I was thrilled to be invited to Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit recently, which was filled with hundreds of the most influential women from around the world. Discussion was as diverse as the crowd, with panels ranging from sex trafficking to education and from innovation to politics — a ménage that reflects the multidimensional nature of the nuanced, and often controversial, notion of women empowerment.
Attendees were treated to talks from the world’s most powerful leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his strong stance as a feminist and Secretary Hillary Clinton made her first formal appearance post election.
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But, as someone whose career has balanced between branding, social enterprise and now, non-profit, the discussion that resonated most for me was one that centered on the convergence between private and public sectors — a strategy lauded by development expertsand world leaders alike. More important was the underlying message in the discussion, which I felt shed light on two concepts that are often overlooked in the social good sector — dignity and trust. These are highly-complex concepts that ring true, not just across public-private partnerships, but across all impact-driven partnerships.
The panel, titled “The Power of We,” featured Ajay Banga, CEO and President of MasterCard and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. Moderated by the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett, discussion centered on the “Universal Financial Access 2020,” and the importance of public-private partnerships for enacting scalable and truly sustainable impact in developing regions. Impact is the key word here, and it’s also where many well-intentioned corporations and governmental entities fall short.
Banga, the first Indian and Sikh leader of MasterCard, rightly spoke about the significance and value of a woman’s identity. In developing countries, women are often overlooked as credible voices, voters, income earners or even as registered human beings. In today’s world, where participation is the key to prosperity, it’s rather difficult to cultivate dignity if you are told time-and-time again that neither your existence, nor your voice, is worth acknowledgment.
MasterCard is working with the World Bank to register women and provide them with an ID card — a powerful gesture that says “You are important. We value you.” The significance of this card is beyond just another name in a database. It is also a pre-paid debit card and bank account that provides women with a sense of financial control. Think back to the giddy pride you felt when you saw your name scrolled across your first ATM card. It’s truly a symbol of ownership and independence.
When it comes to empowering women in developing nations, identity and dignity are key ingredients most often overlooked. These concepts are the difference between lifting a woman out of poverty and helping a woman lift herself out of poverty. One of these strategies is great marketing. The other takes careful planning and effort, but yields a self-perpetuating ROI.
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Here’s an example. I run an organization that empowers women and children through community programming, including a vocational sewing class in Gujarat, India. In one region, we invest $1,000 to send 40 women to a sewing class. About 30 of them take the jobs we have lined up for them at local factories, and after a year, the women collectively take home around $16,000. That’s a 1500 percent ROI that is injected back into the communities, eventually improving quality of life not just for the woman’s family, but for entire villages. That same program in another village yields much smaller financial gains. Instead, the women are more interested in the camaraderie and community that the program affords them.
We’ve found that women are most drawn to programs that get them out of the house, around other women and in a context of feeling useful and productive. As subjective as it is, we call this dignity. As Banga and Georgieva discussed on stage, we’re seeing that the value of dignity is truly immeasurable.
The second concept that is often ignored is trust.
Discussion between Banga and Georgieva shifted into the value of brand recognition. How can we boost the ground-level work of governmental entity (or an NGO, for that matter) with corporate support? Tett seemed to feel that big financial institutions exist — and can only exist — in a “profit at all costs” mentality.
Despite what Tett was, in my opinion, inappropriately insinuating about financial institutions’ inability to create change, big brands actually play an extremely vital role in creating and sustaining social good initiatives. It’s, of course, no secret that companies like MasterCard are in the business of making money. But that’s where a third party comes into the equation. Rather than dismissing them altogether, development experts and organizations who run for purpose over profit should integrate, train and educate powerful brands, preparing them for successful public initiatives. Brand recognition means something, and when trust and value are established, a lot of headway can be made.
This was emphasized by Georgieva, the first female to run the World Bank. She discussed the lack of trust and sweeping corruption within NGOs in India and certain African countries, in particular. These are regions where many fraudulent entities conveniently set up shop during an election season, promising local improvements, jobs and education, only to disappear after the election.
Naturally, communities become wary of this type of behavior. Brand names can go a long way in helping to reestablish that trust, and the valuable role a brand like MasterCard plays in developing communities should not be taken for granted.
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However, it’s certainly important that large corporations are connected to the people and organizations who are in the trenches, working one-on-one with community leaders and who understand the deeply nuanced world of development. With the proper knowledge and cultural awareness, private-public partnerships can lead to seismic impact that is far beyond empty marketing schemes.
It is the responsibility of the private sector to reach out and support social impact initiatives. And whether they are public, or otherwise, trust and dignity should be the bottom line.