Melinda Gates: Mobile phones connect women in developing nations to opportunity

Fri, 2015-04-10 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

In developed countries, people rely on the banking system all of the time and never even think about it. In developing countries, for some people banking is treated as a luxury even though it has really become a necessity. That’s holding residents and their communities back.

A number of companies are stepping up to help those who have been traditionally left behind -- a group that is predominantly made up of women. And the solution is relatively simple: give them mobile phones that allow them to connect to digital financial services.

Access to banking is critical
In a New York Times editorial, Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote that access to financial services can play a critical role in the survival of a woman and her family. The foundation is the largest private grant-making foundation and works to raise living standards worldwide.

Without banks, she writes, women have no way to safely keep their money, which is at risk of theft. Further, without the ability to save or access short-term credit, the smallest financial hardship can force families to sell off assets, such as livestock, that they rely on for income, further jeopardizing their survival.

“In ways big and small, life without access to financial services is more difficult, expensive and dangerous,” Gates wrote in the editorial. “It constrains a woman’s ability to plan for her family’s future. At the community level, it traps households in cycles of poverty. More broadly, it limits the economic growth potential of developing countries.”

In many developing nations, a mobile phone serves as a gateway to financial services, yet in places like Bangladesh, women are only half as likely as men to have one. The Gates Foundation has been working to provide financial services for the poor.

Developing business skills
Access to financial services, however, is just the foundation. Several companies are working to use that as a platform to help women to truly raise their living standards.

Ooredoo, a Council Lead Partner, is working to use mobile phones as a tool to provide women with business skills and networking opportunities. It was presented with a Leadership in Industry Award at the Mobile World Congress for its work in this area.

It launched Geek Girls, a community and series of entrepreneur events that are designed to inspire the next generation of women technology professionals. The group has reached well over 300 girls. It also started Myanmar’s first-ever Connected Women conference.

Ooredoo’s latest effort is a business app, called the SmartWoman App, designed to assist and build support for women professionals. Built with the help of Qualcomm, another Council Lead Partner, the app includes training materials that cover financial basics, helping women build skills that will be useful in their own businesses or in finding employment. It also serves as a social network, helping women connect with other professionals.

More than just money
The phone can also serve as a launchpad for providing other services. In China, Qualcomm is using 3G wireless technology to help women take better care of their health.

Its effort, part of the Wireless Reach initiative, is focused on education. Women can get information on reproductive health and family planning, nutrition and access to critical healthcare and services. The program also uses women as peer health educators. Several women are selected in each factory to be available to provide personalized guidance to other women.


Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

Get the Smart Cities Readiness Guide
The Council’s Smart Cities Readiness Guide contains an entire chapter to help cities find ways to address healthcare issues, even with tight budgets. The Health and Human Services chapter includes a number of case studies that show how other cities have addressed their issues and offers guidance for developing a plan to get smart about healthcare. To download a copy of the Readiness Guide, simply complete a free one-time registration.


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

Connect with #compassionatecities…
See all the latest Compassionate Cities headlines
Follow Managing Director @Philip_Bane on Twitter
Join us on Facebook
Share your insights in our LinkedIn discussion group


Submitted by Barb Payne on
(To be clear: I'm not at all intending to criticize goodwill. I'd like to think that goodwill can maximize encompassing optimal thinking.) It's a fallacy to purport that mobile-communication seems to be extremely beneficial to humans. More correctly, it's that communication (in that intended way: digitally, electronically) seems to be extremely beneficial to humans. The non-fallacy would be that in The Big Picture whatever governments and industries and individuals choosing to provide wirelessly irradiating communication methods/mediums, or whatever governments and industries and individuals choosing to influence others to choose or demand wirelessly irradiating communication methods/mediums, rationalize their choice/demand foremost by variables around lowest cost and soonest launch time. During rationalization, there seems to be a preference for a pretense of ignorance regarding that this wireless irradiation is accomplished by continuously penetrating all humans (and all other fauna and flora) with that radiation. Whether or not anyone wants to debate if each, several, many, or almost infinite numbers of the more biological reactions that happen inside all of us and all fauna and flora because of the intrusion by this radiation into our physiology is at each and every moment and throughout lifetime an adverse occurrence is almost immaterial; it's all extra stress and demands on physiology whether or not each stress can be identified, labeled, analysed, etc. In an environment where there is this type of wireless radiation, that is forcing physiology to perform innumerable extra reactions -- period. Why wouldn't this extra performance, like always on, always happening even during sleep, be physical stress that a lifeform will or will not be able to tolerate at a specific moment or timeframe until some temporary or permanent threshold-breaking moments? This intrusion and extra biological reactions are often non-stop and innumerable, as that's what wireless coverage areas from any size of global or personal network, wireless connections, and hunt for a connection are: this type of radiation that does penetrate into all lifeforms and cause these reactions. Enabling beneficial exchange of information, i.e., communication, urgently needs a re-visit to the drawingboard. I can see why at the outset so-called "wireless" methods of communication might seem ideal. But. (Also, in optimal thinking mode, kindly don't simply leap to assuming that the introduction of the "wireless" method of transmitting via sending information on artificially-generated "light" waves would be necessarily "better." Optimal thinking is definitely required there as there can be no pretense of ignorance because for sure it's a long-ago established fact that "light" and various components of "light" cause physiology to react, and it is well known that those reactions can be adverse effects and it is well known that some doses of light will be good for an individual person or lifeform yet higher or more frequent doses of that same light might be harmful for that same individual person or lifeform.) While re-visiting the drawingboard, I think an important foundation needs revision. It isn't that the communication platform must be available for use everywhere indoors and outdoors in case a human (or other interacting life or machine) is ever present at every location; it's that the communication platform must be available for use everywhere a human (or other interacting life or machine) actually is. I realize that those two concepts might seem like the same thing, but actually they are not the same. Status quo is in a way analogous to that it can be a much better idea to teach a man to fish than to for a time provide him with fish, and, much worse than that: entities are giving the man the fish plus jabbing him with the spears and hooks that the entities use to provide him with the fish; plus the entities require that the man (or others on behalf of the man) provide the entities with money so that there will be more and/or sharper spears and hooks jabbing the man while he's trying to survive by eating the fish.