The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day this year was DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, a celebration of women who are “championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.” With innovative digital tools, we can reach more women with the financial services they need to strengthen their livelihoods and build a better future. This year’s day of observance also recognizes the impact of the digital gender gaps and their potential to leave women further behind, both economically and socially.
In our annual blog series featuring women leaders of Accion and our partners, we’re highlighting inspiring leaders who bring passion and creativity to their vision of building a better world for all people. You can learn about more inspiring women in our first article in this series.
Meet some of the women we’re proud to work with:
Payal Dalal, Senior Vice President of Social Impact, International Markets at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth
Payal Dalal’s passion for creating economic opportunity in low-income communities developed at an early age. “I am the daughter of immigrants. Every year, my parents would save so we could take a trip abroad as a family, and we traveled to emerging markets such as Kenya, India, Thailand, and Turkey. Through those experiences, I saw girls my age working in homes as cleaners and cooks instead of attending school and learning,” Payal remembers. “It struck me very early on that many, especially adolescent girls, didn’t have the same educational and economic opportunities as I did. It felt unfair, so I set about trying to bridge the divide.” Payal later began a career in international philanthropy and politics and now serves as Senior Vice President of Social Impact, International Markets at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, a longtime Accion partner. In her role, Payal oversees the Center’s philanthropic investments around the globe.
Throughout her career, Payal has witnessed how women have been disproportionately impacted by ongoing economic, public health, and other global challenges. “We have to be cognizant that women are at greater risk of being left further behind due to existing gender norms and institutional inequities in the formal economy. While the increasingly digital economy could provide a ton of opportunities to bridge the gender divide, it also could exacerbate the existing gap between men and women. We need to apply a gender lens to everything from policy, product, and service design, even down to the level of coding that forms the basis of artificial intelligence and automation. Only through honest examination can we uncover how we might be inadvertently institutionalizing gender bias.”
Speaking further on the promise of innovation and digital to drive gender equality, Payal says, “I am especially bullish about the opportunity for women entrepreneurs. Digital technology and innovations will help women entrepreneurs scale their operations and gain better access to financing and capital. My biggest hope is that innovation will create new ways to de-risk women in the eyes of formal financial institutions.” Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Accion launched a first-of-its-kind partnership in 2018, with the aim of digitally transforming the lives of 10 million underserved people, including millions of women using digital tools and services to grow their businesses and build better futures for themselves and their families.
For other women looking to make an impact, Payal says, “Don’t be afraid to cause trouble. To reach gender equity, we will have to disrupt systems and institutions. This will feel uncomfortable and won’t be welcomed by many. Don’t let that deter you. And be sure to find your community of like-minded people, especially women, with whom you can partner and support. Achieving gender equity is a difficult task, and it is easier when you have the right support network. Through partnership and sisterhood, we can achieve scale.”
Alexandra (Alex) Rizzi, Senior Research Director, Consumer Data Opportunities and Risks, Center for Financial Inclusion
Since starting her career in the social impact space, Alex Rizzi has become an advocate for consumer protection and champion of evidence-based inclusive finance practices. In 2012, she joined the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), an independent think tank that uses rigorous research and advocacy to advance inclusive financial systems for low-income people.
In her current role at CFI, Alex manages the responsible data practices research portfolio, which focuses on opportunities and risks for underserved people using data-driven financial services. Previously, she helped lead CFI’s Smart Campaign, a global initiative that worked to create an environment where financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients.
Digital financial tools have been top-of-mind for Alex and the CFI team as innovations have proliferated in the past decade, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are so many insights from our work on MSMEs and research into how small businesses digitalized during the pandemic. We identified how women MSME owners face unique challenges and use digital tools differently. In our enthusiasm for digitalization, we need to ensure products are designed with women in mind and don’t create unnecessary or new harms,” says Alex.
“Digital finance can help women overcome some inequities and systemic factors, like access to healthcare and to financial services, and that’s something our sector has been very excited about. At CFI, we’re also keeping an eye on potential new risks so that digital products don’t exacerbate existing inequalities,” says Alex, reflecting on how gaps in digital literacy, lower access to digital devices, and potential risk of algorithmic bias can leave women further behind as digitalization accelerates. “As these transformative digital tools become more widely available, we want to keep an eye on making sure they help narrow the gap and not widen it in new ways.”
On ensuring that we understand how low-income customers actually use financial services, Alex says, “Keep your impact and outcomes as your North Star in any of these exciting new developments. There’s so much learning for all of us to do, and measuring our impact can help us to improve our work.”
To those aiming to work in the social impact space, Alex says, “Our field is at such an exciting inflection point. In my work, there’s this intersection of digital finance, impact, responsible tech, and new regulations coming up the pike for some of these new technologies. Be open to learning and making new connections between what might have seemed like disparate fields in the past.”