The story of economic development is one of continuous technological innovations powering multiple industrial revolutions. But true development cannot be achieved while large segments of the global population have limited access to it.
Especially in developing countries, women empowerment is essential to ensure holistic growth in the economy. We know that the ability to access, understand and use technologies can have a far-reaching positive impact on women: it not only provides a platform to further their education and employment but also boosts their confidence and visibility by amplifying their voice.
According to Intel’s “Women and the Web” report—which surveyed more than 2,200 women across Egypt, India, Mexico, and Uganda—more than 50% of women used the web to search and apply for jobs. Nearly 30 percent had used the internet to earn additional income: over 70 percent of them considered the internet “liberating” and 85 percent said it “provides more freedom.” Between 77-84 percent of women with internet access used it to further their education.
Inclusion and empowerment of women, however, is not solely a philanthropic cause. For businesses, it means opening out whole new markets, revenue streams and offerings. The “Women and the Web” report found that the market opportunity in getting 150 million women and girls online is worth between US$50-70 billion. This could contribute an estimated US$13-18 billion annually to developing countries’ GDPs. Accenture’s report “How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work” states that 100 million women can be added to the workforce by 2030 if they become digitally fluent.
As we build digitally-enabled innovative solutions to address the pervasive social concerns around gender equality, I believe there are three key areas where technological innovations can have a far-reaching effect for women in developing economies:
- Financial inclusion
- Health and well-being
Exclusion from financial and credit markets has been a key contributor to women’s economic disempowerment. Research shows that in developing economies women’s influence in financial or economic matters is limited, both at home and in society. It’s a problem that’s accentuated by widespread financial illiteracy.
Accenture’s partnership with the Grameen Foundation India (GFI) is one example of the initiatives that are being launched to overcome financial illiteracy. Harnessing the power of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, and interactive voice response, this will help millions of low-income segment groups, especially women, access formal financial services. We’ve developed a learning platform called “Grameen Guru” that can be used by frontline workers in microfinance institutions to learn about different financial and digital products, and in turn, train their clients. Enabling workers and clients to learn at their own pace, anywhere and anytime, this interactive mobile application is improving women’s’ access to microfinance through improved education.
Using an integrated AI-based emotional analyzer, Grameen Guru helps frontline workers to understand the learners’ level of engagement—precisely identifying topics and key words that attract and retain attention. This is powering a shift in the attitude and behavior of clients. More than half of the 57,000 clients trained through this tool now use new digital channels on a continuous basis.
Use of augmented reality further enhances trust in the new system. By providing information on relevant topics in the local language, a virtual assistant cuts through the complexity associated with digital finance and increases women’s access to information.
Health and well-being
By 2030, businesses stand to tap into a US$20-25 billion opportunity globally by improving health outcomes for women and children through a package of low-cost interventions.1 The innovative use of technology to ensure the health and well-being of women and girls can also help transform societies.
Take “G Power,” for example. This digital solution developed by Accenture Labs, in partnership with the Child in Need Institute, is one such initiative. Focused on enabling underprivileged girls to make a healthy transition from childhood to a productive adulthood, it addresses key issues such as school drop-out, early marriage and trafficking.
Through the innovative use of mobile, analytics and cloud technologies, “G Power” can identify and predict potential vulnerabilities of adolescent girls in real-time. These insights are used to counsel and link vulnerable girls to social welfare services before harm can occur. Used with over 6,000 families in 20 villages throughout West Bengal, India, the solution received the Vodafone Foundation “Mobile for Good” 2015 award in India for women empowerment and inclusive development.
Another Accenture initiative is called “Couple Power.” Bringing together the Accenture Development Partnership team, the International Center for Research on Women, and the Child in Need Institute, this is a novel research project to combat high maternal and infant mortality in emerging economies.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project addresses gender inequality in family planning through couple-to-couple peer coaching. Workshops are held with young couples to train them as role models and teachers who can help change gender norms and roles among their communities.
A digital application collects and analyzes data to keep track of particularly vulnerable couples. “Couple Power” is already operational in 84 villages in the Indian state of Jharkhand—an area, which has one of India’s highest maternal and infant mortality rates.
According to the World Bank in its India Development Update May 2017: “Female entrepreneurs tend to hire more women, but there are relatively few women entrepreneurs, in part because of lack of access to capital and business networks.”
For the moment, women remain an untapped source of managerial and entrepreneurial talent. This is something Accenture is committed to changing by collaborating with women entrepreneurs and mentoring them on technology.
This includes supporting the development of BleeTech Innovations Pvt Ltd. Founded by two women entrepreneurs, this develops solutions and devices for people with hearing impairment. These include the Bleewatch, a smartwatch exclusively designed for people with hearing impairment, which helps them to simplify their lives in various ways (including a dance feature, which converts music into vibrations).
Bridging the inequality divide through collective intelligence
Ultimately, if the global growth story is to translate into shared prosperity for all, we cannot afford to have over half the world’s population excluded.
Crucially, improving women’s participation in the economy is not just a women’s issue, or only about ensuring gender justice and equality. When women have access to health and education, it translates into productive, paying jobs. This, in turn, has a positive impact on families and can translate into an improved human development index for developing economies.
This is why it’s now so essential for all the ecosystem players—business, government, academia and civil society—to create a collaborative platform that can harness their “collective intelligence” and ensure these issues are effectively addressed.
1. Valuing the SGD Prize: Unlocking Business Opportunities to Accelerate Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Link