Research shows that when girls in the developing world have access to education and are therefore able to earn a living, they move their families, and often their entire communities, out of poverty. This ripple effect is called "The Girl Effect."
Martha Holguin, a 37-year-old microfinance recipient, is standing on her own feet, but she still has a long way to go. "You'll come back to see me as a businesswoman?" she asks. I take a deep breath to hold back my tears.
Women account for 75 percent of the agricultural producers in sub-Saharan Africa, but the majority of women farmers are living on only $1.25 per day, according to researchers from the Worldwatch Institute.
Industry players are moving beyond the "scale and sustainability" mantra that dominated microfinance during the past 15 years, with its laser focus on rapid growth and credit. Instead they are reaching back to where they began -- the clients.
I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to South Africa, where I spoke about microlending, financial independence, and women's empowerment to more than 1,000 women during meetings held in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
It's a common misperception that the challenges women face are "soft" social issues. But the central role women play in society translates into a "butterfly effect" affecting ever-larger circles of humanity.