partnership investing in three business cases that -- or four business cases that we thought were indicative of the problem that Trina and Cherie talked about, in India and Uganda, in Egypt and Papua New Guinea. Very different parts of the world, very different set-ups, but we believed that those would be illustrative of the different challenges. So that’s what we were delighted to be involved with.
COLEMAN: I know that when I was at the Clinton Global Initiative a couple of weeks ago I had a chance to speak with Karim Khoja, who’s the CEO of Roshan, the biggest cellphone company in Afghanistan. And he told me that, talking about the business case, that their research shows now that women spend less than men on cellphones but they have much higher retention rates. So over the long term, over the lifetime of the customer women are actually more profitable, which is a very compelling argument to focus on women.
Have you found arguments like that? I mean, you’re making the business case, I presume effectively, and they’re reacting.
O’NEILL: Yes, and my other two panelists can speak to this issue as well but I would just say, yes, the most difficult business challenge for any mobile operator around the world is churn, or the amount of time that they have to invest in getting a new customer. So this lifetime value of a customer is hugely important, and so we’re thrilled what the research is showing.
The research is also showing some very interesting other things, so I’ll let Cherie --
BLAIR: Well, I’ll add some things because we’ve recently commissioned some research which will be completed in November about women in the retail chain of mobile phones as to whether, you know, are they participating, are they getting opportunities to sell mobile phones, to sell air time? Are the mobile operators looking at them?
And what has been interesting in that is that the preliminary findings of that research are showing us, first of all, that the women themselves feel, and it appears it’s echoed by their customers and the mobile operators who use them, that women are better salespeople than the men. And that the mobile phone industry is very much a sort of customer-focused industry where, you know, if you care about your customer, if you talk to them you get a better deal.
MS.: And we’re good at that.
BLAIR: Yeah. We are good at that. So great, great news there.
Then there are various other very positive reports which show that actually the mobile phone industry should be concentrating on women to sell their mobile phones, and yet the fact is that’s not what’s happening. And so we’re rather hoping, and of course the research hasn’t been completed yet, but we’re hoping actually to do rather as we identified that 13 billion -- because it was a $13 billion opportunity that those 300 million women represented lost to the industry, that we can now start saying to the industry, actually, this is a great way of employing women. This is a way of bringing women into the workforce. It’s very good for the women themselves. They’re good at what they do. It’s also the sort of job, like in places like Afghanistan, everywhere, that you actually can do from your own community and your own home. Even many of the women -- I went to Indonesia to see a facility that we’re doing with Grameen Foundation, and they’re getting -- encouraging women to sell air time.
These women were doing this in their own villages, in their own homes. So when there are challenges about women going out of the home, this is a way of them getting extra income fairly easily. And the other thing about it is that many women combine selling mobile air time, essentially it’s got low rates of return but it’s very steady income because -- and I saw that for myself when I went -- it was Ramadan at the time and I went to visit this village in Indonesia where we were doing the project. And the woman there had started selling them at retail time and her husband had an electrical business, so she was doing that within that.
During Ramadan no one was coming for their electrical repairs but they were still coming to buy the air time for the mobile phone and that way, you know, that regular, reliable business was enabling her to contribute -- in fact, during Ramadan she was actually contributing more to the family than her husband was. So there are some very interesting stories there.
Because of that contribution we know, don’t we, that that gives you more confidence and it actually engenders respect from your husband and the wider community when you are seen to be active net contributor to the family. And believe me, I know absolutely that women, in all the unpaid work we do, absolutely contribute to the family. It just is not always acknowledged, whereas money does seem to be acknowledged.
DASGUPTA: Isobel, if I may, in terms of the business, where the industry is headed, the mobile industry as a whole, particularly in emerging markets, we’ve been one-to-many marketing for a long time. If you think about in the ’90s when you were being sold your friends and family plan and you got everybody on board, it didn’t require sophisticated segmentation because ultimately for your calling plan, women and men want the same thing, right? You want it to be cheap and you want it to work.
And so in emerging markets what we’re seeing is that there’s a moment in time within the industry that you have to start having a more sophisticated segmentation framework. You’re selling content, you’re selling apps, you’re selling things beyond just a tariff plan, but the industry isn’t actually set up as a whole to do that. So inasmuch as that -- Roshan’s a great example and a pioneer. Roshan is also -- their largest investor is the Aga Khan Development Fund, so their investors are inherently incentivized for these development outcomes.
The entire industry isn’t necessarily, but they understand the importance of the women’s segment. So we have 30 working group members from the industry, some of which were here in the room. Tom’s here from Digicel, Google, Nokia, Microsoft, Vodaphone and many others. But the reality is, targeting base-of-the-pyramid women is difficult.
We talk about public-private partnerships a lot because they’re important but they’re difficult to implement, and so one of the key things I often talk about is the difficulty in tracking operational data by gender. We’re talking about markets where there are very organic distribution networks like the women retailers that we’re trying to get more of, but I akin (sic) it to walking into a bodega here in New York, buying a calling card with cash. No one knows who bought that calling card or how they used it. Now bring that back to your business and try to figure out who’s using your product and how to then target them effectively.
So one of the things we’ve been doing in our work with USAID is trying to come up with innovative ways just to figure out how much women are using the handsets. We can design the products. And one of the things we’ve had to do -- you mentioned mobile money. Mobile money regulations requires know-your-consumer data. In one of the countries we’re working with, we’ve had to take that database, match it against known female first names, pull two million call records, drop that into Access and figure out how much women are making calls. And I’m seeing heads shaking because that’s insane but that’s what we’re having to do.
So I just want to highlight as part the conversation that this is difficult. It’s exciting stuff but it’s difficult stuff to implement on the ground.
