Is it "Lean In" or "Lean On"? What is it that women really want in life, and how can they achieve real empowerment?
Women everywhere care about their families, their health and their financial security. Whether a woman is a venture capital partner in Silicon Valley or a farmer in the Niger River Valley, she wants the same thing. All women are fighting for what will make them achieve greater success in their life. True empowerment can now be transmitted through the use of mobile technology. Since 40 percent of the global workforce is female, educating women offers great potential to enhance the economy of developing nations. The 2012 World Bank Report estimates that improving women's education in developing countries can increase labor productivity by up to 25 percent in some areas.
As ambitious as this target may seem, the reality in the developing world is that women suffer strong disparities in the digital divide. They have less access to education, technology and job opportunities than men. We believe that we can actually shift this technological and educational paradigm.
We also believe that giving people what they want, what they can use, and what is relevant to them is game-changing. For the world's growing population of "mobile-only-users," valuable, relevant content must be available through different platforms, whether it is a SMS (text), GPRS (text and image), a smartphone app or a tablet app. Given the increasing ubiquity of the mobile phone, using this device to learn is the key to educating women in developing nations. If you're trying to reach a woman farmer or business-owner in Kenya, she probably doesn't have a landline or a computer, but she does have a mobile phone.
While many international aid organizations such as the Gates Foundation focus on the "base-of-the-pyramid," or people making less than $3,000 a year, my company, Changecorp, focuses on the middle swath of the pyramid, or the five billion people who do not have a smartphone, but do have a basic phone. With a growing middle class, we work with many of the top telecom operators and handset providers around the world to provide mobile learning -- because, in most cases, a mobile phone is the only device our target audience owns.
In places like Kenya, people are looking for service content that supports "informal learning" through apps, text messages and web-based platforms for information on financial literacy, health, business, job skills and women's empowerment.
In fact, the adoption rate of smartphones in emerging markets is happening at a staggering pace -- by upwards of 20 percent each year. Smartphones become cheaper by $50 to $100 for new versions from Intel (Yolo), Telefonica (Firefox OS), Satkirit and Huawei, and the job of building apps that support the new smartphone users is where the greatest chance for success lies.
Our flagship channel is called The SmartWoman Project. It's a mobile app that provides women in developed countries (i.e., the U.S.) with rich, expert content, social networking, advice portals, eCommerce and the ability to make a social impact on women in developing countries (think Africa, Latin America, Asia).
Here is how it works: Women download the SmartWoman app onto their iPhone or Android phone and become a member of the service at $5.00 a month. A portion of the $5.00 monthly fee sponsors a woman in an underdeveloped country, allowing her to receive daily, educational text messages for free.
This "women-helping-women" idea is not necessarily new. What is unique is that the women members are receiving expert content with the connectivity of a social network and the impact of a social cause. The content includes information about managing careers, money, relationships, family/work-life balance, beauty and all the things women need to know everyday -- all on one platform. Women are also able to ask questions of the expert writers, connect with other women members and share experiences -- and, best of all, support other women or women-based organizations through donations and a marketplace of products made by women, such as Feed Bag, SameSky and Wayuu Taya Susu bags. The beneficiary, or sponsored woman, receives localized text messages in her language that are relevant to her concerns and values.
If you want to change the world, start with peer-to-peer, sustainable programs where there is a fundamental understanding of a need and an ability to help.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.