The following guest post about this Chicago Council on Global Affairs event was written by Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) co-chair Betsy Perdue:
“Studies show that women, when provided with a decent wage, invest 90% of their earnings in their families while men invest around 30-40%… Please join Jacqueline Novogratz and Kavita Ramdas for a discussion of the advantages and challenges of microlending and grantmaking approaches to invest in women and girls.”
That was the intriguing invitation we received from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for a forum entitled “Smart Money: Granting Opportunities for Women Worldwide.” Who could resist? Not me. So yesterday I joined a group of Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) supporters at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, where we were treated to a thoughtful and broad-reaching discussion with Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, and Ramdas, former CEO of the Global Fund for Women, about the variety of ways we can invest in women and make a difference
Jacqueline Novogratz spoke about the Acumen Fund and how it invests “patient capital” in early stage ventures focusing on the needs of the poor, such as drip irrigation products for smallholder farmers in India. She noted that charity is not enough by itself to solve global poverty, and that market-based solutions need to be employed as well, reminding me of Opportunity’s work to eradicate poverty. Novogratz said she learned the importance of combining head and heart when addressing people’s needs. But what struck me most was when she said, “Dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth.” She reminded us that we need to not only invest in women, but also to listen to them, and let their voices be heard and respected.
Kavita Ramdas spun a vivid picture of life for women around the world, and their almost universal oppression. It makes it difficult to introduce concepts of women’s rights when in many parts of the world a woman is seen as being less valuable than a goat. Like Novogratz, however, she emphasized the importance of humility, listening and holistic approaches when trying to change societies as a whole. For example, she told of being chastised by a group of women for focusing on the local custom of genital cutting, when there were issues of economic security, food, health and education to deal with–in essence, they were saying “help us eat better first, then we can have a dialogue about human rights.”
The whole room erupted in knowing laughter when Ramdas responded to a question from the audience about how to get involved. “I hate it when people say they don’t want to just write a check – checks matter! They make what we do possible.” Eloquently said!
Novogratz and Ramdas urged the audience to get involved in whatever way they could, through supporting microfinance and other organizations, learning about the issues, and giving women a voice by advocating for them.
Betsy Perdue is a long time member of the board of Opportunity International, and co-chair of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON). A corporate lawyer, Betsy has been a strong advocate for investing in women, who then invest in themselves, their families and their communities–the ultimate multiplier effect.