All around the world, financial services enable people to open their own businesses, educate their children, and provide for their families, but they aren’t within reach for everyone — including 980 million women who don’t have a bank account or even the ability to send and receive money on their phones. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities that women face and exposed how the gender gap in financial inclusion continues to hold women back.
This year, the UN Women theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We’re highlighting women leaders working to open opportunity for women and men through inclusive finance in our annual International Women’s Day blog series. You can learn about more inspiring women in our first and second article for this series.
Meet some of the women we’re inspired by:
Winnie Blatchford, Founding member of Accion
When Winnie Blatchford (née Marich) was on the cusp of her graduation from UCLA in 1958, she read about volunteer opportunities in her community and around the world in her student paper. One of those opportunities struck a deep chord with her. It was a new, student-run volunteer group called Accion that aimed to improve U.S. relations in Latin America. Founded by Joseph Blatchford — who Winnie later married in 1967 — and other UCLA students, the group sought “people with the audacity to think they can make a difference.” They interviewed candidates and chose Winnie among the initial group of 30 volunteers who traveled to the barrios, or disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, in Caracas, Venezuela, where they had the novel idea to ask the people living there what they needed, and how Accion could help.
Winnie became interested in Latin America and passionate about fighting poverty from a young age after she visited Peru, where her parents were living at the time, and saw firsthand some of the real challenges that families living in poverty faced every day. Her commitment to making the world a better place was borne from that experience and inspired her to go to that interview, get on a plane to Caracas, and become one of the first women of Accion. From installing sewage pipes, to paving streets, to teaching women to sew and make bread, the early Accion team worked side-by-side with their new Venezuelan friends determined to make a difference in the community. Winnie remembers so many talented women who were smart, capable, and true leaders in their communities. “I can’t help but think of my two granddaughters when I think of the women and girls in the barrios of Caracas in the early 1960s, and how impressed they would be by all of the women I met all those years ago,” she says.
From the beginning, Winnie and Joe were steadfast in their vision to give those less fortunate the tools they need to improve their lives. Those tools have evolved over the past 60 years since Accion’s founding, but the mission of the first generation of Accion remains the core of our work. And connecting women to the tools they need to grow businesses, provide for their families, and improve their communities, continues to be a crucial way that we drive impact.
Before Winnie left Caracas, she received the Amiga de Venezuela award from the First Lady of Venezuela for her contributions to community development. She treasures that recognition and hopes it inspires her granddaughters and other young women to get involved in doing good. “You don’t have to put your feet in the barrios to make a difference. There are opportunities everywhere, and it’s our job to create them if we can’t find them.”