COLEMAN: Speaking of the challenges, I want to come back to the cultural barriers too because I think we’ve only scratched the surface on that. Karim Khoja from Roshan also was talking about some of the missteps that they’ve made, and one was presuming that women could be retailers of their product, and they went out to villages and gave women cellphones to sell and it didn’t turn out well for them. They were not only harassed but threatened and their goods were physically removed from them.
But they went and worked carefully and closely with, you know, village elders and tribal leaders and religious leaders and explained what they were doing and really started the whole process over again and did manage to get women into that retail chain. But it’s just sort of the tip of the iceberg. I mean, there are lot of stories in the press about women being beaten up for having cellphones, or -- you know, just it not being culturally acceptable and appropriate.
How are you dealing with some of those cultural challenges?
DASGUPTA: Well, some of the research we’re doing in partnership with USAID and AusAID is around the wants and needs of the base-of-the-pyramid women, and one of the things that’s coming up is that a prevailing myth is that if a woman has a handset she’s going to cheat on her husband. So, you know, it has to be --
BLAIR: Great confidence by the men in their own ability. (Laughter.)
DASGUPTA: Yeah. So -- but you know, there’s an example in India where that went to an extreme, where single women were banned from using handsets because the village elders felt that the women were then having love marriages as opposed to arranged marriages. And when I saw this I said to my team, I was like, love existed far before mobile phones did. So clearly this isn’t about the phone, right? And the single men were not banned from having the handsets. And one of the things I often say in boardrooms with our partners is, the men are calling somebody, right? So even though you may not see the women making the calls, they’re there.
And what we had to do in that instance -- and we worked with -- (inaudible) -- which is one of our partners in India, was a very localized grassroots awareness and education campaign. And it was the things from the report, that women feel safer when they have mobile phones, that women have greater access to income-generating opportunities, greater access to education.
If we talk about the benefits that technology can give to a family as a whole, as opposed to women as an individual, it allows us to be culturally appropriate in a way that makes sense for any particular society.
BLAIR: I think it’s shown, isn’t it, it’s all about making people understand that the mobile phone is a way of keeping in touch, and so instead of thinking it’s about your wife cheating on you behind your back, it’s more about, you know, when she’s out and the kids -- it’s all the things that we actually talk about. Your kid’s gone to school and they’ve forgotten something, or your kid is taken ill somewhere. The mobile phone enables that message to be passed on. So you just have to phrase it in the right way.
Having said, that, of course, we do also in the end have to come up against that whole cultural issue, which is actually in many parts of the world women are just not regarded as equal with men, and that’s something that all of us in this room need to just clock as unacceptable. It’s actually in the end unacceptable.
O’NEILL: I think we also need to understand that if we’re going to accelerate penetration, we have to understand the man’s role in this decision and the role in the family, and figure out what messages could be provided to him where he would, instead of beating his wife for having a mobile phone, actually buy his wife a mobile phone. And so I think to the extent that we leave him out of the equation, we don’t get as far as fast as we can, even with the premise that Cherie said, which is absolutely the point, which is this kind of thing is completely unacceptable.
And we need to figure out culturally in each of these countries, what are those barriers, but also what are those hooks? What are those messages that are culturally appropriate for which a mobile phone would then be a solution or acceptable, that would accelerate that kind of --
BLAIR: Going back to that example in Indonesia, when I saw that couple there, you know, the husband was actually very proud of his wife. I mean, he was very pleased that the family were getting income in at a time when it was perfectly clear because of what was going on in Ramadan that he could not -- this was always a fallow period for them. Suddenly at least here was a way of keeping the thing ticking over.
You know, in the end most men aren’t foolish. They also want a better life, and if they see that it provides them with a better life, you know, most men do respond to that. Throughout history, yes, there have been men who have oppressed women but there have also been fathers who have bent over backwards to encourage their daughters, and husbands who want to be supportive of their wives. It’s that sort of attitude that we also have to build on. Oh, and children who are pleased with their mothers. (Laughter.)
DASGUPTA: On the industry side again, I’m sure any of you who’ve set foot in an emerging market recently, you step off the plane and every billboard is a mobile industry billboard, right? It’s Vodaphone, MTA (ph) all over the place. There’s an opportunity to leverage that collateral to address these cultural barriers. So one of the things we’re also doing with USAID and AusAID is designing a marketing toolkit and to say, how do we take best practice learnings from the development community around behavior change communication and use that with the designing of products for women in a way that makes sense for everyone’s business?
So Karim, again, who we all love -- I usually just send him out to do all the speaking for us -- but they have a great example in Afghanistan where they positioned the mobile phone in a way where the father was gifting security to his wife, and then they attached a friends and family tariff to that. In that particular situation the woman could only call the people who were on that friends and family tariff, but it was about gifting security. That was the message that was created. And by doing that they went from a 6 percent penetration rate amongst women to 18 percent in something like six to eight months.
And so again, it was about what was culturally appropriate in that particular context. There are other examples in India that are leveraging this growing desire for empowerment amongst women and uniquely using creative and increasing sales. And so those are some of the things we’re also exploring.
COLEMAN: Two more questions and then I’ll open it up to you all. I throw this out to the group. One is around apps and getting -- and I think you’ve done a competition, yes? To get people to create apps specifically for women. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that.
And the other is, what is the reaction of the mobile cellphone companies to your suggestions around marketing and around segmentation and around closing this gap? I mean, some of them I’m sure are really on board. Roshan does have a social mission in addition to profits, so that’s a great one to talk about, but do you ever come across resistance to this?
DASGUPTA: Well, I’ll let Maura answer the apps question.
BLAIR: I’ll jump in. No, you start.
O’NEILL: Well, we believe, as everyone said, that apps are important and that we are actually different than men in how we use them. So we also think of this as one of the most valuable hooks for the mobile industry is that they’re looking for ways people will use their cellphone more for SMS or for talking or for other things. And so to the extent that we can actually create a competition, create opportunities for mWomen apps, it creates some competition on what is that killer app, as we call it in the technology business, that will make people run to buy a phone and run to buy that plus-up card, and so we were very excited about that.
