Recent discussions dominating the finance and investment world focus on the impending doom of the financial markets. Not so long ago, the sound investment in women’s training and education in the developing world was also a big discussion topic. Yet even as the stock market crashes, it’s worth appreciating the many benefits of Microlending-particularly Microlending involving women.
Microlending and Microfinance have been touted as the magic ingredient to sustainable development. When Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for being one of the pioneers of Microlending, Microfinance was being praised as the key ingredient to alleviating poverty and the violent conflict that is the corollary of dire economic conditions in the developing world. Indeed, Microlending has been shown to increase development and pride in villages, towns, and countries where foreign aid programs have failed. And for many years now, it’s been recognized that women are particularly good at paying back Microloans.
Giving adolescent girls Microloans may not be a panacea for all development challenges, however there is a true need for empowerment amongst women of all ages in the poorest of countries. Recognizing this, some members of the public and private sectors in the developed world have partnered with each other to create more opportunities. One example is the “10,000 women” effort spearheaded by Goldman Sachs and partners, which is aimed at increasing the number of women receiving business and management education in the developing world. This, according to Goldman Sachs, can ensure more shared economic growth and prosperity.
Another initiative is “the Girl Effect,” an initiative focused solely on investing in the education of adolescent girls spearheaded by the Nike Foundation. According to the initiative “adolescent girls are uniquely capable of raising the standard of living in the developing world.” Although there is little research suggesting exactly how that is done-which, this initiative admits to-when girls have the opportunity to participate in their society, they can bring powerful social and economic change as a result. Here is how the girl effect works.
We know that these initiatives pledge to do a great deal to change labor patterns in favor of disaffected women. But can they also change these women’s social mobility and control over decision-making in their communities?
They could, but they haven’t yet. Indeed, women in the developing world are now able to do the groundwork that can mobilize their societies at the grassroots level, but their absence is truly felt in leadership. That is because there still exists-even in the year of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin-a vast vacuum between women as members of the workforce and women in positions of power. To reduce inequality and ensure shared economic growth, providing women with opportunities to participate at high levels and in decision making capacities in both the public and private sector needs to be at the top of governments’ and international corporations’ agendas.
The developing global markets cannot expect to expand at the rate they need to without an increased investment in women capital. The case for investing in women is sound.
There are many ways to help women at all levels of society in developing countries. Empowerment of women begins from women learning about other women’s successful business investments and grassroots support. The transition from school to work is also critical for building achievements for women economically and socially. Increasing women’s participation in the labor force enhances productivity, national earnings, and reduces current poverty rates. More than that, this new generation of women in the workplace will give way to a generation of women leaders.
Any initiative on Microlending and Microfinance for women in the developing world should consider not only ways to broaden women’s economic participation, but also these women’s transition from business to politics. While the developed world has enjoyed celebrating the achievement of women this past year, it still has a long way to go before celebrating the achievements of all women.