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Leslie Hendry Headshot

Move Over, China and India -- Meet the Third Billion

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Bear with me while I state the obvious: Most, if not all, governments and corporations around the world are male-dominated. The majority of philosophies, classical literature and economic principals have been created and championed by men, with comparatively little input from women. Today, we're at a tipping point where a heavily male-dominated world is sputtering out of control because frankly, its institutions and systems are making people less happy.

The economy, the environment and the education system are just three working examples. Today, developed world economies are defined by the 2008 financial crisis; man-made chemicals have compromised land, sea, and air the world over; and a good education is for the elite.

China and India, each representing 1 billion participants in the emerging market place, are considered one of the answers for economic progress. However, if this is the case, we can certainly expect more of the same, if not worse conditions. Neither India nor China is a pillar of social progress.

Fortunately there is a third billion to consider: Women. Women of developing and industrialized nations entering the work force in the next eight years will equal roughly 870 million, growing to an estimated 1 billion in the following decade. This is a fascinating and palatable thought, especially regarding social issues.

In a recent report, Booz & Company analyzed data from the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations constituent that tracks global workforce statistics and discovered that "to date, the potential of women as economic players has been unrealized." In the next decade, women "are poised to take their place in the economic mainstream... as producers, consumers, employees, and entrepreneurs."

I've seen this firsthand on a few occasions being involved in a documentary on microfinance in Chiapas, Mexico, and visiting women in Tripuranagar, a village south of Kolkata, India, who receive micro loans to grow their businesses. Microfinance works fairly simply, no complex arbitrage or collateralization, just an underappreciated borrower and a willing lender. Lenders include commercial banks, Micro-Finance Institutions (MFI), and nonprofits like Yoga Gives Back out of Los Angeles, of which I am a board member. Yoga Gives Back supports women and children in India so that the cycle of abject poverty can stop spinning.

With the success of microfinance, impoverished women have proven they are credit worthy, with repayment rates around 99 percent. Dr. Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Foundation discovered not only are these women credit worthy but when they re-invest profits, it's in their children's lives -- 90 percent of their earnings -- while men re-invest 30 to 40 percent. I hate to say it, guys, but the men don't stack up.

When women make decisions for the family, they invest not only in its economic prosperity, but also in health and early childhood development far more than men. This instinct to care for their family and environment through better social choices positions the Third Billion to make decisions based less on greed and more on the well-being of those around them. The Booz report found this leads to broader gains for all citizens and improvements for society at large.

Out of the data, Booz & Co. created a Third Billion Index to understand the quantitative nature and progress of women empowerment, ranking countries in terms of how effectively they are empowering women as economic agents in the marketplace. For instance, raising female unemployment to male levels could have a direct impact on GDP of 5 percent in the U.S., 9 percent in Japan, 12 percent in the UAE and 34 percent in Egypt.

The economic and social impact of women in the workforce shows strong in the data compiled. But experiencing it firsthand is remarkable. Over the years, I've watched Yoga Gives Back's loan recipients advance, sending one impoverished mother's son to medical school, for instance. In Chiapas, I saw women move from thatched homes with cancer causing stoves to owner built two-story homes. In one instance, the men had benefited to such a degree that the entire second story of their home was their woodwork shop.

Dr. Yunus believes that microfinance must mature into social businesses. This type of advancement I saw through the Nishta program I visited in Kolkata. Nishta is a 35-year-old NGO that organizes and manages loan recipients. Yoga Gives Back is in its second year working with Nishta and together created Sister Aid, a social enterprise that loans money to women and does not charge interest.

"This is the most innovative program as mothers receive micro loans and instead of paying interest, they are required to save a minimum of 50 rupees a month for their daughter's higher education," said Mina, Nishta's program director.

Sister Aid's social output requires a "girl's higher education" be obtained when oftentimes equal opportunity and rights are denied, forcing them to marry as young as the age of 13.

This is a very significant paradigm shift in micro finance thinking, seen as a "new more humane form of capitalism," as Dr Yunus calls it.

On a broader level, new organizations like La Pietra Coalition have organized to unite governments, NGOs, corporations, youth and others to ensure women have access to the resources necessary to reach their full economic potential. They have launched the Third Billion Campaign, which properly prepares and enables women whose economic lives have been stunted.

When women are successful it can be universally felt. No country or border changes the way a woman feels about caring for her children. When women band together under these objectives with the ability to earn a living, serious changes can take place. Move over, China and India: women around the globe are ready to rumble.