BLAIR: I think that we have this competition, and I’m on the judging panel so I’d better be careful not to give away any secrets. But there’s a real potential here to move away from the idea that the mobile phone is about women sort of idly chatting, into seeing the mobile phone as the first stage computer, almost, for the poor. It’s about a window on the world, it’s about access to the world, and it’s about how do we make that tool work for those at the bottom of the pyramid, and whether that’s about apps that enable you to easily contact your supplier or your customers, whether it’s about apps that help you organize your business more efficiently, whether it’s about apps that allow you to make money transfers. Whatever it is.
The thing that strikes me whenever I go to the developing world is how cheap in fact mobile phones are there, and also how they really are right up against the kind of high value end of the mobile phone technology, and it can be much cheaper to get the handsets that are more versatile than you can imagine if you were buying them.
The other thing is how they don’t dispose of anything. So the lady -- my little lady that I went to visit, not only did she do the air time and, you know, some soft toys, because she had a bit of business around that as well, but she also sold things like spare screens for the mobile phone, and you know, bits and pieces.
When we have a mobile phone and something goes wrong, what do we do? We basically throw it away and change it in. In the developing world, no, absolutely you can get every little part imaginable and there’s a little business to be made even in selling that. You know, we mustn’t assume that the way they’re using the mobile phone in the developing world is absolutely the same as the way we’re using it here.
O’NEILL: Let me just add one other set of apps that we’re excited about. Women do a huge amount of farming, particularly poor women worldwide, and the ability to get a text message that says, given the weather conditions, you ought to plant your seed this week, or you ought to harvest because there’s really bad weather coming, you’re going to lose your crop. Or Ag extension. India has a robust Ag extension, can I call up and ask a question. And so we see mobile phone apps in the farm area to be a huge productivity driver and increase income for women farmers.
BLAIR: We could talk about health as well, of course --
O’NEILL: Yes, yes, exactly.
BLAIR: -- the sort of apps that perhaps enable women -- my child’s got a temperature, you know, what sort of things should I be looking for? Or, you know, I have a three-month-old baby. Should I be taking the vaccination -- or nutrition. There’s a whole question about how the poorest in the world often don’t understand that variety is important in diet and often think that just more rice is going to be the best thing for your baby. There’s a lot of stuff. You could educate women about vegetables, varied diet by using a mobile phone. These sort of apps are precisely the sort of thing that we’re wanting to encourage.
DASGUPTA: And I think what’s really important about what Maura and Cherie just said is that they’re talking about content. They’re talking about specific types of life-enhancing content that the mobile platform allows to distribute at scale. But the industry isn’t an expert in health care, or experts in education or money.
And this is where the public-private partnership becomes so critical and so important, is that we get to leverage the expertise that we have in the public sector around these issues and then join them with the business expertise and the distribution platform around industry so that they can be distributed effectively. And so that’s a lot of the work that we do is re-purposing existing development content so it can work across mobile.
You asked the question about business and whether everything is peachy keen all the time. I like that word. No, it isn’t always. I think it would be nice to say that it was. I think there’s a broad-based recognition that it’s important to do this, but as I mentioned before, making it happen is sometimes really difficult. And I think what’s important to note is that this isn’t for every company. Some companies have built their brands and their business around being high-end brands, so Apple is not going to be joining the mWomen working group any time soon. I would love that, but it’s highly unlikely. But for others, particularly many who are start-ups and newcomers, this is a great differentiator for them and they’re very interested.
And I think the other thing that’s really important to note is, as Cherie said, money talks. So I am very often the only woman walking into many of these meetings and I might start with a corporate responsibility person and then move to the marketing person. Eventually the people we talk to are the C suite because from the GSMA that’s what we’re able to do.
And before we get into any of the jokes or gender or any of those sorts of conversations, I throw up revenue numbers. I don’t even let the conversation get to, this is a woman’s thing. I’m like, this is the market opportunity that you are missing right now, and then the conversation immediately changes.
So I wanted to share that, but I know there are a number of people here in the room who work with us, so if Tom or Michelle (sp) or Anne may want to share any more, but they’ve been working with us very closely to see how this can make sense for business.
COLEMAN: Can you just press the button on your --
QUESTIONER: A year ago this week we were together at the State Department. Mrs. Blair, yourself and Secretary Clinton had two guests there, two ladies who traveled to Washington, their first trip ever on an airplane, as I recall, and they were both principally farmers. And the story that they told was that a very simple phone that each of them owned allowed them to sell their flowers, in one case, plants in another, from their morning. I.e., they used to do their farming in the morning, was the story they told, and then they’d go into the village and sell what it is they farmed that morning. Both of these ladies were able to conduct their commerce, find their buyers by mid-afternoon and they had their life back. And they were able to run their household.
So my gentle suggestion to mWomen and to the effort that’s being undertaken here is that the application idea is a great one, but the basic principles -- and Trina touched on this originally -- is that the lack of an electric grid in Uganda and elsewhere, it’s not going to be better in a year, it’s not going to be better in five years. I maintain if you’re not the grid in Uganda today, it will be 2010 before you are.
In the meantime, if we solve this with what are existing inexpensive solar phones -- there are three or four fine Chinese companies that make a device that’s at or around $20 that does have a send and end key on it. You can do texting and some very basic, basic apps. But I’m suggesting to you that our mobile network in 30 countries -- we have 3 million customers in Haiti. The percentage of our 3 million customers in Haiti who are illiterate is very high, so if there was even a fabulous application on there, that the ability for that lady or man user to interpret that app is lost.
