March 8 marks International Women’s Day around the world. Throughout history, women have made extraordinary contributions to society. Empowering women and girls is vital to putting poverty in the museum and boosting shared prosperity.
At Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), we know that when women are empowered, their communities prosper. They invest in their children’s health, education, and general well-being. As a result, their children do better. They become youth who are inspired to lead their generation ethically and sustainably. That’s why we focus on women. By doing so, we are changing our future today.
We know that women are the economic engines of development in any nation and it is imperative to harness their potential. In the fall edition of MIT Innovations, I wrote a case study highlighting the impact my mother, the first entrepreneur that I knew, had on my life and on the work we do at YTF.
Today, we are announcing the Frances Pearl Cash-Ugwuegbu Memorial Fund for Women Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who have participated in YTF’s Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services Program in Nigeria will have an opportunity to apply for seed funding to expand their businesses. Applicants will be shortlisted and will undergo a rigorous process of business evaluation—their business plans will be examined, and they will be selected according to their capabilities, ability to generate capital, and confidence (3C’s). On Women’s Entrepreneurship Day—November 19, 2016—two winners will be announced.
Last Friday, YTF organized a networking event to commemorate IWD 2016 in Nigeria. At the event, I met with Ifeoma, one of the women entrepreneurs that attended. Ifeoma owns a business manufacturing locally produced cleaning supplies. She was so excited about the opportunity to attend the event. When I asked her about whether she was receiving YTF’s weekly text messages, which contain business tips, she said she was, and added that her husband often gets to her phone after hearing the texts come in and reads them even before she does. “He is always asking to see my phone to see if the text messages have arrived,” she said.
Our vision is of a world in which men and women work together as equal partners to secure better lives for themselves and their families. In this world, women and men share equally—in the enjoyment of basic capabilities, economic assets, voice, and freedom. They share care of their children, their parents, responsibility for paid employment, and leisure. This is our vision of a world of equality.
Gender inequality is deeply rooted in entrenched attitudes, societal institutions, and market forces, so the support of not just the public but also the private sector, along with civil society, is imperative. We are grateful for our many private sector and foundation partners who help us in this walk towards gender parity.
A recent World Economic Report estimated that we would achieve gender parity in 2033. We can’t wait that long. We are going to need to step it up to reach this goal sooner. At YTF, we have just scratched the surface in this march towards equality. Here are some ways we are achieving our sustainable development goals (SDGs) and at the same time stepping it up for gender equality.
- Educating girls
- Increasing literacy rates among women
- Improving women’s access to credit and financial resources
- Promoting women’s political rights and participation
- Increasing women’s labor force participation
For us, genuine equality is about justice, greater opportunity and a better quality of life so that equality is achieved at the highest level.
Ms. Ruth is another entrepreneur we support in Nigeria. She started her business, Ruth ANDY Enterprises, about 13 years ago. Since participating in the program, she has diversified her business in the service sector while bringing on 5 new employees. In addition to owning a shop that offers household consumables, she owns a tailoring shop and a beauty parlor. She does this while having sole responsibility for caring for her three young children, ages 8, 6, and 4, while her husband is working in China. Many of the entrepreneurs we interact with are in this very same place: women as breadwinners, heads of household who are raising their children confidently and capably. It is not easy, but they are breaking boundaries and stepping it up.
This day is real. It’s not “just another women’s day.” It is a day of deep reflection, a day of gratitude, a day to celebrate those strong, resilient and powerhouse entrepreneurial women still here. Those who led the way so women like me could walk, run and step it up.