If We Want to Go Far, We Must Go Together
A special conversation between Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver and Shamina Singh, President of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Executive Director of Sustainability at Mastercard
The data tells a clear story:
- If another 600 million women had access to the internet, annual GDP could increase by as much as $18 billion across 144 developing countries.
- Fully closing gender gaps in workplaces would add up to $28 trillion in annual GDP by 2025.
These numbers demonstrate the compelling case for investing in solutions that promote women’s economic empowerment – a pre-requisite for inclusive and equitable economic growth. To tap into this potential and see #ThePowerOf women as drivers of economic development, we must get creative – and collaborative – with solutions that draw on the expertise and resources of partners working across sectors. Everyone has a role to play, and stands to benefit from investments in gender equality.
This week world leaders working across government, the private sector, and civil society come together for the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Investment in gender equality must be an integral part of the discussion and the WEF agenda on Globalization 4.0. To help start the conversation, Shamina Singh, President of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth spoke with Women Deliver President/CEO, Katja Iversen, about the role the private sector can, and should, play in advancing gender equality and the importance of unlocking innovative solutions that will benefit all.
Katja Iversen: Over the last several years we’ve seen the private sector make commitments to tackling gender inequality from the c-suite through the value chain. At the same time, we also know that the private sector has significant influence outside of its own policies and employees reaching governments, others businesses, and society at large. Understanding this sphere of influence, what role can – and should – the private sector play in encouraging others – across sectors, issues, and generations – to invest in gender equality?
Shamina Singh: Digital technology is transforming our world—all this disruption brings new opportunities to close persistent gender gaps for good. But first, we need to make technology work for women. With our innovation capabilities and vast networks, global companies have what it takes to build the solutions and infrastructure needed to unleash women’s economic potential.
At the Center, we see an enormous opportunity to join forces with other like-minded companies and social sector organizations to empower women. Take small business lending – 70 percent of women-owned businesses in developing countries lack adequate financing – that represents a $300 billion credit gap. The traditional lending model, which often requires collateral or credit histories with banks, isn’t working for a lot of women entrepreneurs. That’s why we’re developing new data models that take into account how women transact and their ability to pay loans back.
In Kenya, Mastercard has developed a program with Unilever and KCB Group that uses shopkeepers’ purchasing history with Unilever to assess credit risk and extend credit using a Mastercard payment solution. The financing is paired with training to help ensure the loan is used responsibly and effectively to grow their business. It’s a win-win for everyone involved: the bank can extend credit with less risk, the shopkeeper can stock up her store and generate more revenue and Unilever is able to sell more of it products. We’re looking to expand this model to new markets and bring on other fast-moving consumer goods companies.
Tapping into women’s potential isn’t just about balancing the scales—in the end, everyone benefits. Globally women make most household spending decisions, yet make up only 32 percent of bank consumers. That represents a huge market opportunity for business. When women have more control of household finances, they invest it back into their kids’ education, their families and their communities—so when we empower women, we empower the world.
Katja Iversen: The Center for Inclusive Growth was built to use the assets of Mastercard – technology, capital, people, network, expertise – to look at income inequality “through the lens of financial inclusion.” I’d like to apply another lens to this – what we at Women Deliver call the gender lens. How does you leverage MasterCard’s assets with a focus on girls and women and what is the investment case to make this a priority?
Shamina Singh: Building a more inclusive and sustainable world is essential to the future success of our business. Closing the gender gap in women’s workforce participation is one of the clearest paths to inclusive growth. If we closed the gap by 2025, we could add more than $12 billion to the global economy.
The insights and programs we’re developing at the Center are informing the company’s products and service offerings to make them more inclusive, including for girls and women. For example, Mastercard recently launched “Women by Design” in partnership with Global Banking Alliance for Women, a non-profit association of more than 50 financial institutions committed to better serving women. We’ve talked to over 20,000 banked women in 18 countries to uncover their needs and pain points, and have curated a selection of our assets which financially empower her, protect her and those she loves, reward her for her loyalty and help her give back and do good for others.
At the Center, we’re also working with Grameen America and Accion—two non-profit lenders filling market gaps for low-income entrepreneurs – to help catalyze their digital transformation so they can serve more women. Interestingly, these lenders say their data shows that women borrowers tend to have better repayment history than their male counterparts, despite having lower incomes and credit scores.
