In developed countries, people rely on the banking system all of the time and never even think about it. In developing countries, for some people banking is treated as a luxury even though it has really become a necessity. That’s holding residents and their communities back.
A number of companies are stepping up to help those who have been traditionally left behind -- a group that is predominantly made up of women. And the solution is relatively simple: give them mobile phones that allow them to connect to digital financial services.
Access to banking is critical
In a New York Times editorial, Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote that access to financial services can play a critical role in the survival of a woman and her family. The foundation is the largest private grant-making foundation and works to raise living standards worldwide.
Without banks, she writes, women have no way to safely keep their money, which is at risk of theft. Further, without the ability to save or access short-term credit, the smallest financial hardship can force families to sell off assets, such as livestock, that they rely on for income, further jeopardizing their survival.
“In ways big and small, life without access to financial services is more difficult, expensive and dangerous,” Gates wrote in the editorial. “It constrains a woman’s ability to plan for her family’s future. At the community level, it traps households in cycles of poverty. More broadly, it limits the economic growth potential of developing countries.”
In many developing nations, a mobile phone serves as a gateway to financial services, yet in places like Bangladesh, women are only half as likely as men to have one. The Gates Foundation has been working to provide financial services for the poor.
Developing business skills
Access to financial services, however, is just the foundation. Several companies are working to use that as a platform to help women to truly raise their living standards.
Ooredoo, a Council Lead Partner, is working to use mobile phones as a tool to provide women with business skills and networking opportunities. It was presented with a Leadership in Industry Award at the Mobile World Congress for its work in this area.
It launched Geek Girls, a community and series of entrepreneur events that are designed to inspire the next generation of women technology professionals. The group has reached well over 300 girls. It also started Myanmar’s first-ever Connected Women conference.
Ooredoo’s latest effort is a business app, called the SmartWoman App, designed to assist and build support for women professionals. Built with the help of Qualcomm, another Council Lead Partner, the app includes training materials that cover financial basics, helping women build skills that will be useful in their own businesses or in finding employment. It also serves as a social network, helping women connect with other professionals.
More than just money
The phone can also serve as a launchpad for providing other services. In China, Qualcomm is using 3G wireless technology to help women take better care of their health.
Its effort, part of the Wireless Reach initiative, is focused on education. Women can get information on reproductive health and family planning, nutrition and access to critical healthcare and services. The program also uses women as peer health educators. Several women are selected in each factory to be available to provide personalized guidance to other women.
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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.
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