BUSINESS
01/22/2016 02:31 pm ET

Nonprofit CEO Shares Lesson He Learned Working With Bolivian Women

"It always has to start with the community itself."

For most people, the path to building wealth starts with homeownership.

That's a problem if you're a woman in a country like Bolivia, where women have historically been excluded from owning land or other property. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, while Bolivian women technically can own land, gender equality in property ownership is virtually nonexistent.

So how does one go about opening the door to homeownership?

We asked Jonathan Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, who said his nonprofit organization has been helping build in Bolivia for 25 years. 

"About five years ago, they started working on property rights, and in Bolivia, women didn't have the right to own their house or their land," Reckford said in an interview Friday morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We trained a whole cadre of women ... on how to advocate for their rights, and this group of women not only got their own titles, they got the law changed, so that if a man is married and wants to register and get title to his home or his land, it has to be joint titled."

As a result, Reckford said, 1.8 million women in Bolivia now can claim legal title to their home if they decide to pursue the matter.

Self-empowerment is "fundamental" in initiating shifts like this, he explained. "It always has to start with the community itself. If you try to come in from the outside and impose a solution ... it never works."

"It has to start with the vision of the community."

More stories from the World Economic Forum 2016:

CONVERSATIONS