In between sessions at the IMF Spring Meetings 2018, there was a moment to sit and have a cup of coffee. Business professionals, and delegates bustled all around, taking important calls, making powerful connections for the future, and taking pictures next to a Defiant Girl statue that happened to be nearby. In the midst of this activity, a group of men and women, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, were bustled into a little indoor tent, where they were going to step out of their bright glass fast paced Washington DC world, and take a video call with Kenya. In that tent, this group had the incredible opportunity to speak to 5 women entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya about what it was like to be a young woman, paving your own path, and paving a path that brought other young women up with you. It gave us all goose skin to hear that the exact same concerns these women were facing at a community center in Nairobi, we were all facing in our glass buildings of progress. We looked at each other on the video call and didn’t feel distraught; we felt empowered, we felt stronger. Through technology, we had empowered each other; through technology, we had shifted a status quo; through nothing but gender restrictions and constraints that spanned oceans, we had created connections that would start to break those very restraints.
During the IMF & World Bank Spring Meetings 2018, gender & technology were ever present. Everyday there were multiple informal Gender Coffee chats, addressing such things as “The Power of Data to Make Change: How Gender Data is Informing Policies to Alleviate Gender Inequality” and “Where are the Women: What’s Really Happening in the Corporate World?” These informal chats were juxtaposed next to powerful, room-filling discussions with some of the most powerful women in the world such as “Disrupting the Gender Divide – The Power of Online Finance and Market Platforms” which included Liu Qing (President of DiDi ChuXing – the largest transportation platform in China, and the company that told Uber no, and won).
Liu Qing and a separate Chinese speaker, Long Chen (formerly one of Alibaba’s 3 Chief Officers) highlighted just how powerful technology and informal banking platforms can be. Liu and Long both shared just how easy it has been for women in China to participate in the work force and invest, and how more women than men are investing in small scale investments on their phones in China. What Liu & Long may not have noticed, but their connection between technology & women’s empowerment to participate in the work force and financial engagement were significant on two counts. One, technology and women’s financial empowerment are significant and representative of a developing nations potential to shift the gender status quo. Second, and most formidable, technology & women’s financial empowerment highlight the role the absence of traditional institutions plays in empowering women to participate in previously male saturated responsibilities.
There were many more discussions and panels on gender equality and the power of technology to shift the current economic participation to more gender equal levels. One such discussion seemed to cover every point the Spring Sessions were trying to hit home; the discussion on “Moving from Financial Access to Inclusion: Leveraging the Power of Technology .“ Queen Maxima of The Netherlands (UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development) had two important themes she brought to the meeting. One of these themes addressed an ever pressing question to our Foundation: how do you get technologies (information) that allow groups to participate in micro and macro economies to the people that need them ethically and sustainably? Before any other speaker could continue, Queen Maxima’s fellow panelist, Alexander DeCroo (Deputy Prime Minister Belgium) brought home the thought that our Foundation holds most dear. DeCroo did not ask, or posit, but rather declared the necessity and dire need for the distribution of technologies to be with cultural awareness, and without gender constricting policies attached. DeCroo asked simply, if I get a smart phone to the woman of a household, and she can not register her phone under her own name, what steps towards progress have we made for her?
Throughout the multitude of discussions and meetings, gender was ever present, technology was ever present, and how they go hand in hand to shift the gender status quo to support economic participation was ever present. These Spring Meetings in particular brought something additional to the table to be present in our minds: in the age of non-traditional financial and technological platforms, women have the opportunity to create shifts and break detrimental cultural and institutional norms. Nairobi’s already working on it, are we?
By Mary Rossi
Director Global Thinking Foundation USA