When Women In Developing Nations Thrive, Their Communities Prosper
In the developing world according to almost any metric you use, women are among the most vulnerable groups. Small personal assets, constrained mobility, and lack of almost any political power all conspire to produce significant and sometimes insurmountable obstacles for them. During periods of stress such as wars or droughts, these less fortunate women face the worst repercussions as they have less to begin with. Those women who manage to find work can expect to be paid 25% less on average and struggle even with a job to feed themselves and their dependents.
Compounding issues communities face after disasters, this marginalization of women removes essential and central figures that communities require to rebuild. The United Nation’s successful projects have shown that women play an outsized role both in raising resilient communities as well as reconstructing those same bonds after destabilizing events. Rather than merely targeting women as passive recipients, new programs have sprung up that seek to empower and provide for women the skills and the roles necessary both for their own success and their communities.
While large programs are tempting solutions, behavior change and growth of resilient communities is best practiced on the individual scale and cannot be rushed. Ask any teacher and they will tell you helping an individual grow, develop skills, and become self-reliant takes a lifetime. There is plenty of room for innovation in women empowerment focused development, and one group, Womentum, has a novel process that they bring to helping women thrive.
Building Economic Momentum for Women
Womentum is a “pay-it-forward non-profit crowdfunding platform for women entrepreneurs in developing countries.” Unpacking the dense sentence here is a breakdown of how they work:
Womentum is built on a microfinance framework which just means that they give small amounts of money to lots of people rather than large amounts of money to a few people like more traditional banks. Microfinance has proved to be effective as it gets resources into the hands of people who need them and helps strengthen economies from the bottom up. A traditional problem with microfinance, however, is that lending money to poorer people is what loan sharks do. Emphasizing profit undermines the original goal of bolstering economies.
To address these issues Womentum uses donations. Money is raised through soliciting donations while partner organizations fund the infrastructure allowing 100% to go directly to the entrepreneurs. Rather than returning the money to where it is less needed, Womentum employs a pay it forward model where funding and hard learned lessons will be passed on to other members of the local community. The same dollar can be used to jumpstart project after project as it changes hands.
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe” or so the folks at Womentum tell us on their website and this idea forms a key facet of their program. Their pay it forward model nurtures a community of successful and supportive past and current participants. By encouraging and mentoring others locally, the program mirrors and amplifies local practices that existing women have used to succeed. Not merely finance based, the attendant mentor and support system is an essential and significant contributing factor to success.
Selecting entrepreneurs to support can be challenging — not everyone is cut out for that type of work. To address these issues, Womentum partners with local, on the ground, groups able to personally connect and vet potential candidates. These local partners also provide a framework for the growing networks of empowered women that are being produced. Financing alone, however, is not sufficient. Specific skills, problem-solving techniques, and mindsets essential to a successful business are part of the support package provided alongside community and mentorship. Womentum provides the resources to help women thrive and form the resilient groups which are essential to their communal survival and success.
Dollar-for-dollar it is almost impossible to overstate how impactful the kind of support Womentum seeks to bring to female entrepreneurs is. As the old saying goes “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” The sentiment is true, but should really praise female entrepreneurs and solar lanterns, not fish. The effects from such investments ripple outward not only in the local communities of these women but in a larger community we are all a part of. We leave you with a parting request from Womentum:
Sign up for Womentum’s newsletter to walk alongside these women. Their stories not only need to be heard but also need to be passed down. Share the stories of women trying to launch their businesses, provide for their families and give to others in their community. Together, we can create a movement to empower these entrepreneurs. Together, we can be their tribe.