So it can be icon-driven, and there are sets that are out there that can do that. But I’m only suggesting to you that the basic principles around mWomen of letting, like those two ladies that came to the State Department, have a device that lets them call somebody and say, will you buy my flowers this morning. And if it never has a big screen and if it never has lots of text go to it, if they can just call somebody and have acquired that handset at a very reasonable price then you win.
All the good things that you wanted to lay out 12 months ago, they begin to happen. And then in places that are somewhat more sophisticated, I maintain the application concept of letting people be more sophisticated about their health care, their safety, their ability to call police authorities -- that in some ways I’m suggesting a walk-before-you-run, and just getting somebody a phone that can make a phone call, period. So those are my thoughts at the moment.
DASGUPTA: Let me just add something that -- I think Tom, I think you’re absolutely right. I just would say that I think it’s an "and," not an "or." And I understand that when you’re growing initiatives you have to be really ruthless about what you focus on, but I think that what we think of apps is not just the iPhone smart app that’s going to use a ton of stuff, but for that illiterate woman. Is there an SMS or an interactive voice response or something that allows them to do more than just the phone?
I get that it’s about getting the phone in their hands so they can make that phone call. It’s also about that network where she can learn how to sell her -- or not learn how, but have a market for her stuff that is important too. Kay McAllen (ph), who’s my colleague from USAID who focuses on Afghanistan, has said that we should think about -- and I’d be interested in any feedback here -- should think about a challenge for the cellphone manufacturers, the handset manufacturers for could we do a bottom-of-the-pyramid handset for an illiterate woman. That I think gets to some of the issues you talked about and I was really intrigued --
QUESTIONER: (It exists today. Honestly ?). There are devices we’re buying right now for Haiti. We’ve bought a million of them in the last 10 months.
DASGUPTA: That’s great.
QUESTIONER: That cost us less -- cost the network less than $15. So of course we can get them to people. We’re delighted to give them to people. And simple text. That lady or man can do a broadcast text saying, I have this many cantaloupes, I have this many small shrubs today, to the 20 or 30 people who bought from her last month. And then she’s done. Then it’s about her phone ringing again. It’s somebody buying the things that she has available. Those $15 phones are available today.
DASGUPTA: I think what’s important to note is this is a very complicated topic and that there are many, many entry points to address. The topic you talked a lot about, technical literacy, just being able to use the handset, not just being able to read or write. We’re talking about the grid. Solar Sisters is here somewhere. I’m a huge fan of their program. But it’s about women entrepreneurs selling electricity and cellphone chargers, all those sorts of things.
When we launched a year ago this week, it was such a momentous day. I mean, it was such a beautiful day. You know, we were just sort of making this small little program and all of a sudden we realized we’d launched a movement, and we didn’t know that was going to happen. So I share that to say to everyone in this room, there is something that you can do to address this issue. It’s not about what necessarily our programs are doing but how we can also work together to address the complexities of the topic.
COLEMAN: We’re going to move to your questions now. If you could just please take your name card, turn it like this. Please just introduce yourself and your affiliation. And please, because we have a lot of people in the room, keep your question brief. Thank you. We’ll start with Sylvia.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Fabulous discussion. Thank you so much. I want to just throw out another potential ally in this enormous exciting journey we’re on. I just published a book on the aspirations and earning power of college-educated women in emerging markets. There’s a huge number of them these days because the middle class, as you know, is expanding very rapidly. Their incomes are growing at 8 percent a year. Male incomes are growing at 3 percent a year. This is, you know, a group that is doing very well. They’re also about 20 percent of the total age group, so it’s not a tiny elite. It’s a biggish crowd these days.
If you look at India and China, you have disproportionately a lot of women with great technology backgrounds because women in those countries tend to take those degrees more than here in the U.S., or, say, Germany. They are very eager to help their poorer sisters. They also have tremendous cultural fluency, as well as technical expertise in terms of figuring out how to, in the complicated, you know, sophisticated ways we’ve been talking about, make it work in great ways.
So I mean, that could be a source of energy. It’s not private-public. It’s kind of more vertical. It’s private-private perhaps, but I think it is an overlooked source of attraction here. And just give you one example. In Shanghai one thing they have done via cellphone technology and apps is figure out how to create cooperatives around elder care. Elder care is the biggest barrier to going to work. It trumps child care because it’s much easier to subcontract your child than subcontract your mother-in-law in China. (Laughter.)
So guess what? You know, women via virtual space have created all kinds of social platforms to try to help each other do this. It’s just an example. It could be an app, for instance.
I guess what I’m trying to say, this is a tremendous source of new strengths. These women on average are just 33 years old. You know, this is a new phenomena, this very well qualified group of highly technical, culturally sophisticated folks in the countries that we are trying to help.
BLAIR: I couldn’t agree more, Sylvia. I must say that one of the things in my foundation that we’re particularly keen on focusing on is exactly those sort of women because in the areas we work in, more and more girls are being educated, more and more girls are going to university, but we still have more and more girls who haven’t been educated and gone to university.
QUESTIONER: Yes, but they want to give back.
BLAIR: Yes, but some of them don’t even have the opportunity to do anything --
QUESTIONER: Right, they don’t know how to do it, and connecting those dots I think could be very powerful.
BLAIR: I absolutely agree, and we should never underestimate the power of those girls and let’s be grateful for them.
QUESTIONER: Yes, I’m Dana Freyer with the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, and we’re working with farmers, men and women in Afghanistan to develop farm businesses in many parts of the country. So we have the cadre of now 7,000 women entrepreneurs who have farm businesses and we are partnering with Roshan, in fact, in some pilot programs to bring cell technology for knowledge transfer to men and women farmers, and also e-learning centers in schools and things that will then have to be open to women at certain parts of the day.
