What's the Big Idea?
Happy International Women's Day! This is the first of many events throughout the month which focus on celebrating the historic achievements of women around the world, while highlighting the injustices of women's continued socio-economic inequality.
This morning, Big Think attended a breakfast held by Women's World Banking -- the only microfinance organization dedicated exclusively and explicitly to women -- in honor of the day. Over 200 women came from around the world to talk about widespread economic disparities and the importance of gaining financial independence. The conversation was moderated by Pat Mitchell of The Paley Center for Media, with a panel comprised of Melinda Wolfe from Bloomberg; Julia Chu, Head of Philanthropy at Credit Suisse, and Michael Useem of the Wharton School of Business.
Watch our recent interview with WWB CEO Mary Ellen Iskendarian:
What's the Significance?
In the discussion that followed, Chu discussed the importance of "patient capital," which means shifting emphasis from investing in individuals to investing in the communities that support them. It's easy to relate to the story of a single woman, she noted, but sometimes we miss the invisible network of people in the background who are supporting that individual -- the infrastructure that helps her fight for her place at the table.
Of course, there's still the question of why it has taken so long for women to achieve actual political and economic power. Tokenism is not enough. "Critical mass representation is the lever for change in gender parity," said Wolfe.
When we asked Iskendarian the most important lesson she'd learned about empowerment, she expressed the same sentiment. "I sort of regret having missed so many years of my life not knowing... just how absolutely central the role of women is to financial stability, to household stability. If kids are going to get to school and stay in school and have food to eat while they’re there and remain healthy while they’re there, it’s because the women are going to make that happen."
What Can You Do?
Click here to view the first segment of our interview with Mary Ellen Iskendarian, released on November 10, 2011, in which she discusses the potential for change.
Read more about Women's World Banking here.