Mark Zuckerburg’s estimated wealth is $54.1b. This, plus reports on growing global inequality got us thinking: what could you actually DO with that much money?
Sat on a train while writing this blog, I heard a man say: “She is just a woman … is it ok to say that?!” Um … I’m indignant, not just because of the sexism. That’s too obvious. And I’m indignant not just because female empowerment is what we do at the Sophie Hayes Foundation, working with survivors of trafficking to help them build hope-filled futures. I’m indignant because this idea that women somehow add less to society, that they’re a less fruitful investment, is just plain untrue. In Half the Sky (highly recommended), Sheryl Wudunn and Nicholas Kristof write that the way to change the world is to invest in women; this is the untapped part of the economy in many nations, and those who have seen this, and chosen to provide education and invest in women, have prospered.
So when you ask me what I’d do with my billions, I thought I’d ask some survivors of human trafficking for their view. Because if empowering and investing in women is the greatest way to shift the global economy, and to reduce some of society’s most appalling atrocities, who better to ask than those who have experienced hardship? (Thank you Q, M, D, V, L and E for all your wisdom).
Their suggestions are in bold:
- “I’d stop child sexual abuse and early marriage.”
Women’s roles as child bearers and carers – rather than breadwinners – in many countries means that they carry high risk and impact, yet are often undervalued. They’re often denied access to basic healthcare and protection at their most vulnerable moments. Incredibly, in 2015 more than 300,000 women died due to childbirth or pregnancy. In China alone, 1.1 million baby girls are aborted or left to die each year, just because they are a girl, and 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 globally. When women are neglected or abused in this way they create a vulnerable family situation. More than one woman we’ve worked with was sold by other family members into prostitution or childhood marriage after their mother died. It’s the women that often shape the destiny of their children and future generations: for life or death, good or bad, health or sickness, protection or vulnerability. This is real girl power. And investing cash, through local programmes, to protect female health and safety throughout their most vulnerable times: as a baby girl, a potential bride, a new mother, leaves a legacy far beyond their own years.
- “I’d build schools.”
The majority of women we work with have very few educational or training experiences, and we have no doubt that this led to their initial vulnerability to being trafficked. Indeed globally, 31 million girls are not in primary school, rising to 34 million by secondary school. Economic success, health, child birth, birth rates and employment are all correlated to the number of girls remaining in school – so any investment in this area makes great sense, especially if the schemes are grassroots developed; designed for the cultural nuances, beliefs and values of that region.
- “I would invest heavily in a mental health services.”
Amazingly, research indicates that happiness is only 10 per cent what happens to us, and 90% how we respond (according to The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor). The happiness advantage has the power to build our productivity, creativity and decision making. So the provision of holistic mental health centres for women (and men) who need them, is a great one for long-term recovery, productivity and reducing crime and poverty over time.
- “I’d open businesses to help others find a job.”
Our Sophie Hayes employability programme shows us that everyone has an idea, a possibility, of how they could make money. I love the use of micro-finance, offering small loans to help women set up a business. Successful micro-finance increases respect for women in their homes and communities, reduces abuse and increases the stability of the family context. It increases the likelihood of children staying in school and interrupts cycles of poverty to drive economic growth.
- “I’d help others acquire skills to get into work and stability.”
Micro-finance is harder to implement in more prosperous economies. Perhaps a solution elsewhere is a more conscious capitalism: blending brilliant business with societal impact. Businesses absolutely can and do change the world… and it’s even more important now globalisation is placing our futures into the hands of corporate giants who can choose to cast a deep shadow or a shine a bright light. I’d overinvest in finding and equipping the new Blake Mycoskies (TOM’s Founder) of this world; those who combine good business with social impact at a global level. I’d infiltrate them to shape and create organisations that yes, provide employment and financial security, but also take a responsible approach to their footprint: reducing slavery in supply chains, fair trade providing fair wage, reducing corruption and honouring our planet. This does everyone good.
So, those are my suggestions. Do you have any others?