But I think -- and so I think -- and of course most of the farmers are illiterate. So the challenge, again, is the voice-activated, very simple phone initially. That’s the biggest barrier that we’re facing on the ground in real life, and also thus the charging, the off grid. There’s no electricity. And I think if your public-private partnerships could simultaneously focus on providing solar power, inexpensive -- both solar phones but also solar cookers, which can charge a cellphone and are very inexpensive and have multiple uses.
And if thought can be given to overcoming that power barrier, I just think that you will -- the number of phones available and the number of people who want phones will mushroom.
DASGUPTA: If I may speak to -- GSMA has a program called Community Power for Mobile, and the way that it’s built is, pretty much in many of the countries we’re talking about the main infrastructure that exists are the mobile -- it’s a mobile infrastructure. It’s the base station. And most of these base stations are designed with an extra of about 5 kilowatts of energy that is just not used. It has to be engineered that way.
And so what they’re doing is they’re building basically village power opportunities around those base stations, so entrepreneurs can basically take the villagers’ handsets, charge them for them at the base station, charge the lanterns, charge all kinds of things and then, you know, charge a small fee and then bring it back to the villages. So there are things that we are exploring about how to address that, but you’re absolutely right. The solar issue is a big issue.
And then on the literacy side, what I wanted to note is, although, yes, we can create IVR solutions and voice-based solutions and we’re doing all of that, one of the things that happened in an agricultural program in India that’s actually Gates-funded, a program that the GSMA does, is that they sent voice messages to these women. It was a Green SIM (ph) project because they were the ones mainly doing the farming.
But when they got the message, the women neither felt empowered nor thought it was appropriate for them to listen to the voice message. They gave the handset to the husband to listen to the voice message. So these are things that, you know, we don’t think about, right?
And then there’s another project in Uganda that the Grameen Foundation does where they were also giving agricultural information. It was doing really well. The women were getting greater yields, they were earning more income, and one of the women I was in a focus group with, she said, you know, I don’t want to be a part of this any more. And we said, well, why would you not want more money? And she said, because I bring home more money and my husband drinks more and he beats me more.
And so there are all these very, again, complex things we need to think about when we’re implementing these type of programs.
QUESTIONER: So thank you so much for your work in Afghanistan. I just start by saying that. And I think you’re absolutely right that the power issue is closely tied. We’ve been looking, and Kay (sp) brought over the last time some of these solar lanterns that also have plugs for recharging batteries, so we think that where there’s a community power system the situation that Trina has talked about is terrific, but we also think that the new low-cost solar lanterns that have the ability to charge batteries has great applications for cellphone recharging as well.
BLAIR: I would say that my foundation actually is working in Kenya with SolarAid and we were helping them specifically target women. They call it a business in a box, selling these solar lights that also have the additional charging for the phone. And of course in Kenya because of -- (inaudible) -- they were actually being able to do this and make the transactions using the mobile phone, which means they get the money more quickly. They’re less vulnerable to things being taken off them, and they have an audit trail just on the phones. So it all comes together in a nice virtual circle.
QUESTIONER: This is a fascinating program and thank you very much. I was very astonished 15 years ago when I went with Grameen down to the Maya part, the most remote Maya part of the -- of Mexico where they didn’t speak Spanish. And we went in and talked to the women who were taking loans and I was amazed by their grasp of math. These are people who couldn’t probably write their numbers but they could make change. Their four-year-olds could make change, sitting in a plaza selling their blankets.
They had a total grasp of math, addition, subtraction, multiplication. I don’t know about division. And they had inventory control that was you put your tape on the back of your blanket with the amount that you would accept for it with your initials, and they had an answer for almost everything that a first-year business student would ask them about their businesses.
And I’m so glad that you’re doing this because I think how very much empowered those women would be. I’m sure you are, but are you spending some time with the women to ask them what they need? I’m sure you’re doing that, but when we did that we found very surprising things.
DASGUPTA: It was the first thing I asked for money for. (Laughs.) Thank you, Maura. And Chris Burns. We are conducting a multi-country piece of research preliminary just on the wants and needs of base-of-pyramid women. It’s not about the technology. I come from a marketing background and I was astonished that we didn’t have that market research, that segment research about what the women themselves want. It’s not complete. The research will be released at Mobile World Congress, which is our big mobile industry event in February 2012.
But some of the early findings are both sad and exciting. They’re sad on one hand because a lot of the women actually are not empowered enough to even have aspirations. They’ve sort of given up on their own lives. But the good news is that they really genuinely believe in their children, and that is a huge opportunity, both from a business perspective and to empower the women and their families for the future, is to think about health care for their children, education for their children, those types of things.
So you’re absolutely right. If we don’t know, if we don’t hear from them and give them voice then none of this is worthwhile.
BLAIR: I think from that research what struck me was, as you say, was sad is that the younger women, young women still have some hope for themselves, but the middle women who already had children kind of felt that they didn’t think they had anything that they could do for themselves. But they were so focused on making sure that their children, particularly their daughters, would not end up in that position.
DASGUPTA: And interestingly enough, they were happy to finally be in control as mother-in-laws, so it was sort of an interesting dynamic, what we work towards. And the younger women wanted to marry up. They wanted to marry businessmen.
O’NEILL: And (a stone’s through from you, Pat ?), is Chris Burns, who leads this mWomen effort for us at USAID, so he’s a treasure trove, either before or after -- I mean, after this or in the future on a lot of these questions as well, so thank you to Chris for being such a leader in putting this together.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Daniella Ballou-Aares from Dahlberg. One of the areas where there’s a lot of promise and has only briefly been touched on is health care for women and mHealth, and not only getting information to women but -- who are mothers and including the effectiveness and care. But what you’re seeing in mHealth is just a lot of pilots of really interesting initiatives that actually on an individual basis seem to be -- have really significant benefits, but not necessarily individually financially sustainable. They’ll require public health systems to kind of reallocate resources to them because ultimately they have a better impact on care.
