Although women are the most marginalized by poverty, experience has proven that women are also an excellent investment in the fight for sustainable change. Research shows that when a woman is able to contribute to her family’s income, the majority of her earnings go toward creating a better future for herself and her children.

And yet, women in the developing world continue to face significant barriers to accessing the financial resources they need to start businesses and independently participate in their local economies. Decades of hard work have shown that there is no silver bullet for enabling women to realize their full potential.

 “When it comes to the enormous challenge of our time—to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity in our lands—we don’t have a person to waste.."

But one thing is certain, it is a collective problem.

Secretary of State Clinton, during a recent talk at the APEC global conference,referred to the 21st century as the “Participation Age,” and cited figures indicating that unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020. “When it comes to the enormous challenge of our time—to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity in our lands—we don’t have a person to waste and we certainly don’t have a gender to waste,” Clinton said.

“Here, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are entering the Participation Age, where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace.”

A productive partnership

Whether we realize it or not, we all have a relationship with people living in poverty all over the world. Often this relationship is fueled by third party story telling with the intention of eliciting guilt and resulting in a disconnected donor-recipient relationship. 

There is a growing movement, however, to make this relationship a productive partnership.

A partnership that validates the dignity of everyone involved by going beyond the numbers and statistics and concentrating on the stories of real people. This partnership is fueled more by mutual respect than guilt, and allows people who are otherwise incredibly isolated, especially women, to tell their own story about their desire to work hard and change their lives for the better. 

Global dreamers

Zongty is a traditional Cambodian silk weaver, a craft that has been passed down by the women of her family for generations. But the world is changing, and Zongty holds big dreams for her daughters. Like millions of other women in the world, it is not easy to access the financial resources to start or grow a business, and craft a better future for oneself and one’s children. Through the power of the internet, and with the help of a local microfinance institution, Zongty was able to share her story with a global community of online micro-lenders who could contribute as little as $25 each to invest in Zongty’s dreams. 

Three years later, Zongty beams with pride when she tells about the opportunities her two daughters have because she was able to grow her business and pay for their college education. With a college degree, her eldest now has a job in the tourism sector, and her younger daughter is studying to be an accountant. Both occupations have brighter prospects than silk weaving by hand in an industrial age. Zongty’s dreams for a better future connected her with an online community of global dreamers and doers who could use technology to help Zongty create new opportunities. And a new generation of dreams is born.

This is the virtuous cycle of a connected and empowered world.