Armed with new research from the International Center for Research on Women, the ICRW, ExxonMobil, and Ashoka Changemakers are launching a new economic development challenge that they believe will be transformative in improving the lives of women and their families in developing countries. The World Bank calls the “business case for expanding women’s economic opportunities…nothing more than smart economics.”
The purpose of the challenge is to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship, and non-traditional partnerships among for-profits, nonprofits, and local groups, to develop new technologies that will rapidly advance economic opportunities for women, their families and communities.
ICRW brings the expertise, ExxonMobil brings the human and financial capital, and Changemakers brings the tool–the business competition and the community of problem-solvers. “We use competitions to source powerful new ideas–sometimes from unlikely places,” according to Charlie Brown, Executive Director of Ashoka’s Changemakers. Brown told me that when Changemakers produces a competition, new innovations and partnerships emerge to solve problems “in ways we never imagined.”
The Women/Tools/Technology challenge is inspired and informed by the ICRW study, “Bridging the Gender Divide: How Technology Can Advance Women Economically.” Out of the nine success stories of new technologies from which ICRW developed key lessons, Kirrin Gill, one of the study’s authors, shared with me three of her favorite new technologies. First, the village mobile phones. Gill says, that “not only do women make money, but women have access to information, getting price information, thereby increasing their importance in the community. Second, the “treadle water pumps, an energy technology, that allows women farmers to irrigate small plots of crops and increase their incomes.” And third, says Gill, the “motorized scooters, enabling women to have safer and more reliable modes of transportation to access employment and education, to get out of their homes and be independent.”
To maximize success, the ICRW emphasizes the importance of involving women early in the technology design and deployment process; developing technologies like energy and ICT that have the potential to benefit women and their families and communities across a variety of occupations; partnering with organizations with complementary capabilities; and investing in training–for example, for the use of the technology, accounting, business management, etc.
In working with corporations and nonprofits, globally and regionally, for the past twenty years, I have seen that the efforts with the greatest impact have always involved collaborations with groups on the ground in the community. Engaging people who will ultimately use the technology–like any other product or service–is the key to success. By combining ICRW’s research together with Changemakers’ effective competitions, these partners–together with ExxonMobil–will play a valuable part in promoting the development of new technologies to advance women economically.