And just wondering what -- and probably maybe it’s most relevant to USAID, what you’re doing. Because that’s -- to get public health systems to change the way they allocate resources, to make some of these applications actually financially sustainable is a big undertaking but kind of essential to build out that really promising application base.
O’NEILL: A couple of things. One is, we recognize this in our own system and so we put together a mobile solutions group at the corporate level so that we begin to talk about, not just have pilot-itis around the world on mobiles, but to think about and build to scale and open systems from the very beginning. So we’re trying to enable ourselves to be part of that solution as well.
And the second thing I’d say is that we are trying to support more open platforms, so we had a -- we took a venture capital approach and adapted it for development, called development innovation ventures, where we thought great ideas come from all places and they could get seed financing and scaled financing, provided there was evidence as we go.
In our first round we did a mobile app done in India, which is an open platform that shows different pictures of a woman at different stages of her pregnancy. So an ASHA, or a low-skilled community health worker, could actually go through that and with semi-literate or illiterate women be able to answer those.
But the most important thing about this app was that what we did was fund the platform and it’s a completely open platform. So it also talks to the women, but anybody can re-do the voice command in any language. So immediately you create -- so we’re trying to think about ways to get scale and to work with these countries to understand that this is actually a key piece of new health care delivery, not a sort of nice add-on.
QUESTIONER: Hi. My name’s Katherine Lucey. I’m with Solar Sister, and I’m so delighted to hear everybody talking about solar and the need for electricity for mobile because that’s absolutely true and that’s our purpose. And we started by providing solar business opportunities for women, and really deliberately focusing on creating that opportunity for women, not so much because -- well, it’s wonderful that women have income opportunities and that’s kind of an unintended or perhaps intended consequence of what we do, but because we found that women are the best distribution network for getting solar into the homes because it’s women who are making the energy purchase at the household level.
But what is fantastic about what mWomen is doing and what you all are doing is being very deliberate about reaching out to women to connect them to technology. And what I find does not happen as much in the clean energy sector is this very deliberate, intentional reaching out and inclusion of the women.
I think as we talk about making sure that women have access to energy and clean energy, just as they have access to the mobile, if we could -- if you could be a role model to your clean energy friends as making a clean energy women platform, that would be fantastic because it doesn’t happen.
O’NEILL: If you connect that with the retail research you’ve done about women being good salespeople, I think that there is a -- and obviously you’ve seen this with Solar Sisters, I think there is a real opportunity that we ought to explore.
BLAIR: And those women can often reach to areas where men can’t go, just because of for cultural reasons men can’t necessarily go into people’s homes to sell things in the way that -- because it’s a woman’s place.
DASGUPTA: I think one of the great successes of our program has been this broad-based buy-in and interest, and I think if -- I don’t know the clean energy friends over at USAID, but I think being able to bring together -- and this is really what Cherie has been so wonderful in helping us do is bring together this cross-section of stakeholders who have aligned incentives. I think that’s pretty rare.
But I think you can do that with clean energy in the same way we’ve been able to do that with mobile and women because there is this business opportunity as well as this development impact, so it’s just what I would share.
QUESTIONER: Sandy Thomas, with Girl Scouts of the USA. And I just wanted to say, tapping into what Sylvia said, a workforce that you may or may not be using are the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts that are 10 million strong in 145 countries. So as we try to connect our girls around the world, and they’re very interested in that connection, you know, we’re teaching them about leadership and bettering their community. What a better group to work with to help not only teach them but also for them to teach women in their communities about the work?
BLAIR: I think it’s an excellent idea, and it does play into one of the things that the study found, of course, which is that this suspicion of technology is one of the big barriers for women. And yet of course what we also found in that survey is that the suspicion of course is much less in the younger generation than it is in the older generation. Speaking as a former Girl Guide myself -- (laughter) -- those young women can be a link to their mothers and their grandmothers in a very simple way.
QUESTIONER: I’m Linda Raftree, I work at Plan International. And the question that I have, I’m not sure if it exists but there’s been a lot of talk about reaching young women at a younger age in order for them to prosper, sort of reaching girls before they hit the age of 14. But most of the research that I’ve been able to find on mobile usage is girls and women over 14.
So I’m wondering if there’s any research anyone knows about, or any existing programs or efforts, or maybe just girls don’t have access to mobile phones under the age of 14. But I’m just curious if anyone knows of anything around that, or if anyone can find me after if you have any information; I’d be quite interested.
DASGUPTA (?): Sesame Workshop has some really good stuff that’s domestic-based. It’s not their full platform, but looking at what they call the pass-down effect in terms of parents giving their children phones, use of iPads. I’m sure if anyone has young children you’ve seen how amazing it is to see a child with an iPad. So they’ve got some really good research from that perspective.
And then the GSMA has a report out called Children and Mobile, which really looks at some of the privacy issues as well as safety issues, as a guide to the mobile industry about how to address those issues for children.
QUESTIONER: I didn’t maybe specify. I’m really quite interested more in developing countries. There’s a lot of research on, you know, Australia, the U.K., the U.S. in terms of how young people, you know, use different types of technology.
DASGUPTA: I haven’t seen any.
O’NEILL: I haven’t seen any but I can ask around. Chris, have you seen any? (Off mic.) OK. So we have just begun initial conversations with Safari.com in Kenya about targeting this market of girls because we know that just as in the developed world, we form our brand alliances actually quite young. So we’re particularly interested, along with the Nike Foundation, in a savings program for girls, and seeing a mobile phone and mobile money as a way for girls to have their own money for the first time.
