Before Muhammad Yunus, banks would never lend to the poorest, let alone poor women.
In some of the poorest communities, women are not educated, married young and often treated as burdens, so for a bank to target their loans to these women was not only incredible but also revolutionary.
Grameen bank, started as a research project by Yunus in 1976, came to completely turn on its head the banking system, the local economy and, more importantly, how women viewed themselves. As Grameen started, the bank would only lend money to women.
And this came from a realization that when you empower a woman you empower a community. A woman will first feed her children, put a roof on their heads and get them to school.
In some poor communities, families get money from agriculture or through craft, and often women are at the core of these activities, so Grameen’s loans are targeting women that already have skills and can create income from them.
And this is how poor women who would otherwise be condemned to a life of poverty, abuse and ignorance, suddenly become entrepreneurs who can feed their family, educate their children and finally get out of the poverty trap.
But this is not easy at the beginning, as some of the women come from a lifetime of abuse and neglect, so Grameen tackled this challenge by creating a community around the women who received the loans; support groups of women who would help, mentor and stand up for each other.
So the biggest impact I see in initiatives such as this is in terms of culture. When women are empowered, rapid and pervasive change happens.
Many women entrepreneurs are taking active steps to accelerate this process. LearnVest, started by Alexa Von Tobel, helps women understand finances and learn to manage money; FEED, started by Lauren Bush is a non profit that manufactures bags, giving half of its proceeds to feed the hungry; BeadForLife and the Street Business School, two social enterprises aimed at empowering women through training and selling their products. Sughar, a non profit empowering women in rural Pakistan by training them in business and helping them start businesses through small loans; Gardens for Health provides health centers and hospitals in Rwanda with healthy food and training for parents to better feed their children; RandomKid, started by Talia Leman, helps young people by funding projects and providing resources.
These are only some of the ways women are creating new business models that are not only profitable but also help other women and their families escape poverty, educate children, feed the hungry and provide business skills.
I work as the head of industrial design and strategy for CIC Shake Your Power. Here we are mostly women, and we have been privileged to have an education and opportunities to develop professionally, but not all women are in this position. We want to help change that. At the core of what we do is the empowerment of women and girls, which is why we create educational products that seek to inspire girls become the future inventors. We want to help girls become the women that will change the world.
So if you want to have impact in the world, even just a tiny bit, help empower women. Start with the women around you, or start with yourself if you are one.
“There is not tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Founder of Designers for Humanity