Katja Iversen: Like Women Deliver and the Deliver for Good Campaign, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is all about partnerships with other private sector companies and with and nonprofit organizations. Why has the Center prioritized these cross-sector, cross-issue partnerships and what are some of the fundamental elements that make them most effective?
Shamina Singh: The problems of the world are too massive for one company, one industry or even one sector to tackle alone. Remember this rule of thumb: if you want to go wide, go with government. If you want to go deep, go with NGOs and academic institutions.If you want to go fast, go with the private sector. And if you want to go far, you must go together.
I think it’s telling that the 17th and final Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) is “partnerships for the goals.” With $2.4 billion needed to fund the SDGs, bringing together civil society, government and the private sector is our best shot at getting the job done. It’s also critical to connect successful philanthropy to sustainable private sector engagement. If we’re going to end poverty and inequality for good, we need sustainable business models. Sustainability may be about breaking even (or even taking a loss) in the short term. But if done right, companies can profit in the long term and there’s nothing wrong with that.
When it comes to building effective partnerships, we need to play to the strengths of each partner and understand the interests of the various stakeholders. Trust is also essential. We have traditionally seen a bright line between civil society (seen as the ones doing good) and private sector (often seen as only interested in making money). We need to get beyond the “us vs them” mentality – and come together around common objectives. Transparency and accountability are essential.
Katja Iversen: Over the last several years we have seen greater use of mobile banking leading to improved financial inclusion. While significant progress has been made, the gender gap remains high – particularly in developing countries – with nearly 1.1 billion women continuing to live without access to formal banking including access to credit (World Bank, 2017). What role can the private sector play in bridging this gender gap and what impact can it have on driving inclusive growth benefiting all?
Shamina Singh: For all of our efforts on financial inclusion, we are seeing great advances: 1.2 billion adults have obtained an account since 2011, including 515 million since 2014, according to the Global Findex. However, we still see major gaps between men and women, particularly in developing countries where women remain 9 percent less likely than men to have a bank account. Sadly, that gender gap hasn’t budged since 2011.
Despite this, there are some bright spots – Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Indonesia are among a handful of countries making good strides in reducing their financial inclusion gender gaps. What are these countries doing differently? They have more women in the workforce. When women work, they have an income to safeguard and save—that is a powerful driver for financial inclusion. This is why our investments in women’s entrepreneurship are so critical.
We’re also looking at how we can digitize wages for employed workers to help them become more resilient in a changing economy. We’re starting with garment factories, which, for nearly 150 years, have been a leading pathway for women to join the workforce. Today, tens of millions of women are employed in the garment sector. We’re building partnerships with global apparel companies to help women working in the factories in their supply chain receive their wages through digital payments. A recent study from the Better than Cash Alliance found that digitizing payroll for garment factory workers dramatically increased their access to formal financial accounts from 20 percent to 98 percent. It also increased the ability of women to save for themselves, instead of having another family member control their income.
Katja Iversen: I know your commitment to financial inclusion stems partly from seeing your mother’s challenges accessing credit and financial resources without formal identification. As you progress in your career and pathway to leadership, what fuels your passion to continue fighting for other women – like your mother -- to have greater access to financial resources?
Shamina Singh: I’m inspired by resilience, creativity and perseverance. For example, the rural women who helped start Mann Deshi Bank in India. This is a group of women in rural Maharasthra who wanted to keep their money safe and away from their in-laws and husbands. When none of the banks would let them open an account, they started their own bank which has served 200,000 rural customers since 1996. Stories like theirs are what motivate me to do this work.
At the Center, we see women as superheroes who can inspire other women and men. In fact, one of our partnerships in India uses videos featuring a female animated superhero named Buddhimoney—to help educate small business owners as they grapple with cash transactions, access to credit and bookkeeping.
Katja Iversen: As you head to the World Economic Forum in Davos, what is the primary message/call to action you will deliver to world leaders and private sector executives to promote the investment case for girls and women at all levels of business and society? Try to keep it at Tweet length! We’d love to share the message.
Shamina Singh: Say yes to women—because when you say yes, you open new doors to activate and empower more than half the world’s population. No business can succeed if we don’t field the talents of the entire team. All great leaders, strong nations and successful companies know that.