And thinking about could we do some randomized controlled trials about incentivizing girls to save or to pay for their own education rather than their parents, you know, cash on delivery. So we’re exploring this space to see if we can actually use both mobile and mobile money as an empowering tool for girls.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. This is wonderful. I’m a very semi-literate mobile user, which I think I share with some of my friends here. I wanted to ask, I think there are three subjects that you haven’t included in your discussion of many subjects. Is there any way of knowing how mobiles are used by women in the whole field of social change that’s going on all over the world, or at least certainly in the Middle East and so forth?
Do you have any information about how women who may be seeking office, which they have an increasing right to do, are using mobile phones in the developing world? And we know that more women were victims of the tsunami and hurricanes, generally are more victims in the developing world of severe weather because they get the information last, if they ever get it at all. And I wonder if that has been investigated at all.
O’NEILL: Well, in the first and one of the most famous stories is a Kenyan woman who, in the violence around elections and change of control in Kenya, started an organization called Ushahidi, where you could text that there’s violence going on right here. And it was repurposed in the Haiti earthquake so that people could actually say, I’m buried here under rubble, and it was hugely successful. In Haiti we had the most lives saved of any disaster of its kind. So that’s a Kenyan woman developing an app for civil society that got repurposed for disaster.
MS. : Would you just explain how did that work? They must have repurposed it after the earthquake. I mean, did they --
O’NEILL: No, actually Omidyar Network, Pierre Omidyar who founded eBay, funded it. I don’t think we actually funded it. But no, they immediately got it out on the network on a real-time basis. It was used within -- well, Digicel, do you know?
QUESTIONER: The USAID and the State Department asked Digicel and the other two fine (ph) mobile networks that are in Haiti in this most recent election cycle to apprise clearly men and women where their polling station was, because with 1.2 million people still living in camps, many of them on golf courses, parks several miles from their house, they didn’t have a clue.
I’d like Digicel to take any credit for this but we don’t. It really is about USAID and State Department saying, we don’t want to influence the election but we really would like some turnout, and if a million and a half people don’t show up because they don’t have any idea --
So in the end an app was written that could go to the most basic cellphone that our company sells and our competitors sell. And the message outbound was, where did you live? And if someone texted us back that address, they got back an automated, your polling station, your new one, is one block from the airport next to the Shell station, whatever it was. But we had every station plugged in and it was all automated so nobody had to look at these texts.
So it was the first time a real election, presidential election in this case, was affected by virtue of mobile transmission of simple data that in the absence of it people wouldn’t have been able to vote, now almost 14 weeks ago. So we’re delighted that the concept was hatched by USAID and State, and it was a rather simple thing to go ahead and institute.
MS. : Can you do that in New York? (Laughter.)
DASGUPTA (?): It exists. So here’s the thing. It does exist but we don’t know about it. That’s the fascinating thing, is that all these innovations are happening in developing countries but we don’t implement them in our own backyards.
BLAIR: But can you also say something in Haiti, because I know they use the mobile phones to help families reunite. It was hugely -- the refugees and everything else, it was a hugely successful part. Perhaps you might share that.
QUESTIONER: It was indeed; 110,000 customers of Digicel. On January 12th, the night of the earthquake, we had 2.1 million customers; 110,000 of them never made another phone call that night. Over the course of the next few days, as people’s batteries were dying out, they were able to text and say, as you’re referencing, I’m here. I hear you. Honk that horn again. I just heard it again. Keep digging. And we think USAID shares our view that somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 people were located because they were able to make a call. Or even in the absence of a call, again, before their batteries died, identify where they were, for those that were trapped.
And then those that weren’t trapped, just identifying, I’m not trapped. I’m actually fine. But I’m nowhere near the house. Where are you? And that interchange, Mrs. Blair, was what reunited families in the days and weeks after this tragedy.
BLAIR: Something that previously could not have happened, and now it is not at all -- (inaudible) -- around making this a bit more of a formal sort of package so that when things like this hit --
BLAIR: -- already the mobile phone operators are ready to be able to provide that service as an emergency --
QUESTIONER: They are indeed. They are indeed.
COLEMAN: Are there any questions on the sides that I might not be seeing? Anybody? Gail?
QUESTIONER: I’ll stand up, since I don’t have a mic. I work on gender and energy issues with energy. I’m very interested in this connection between the mobile phones and the potential for businesses to handle, building access and getting the charging for these. But one thing I wanted to ask about is, in your work do you look at entrepreneurship for women and kinds of mentors? You talked about some of the barriers, some of the projects that I’ve looked at, sometimes it’s good for women to sell to other women but in many cases there are -- particularly for older women but even for younger women there are cultural problems.
As a lawyer, I work as an entrepreneur; I don’t think I would do some of the things like going house to house trying to sell equipment. You know, it’s something that women don’t really always see themselves able to do. So we’ve been trying to look at ways of promoting the ability to think of yourself as an entrepreneur who could go out and actually sell things to make money, or services.
BLAIR: Well, certainly as far as my foundation is concerned it’s very much something that I’ve been very focused on, and we try and help women improve their businesses through increasing their confidence, increasing their capabilities, which is trainings of different kinds, and then getting them access to capital. That’s our general program.
And part of that has been the mobile phone, reaching down perhaps to the bottom of the pyramid of women. But in fact we also have, which we’re launching tomorrow, a global mentoring platform, which we’ve piloted with Google. And that is less for the bottom of the pyramid women, more for the sort of women that Sylvia was talking about, those who have some education and therefore access to the Net through a computer. But we are talking with Google about transferring that onto some more sophisticated mobile phones.
Through that, through our pilot we’ve had some very interesting results about how remote mentoring, where our mentor, who can be men or women, commit to mentor for a period of a year. Women, in our case, mainly in Asia and the Middle East and Africa, to help them grow their businesses. One of the examples we’re highlighting tomorrow is about a young woman in Palestine who had a bakery business that she was running out of her house. She wanted to expand that business, she wanted to move out of the house, set up that business to a bigger scale.
