Simply put, no society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population. Happily, I see evidence all over the world that women are gaining social and economic power that they never had before. This is good news not only for the individuals themselves but also for entire societies, for it’s been proved that women tend to reinvest economic gains back into their families and communities more than men do.
Rwanda provides some great examples. It’s changed dramatically since my first visit 14 years ago. Today, Rwanda’s per capita income is five times as high as it was in 1998, roads and infrastructure have improved immensely, and–in one of the greatest signs of progress–more than half the members of Parliament are women, making Rwanda the first country to achieve that distinction. Rwandan women are gaining economically too. During a visit to the country this summer, I toured the construction site of what will eventually be a large soy-processing factory. My foundation helped get the project off the ground, but eventually it will be owned and maintained by local farmers and the government. It will create domestic demand for soy, and once completed, it is expected to provide 30,000 farmers in eastern Rwanda–55% of whom are women–with jobs by contracting with them to grow soybeans.
In nearby Malawi, there’s a large commercial farm that leverages economies of scale to secure bulk pricing for things like soy seed and fertilizer. On a previous trip there, I met a female farmer who had joined the program and as a result had increased her yield from five to 20 bags per acre, earning double what she had under the old system. With her extra income, she put a new roof on her home and paid tuition to send her daughters to school. So you can see how this work can change not just an individual life but also the fate of a family or the course of an entire community.
The private sector can play a big role here.