AI @ BlackRock: Why poverty, why women, and why social entrepreneurship?
On the 11th of July, we were invited to BlackRock share more about our work. In her speech, our Co-Founder, Laina Raveendran Greene, posted three overarching questions: why are we targeting poverty, why are we targeting women, and why social entrepreneurship?
To answer the first question, Laina explained that poverty is often the root cause of many other problems, such as corruption or gender inequality. She also discussed how many businesses, such as fast fashion or fast food, often exploit the poor — when we purchase a new scarf at a great deal, how often do we stop and wonder how exactly that low price came about? The best way to combat that problem, then, is to spend your dollars on sustainable businesses instead, and A.I. has made it easy by bringing sustainable, responsible products directly to your doorstep.
As for the second question — why target women — Laina urged the audience to close their eyes and think about poverty. The image that often pops up in your mind is that of a woman sitting at the side of a street, holding in a child in her arms and begging. Although we have achieved the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty, the majority of people still living in poverty today are women. This is because women are often the “invisible infrastructure” of the community: they are the ones who carry water, look after children, take care of subsistence farming, and so on. As a result, women are often left behind when new opportunities arrive.
Not only have women been left behind in the fight to eradicate poverty, women also make good investments. When you help a woman, you don’t just help a single individual; you also help her family and her community. Furthermore, according to Forbes, women entrepreneurs bring in 20% more revenue with 50% less money invested. In other words, investing in women is not just the right thing to do — it’s also the smart thing to do. However, there also exists an unconscious bias towards micro-finance. Although women have graduated from micro-finance, investment firms, for the most part, have not. As such, A.I. works to educate people, helping them to move beyond that idea and support social enterprises instead. This brings us to our third question: why social entrepreneurship? According to Richard Branson, the brands that will thrive in the years to come are the ones that have purpose beyond profit. These companies are not only more sustainable, but also help to create a more just society.
A.I. recognises that the most sustainable way of to make an impact is through social entrepreneurship, and not charity or donations. However, the problem with many social enterprises is that they are too big for small loans, yet also too small for impacted investors at the same time. As a result, they end up stuck in a chasm known as the “pioneer gap”. A.I. thus offers support to these women social enterprises. Laina raised the example of Krakakoa, which works directly with smallholder farmers in Indonesia for bean-to-bar chocolates. This allows farmers to move up the value chain, thereby getting out of poverty. Laina ended the speech by urging the audience to donate their most precious resource: their business-related skills. As a corporate, these skills are invaluable in helping social enterprises to succeed. Apart from volunteering skills, we can also directly fund these enterprises through investments. A simple way to support them is simply to buy their products, be it as a personal or corporate gift.
Laina ended the speech by recalling the words of Muhammed Yunus: poverty can be changed. If we all do our part, we can put poverty in the museums. Together in unity, we can, in fact, end poverty.