And Giles, the male mentor in Birmingham, who himself was managing director of his own small company, mentored her to set up a business plan to do that, to find -- in fact, the YMCA gave her a $5,000 grant with his help, to get the money to do that, and to set up and begin to run her own Palestinian -- traditional Palestinian restaurant in Nablus. Or was it Ramallah? I forget. No, it was in Nablus. All in the course of a relationship that had a sort of a beginning and a middle and an end and went on for a year.
One of the interesting things was of course Giles would never have been able to do that if he lived in Nablus because she was a woman and he was a man. And yet he was able to reach out to her and gain a lot in a one-to-one relationship. So we think if that’s more broadly about technology, though we do have an ambition to put it on certainly a smart phone in the longer term, but there’s a huge way of linking people across the world using the Web. The sky’s the limit.
O’NEILL: First of all, I’d say that the pioneering and fresh approaches that Cherie’s foundation is doing with women entrepreneurs is just fantastic. So I would urge you to read more about it because I think they’re doing, as you can tell from her, some of the really smart, leading-edge thinking about this. So I remain, as a woman entrepreneur, very excited about the cutting edge work they’re doing in this area.
With respect to USAID, we have obviously invested a tremendous amount in microfinance institutions, would have been the micro-enterprise, but now we’re looking at the small- and medium-sized business because what we know, not just in the U.S. but around the world that women have a very difficult time making that leap from micro-entrepreneur to a more small, medium-sized business.
So we’re looking at developing specific ways that we have some programs but we’re also investigating new, innovative ways to have them be able to grow their business in a cultural way where, you know, they still have responsibility for children, they still have responsibility for the household, often the parents. So there’s a lot of cultural issues associated with helping women make that big leap to an employer-owned firm.
QUESTIONER: Just to build on it -- my name is Henriette; I’m the CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation in London. Just to build on briefly what Cherie said on -- and what your question was around entrepreneurship for women, as a next step with the funding of Exxon we are looking at mobile solutions for women entrepreneurs across three very difficult mobile markets -- Nigeria, Indonesia and the UAE -- to look at what are, I mean, to echo Maura, the killer apps. But also to look at how can we include women entrepreneurs in actually benefiting from the growing industry, and from the growth in particular in the Gulf in that sector.
So there is more to come, so watch that space, and we hope to share that particular research by the end of November, beginning of December, just to flag that up as well. Thank you.
COLEMAN: Just to wrap up here, I’d like each of you to talk about your expectations for where this space is going. I mean, I presume -- and given the growth rates in mobile penetration -- that the gap eventually will close. I mean, it may take longer in some places than in others, and I think the work that you’re doing, making a business case around the gap, is going to make that gap close much more quickly.
And then what? Where do you see the biggest impact? Is it in social change? Is it in agricultural productivity? Is it in health or distance learning? What do you see as the most exciting opportunity right now in this space?
BLAIR: I think that’s like -- one could talk forever about -- I think that -- my view is that time and time again we keep seeing that investing in women, empowering women, allowing women to make their own choices, to make their own decisions leads to progress. That’s what seems to be the case. So whether it’s improving productivity, whether it’s giving women more respect in the community, whether it’s giving women a voice so that they can be heard both socially and politically -- I mean, all of those great things can come if you actually enable women to take charge of their own lives, which is basically what we’re talking about.
I think the other thing I would like to see from this collaboration is not just an illustration that public-private partnerships can work but also there’s just open system that I think we have developed. I found so often when I was in Number 10 Downing Street that there was great work going on around the world, and I would meet people -- not even just around the world, in my own country. And yet the people who were doing this never really talked with each other, never really shared with each other. There was always kind of "this is mine."
But we’re very keen to show -- and I think Trina said this as well when you were talking about the energy industry -- is that actually if you all come together and try and work together in a spirit of cooperation, actually no one loses out and we all actually benefit incrementally from each other. And if we can show that works then maybe we can transform the way we’re doing not just women and technology but all sorts of other things in the 21st century. But then, you see, I am an impossible idealist.
DASGUPTA: Sure. The goal of our program is to make targeting base-of-the-pyramid women business as usual, and so what I tell my team is, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job so we don’t need to exist. I tell them I’ll find them other jobs. But this should be commonplace, and then the gap will indeed close and many services will be out there.
In my opinion it’s not about one particular service per se. We actually need the combination of them all. But what is so exciting to me about this opportunity, the many opportunities that are out there is that the mobile phone represents a platform, and a platform that a woman can access whatever information it is that she needs, and to do so in a way that’s in the privacy of her own space.
So her husband doesn’t necessarily know where all her money is, or if she needs sexual health information or domestic violence information, there’s a privacy that she can find the information that she wants for herself, and that gives her a greater sense of empowerment and to take charge of her own life in the direction that she wants to take it.
O’NEILL: I would close with two points. One, that this has been not just a public-private partnership but the perfect kind of collaboration that Cherie is asking us all to participate in a year ago when we conceived this. Since then it’s been a constant evolution, co-creation, really brain trust. And so I hope that that, as you say, is a model for other collaborations for women in technology, but for other solutions to solving problems.
And then I will pick one that I care deeply about, and it won’t surprise you, since I’m a businesswoman. You know, Virginia Woolf wrote a famous essay and a book called "A Room of One’s Own," and said that women needed a room of one’s own. I believe that women need a pocketbook of their own, and so I believe that to have the hopes and dreams for women and to have the choices, that it does start with economic power.
And so my hope is that the mobile phone will be an enabler for women to have their own pocketbook and that they’ll have it tied to their hip at all times. So with that, thank you, Isobel. (Applause.)
COLEMAN: I always think a good meeting is where I learn something, very selfishly, and I did today, so thank you. And thanks to our three fine speakers. Thank you. (Applause)
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