An End Of Year Message From Grameen Foundation's President

Posted on 01/16/2024

Grameen President and CEO Zubaida Bai is shown. The image is a headshot of Zuabida and she is wearing a white headscarf. The image is in black and white

Looking back on my first year at Grameen Foundation

As we close out 2023, I naturally find myself reflecting on my first year as Grameen Foundation's CEO and the impact we’ve achieved through our core belief that the path to eradicating poverty is centered around investing in the power of women. I’m proud to say that in the last 12 months, we created opportunities for two million women around the world to receive the tools and resources they needed to leave poverty forever. We’ve advanced our commitment to the planet by signing on to measuring our environmental performance – a way of doing business inspired by the UN Sustainability Goals that puts people and the planet at the center of every decision. And through our local and global partnerships, we remain dedicated to transforming the systems of power that hold women back from prospering. Our work continues to ensure women and girls around the world have increased agency, resilience, and access to income and entrepreneurship.

As Professor Muhammad Yunus, the inspiration behind Grameen Foundation, has said, “Poor people are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Every day they must innovate to survive.” Women make up more than half of the poor people Prof. Yunus refers to, yet entrenched gender biases in economic, market, and social systems prevent them from fully using their power. Investing in women and girls will radically change their lives, their families, and their communities, and ultimately the global power structures that ensure that inequality, poverty, and hunger persist. Ending poverty in the next decade is possible when we deeply invest in women and I’m excited to share our progress and break down our visionary approach in more detail in the coming months.

2024 will find us embarking on new and innovative ways to foster inclusive growth and invest in sustaining women’s enterprises and their communities. Until then, I’ll wrap up 2023 with a few more thoughts and stories of Grameen’s impact around the world. I’m grateful to our volunteers, colleagues, partners, donors, and above all the global Grameen staff and board members who have made this impact possible. We’re just getting started.

Why Empowering Women Needs Reframing

At Grameen Foundation, women and girls are at the center of all we do and you won’t find us using the word “empowerment”. Women who are the most affected by systems of power and live in conditions of poverty, display their own extraordinary power everyday, often ensuring their families survive through invisible labor. Women like this do not need us to empower them, they need our investment in their power.

That’s why we’re reframing the thinking around empowering women by recognizing the power women already have and deeply investing in their success. Let me share an example - women constitute a significant portion of the agricultural labor force, up to 60% in some regions, yet they make up less than 20% of the world’s landowners. Grameen’s work to increase access to income and entrepreneurship ensures we’re closing this ownership gap for our smallholder farming partners. In the last year, Grameen Foundation has grown women’s participation in farmer-producer organizations by 122% in India alone, a sustainable way to increase and unleash the power they had all along.

Identifying Outcomes that Change Communities and End Poverty

Flawed systems have been built to hold women back from showing up with their power and realizing their full abilities. Grameen is committed to creating supportive and flourishing ecosystems that will allow women to start and grow businesses, increase her household income, realizing agency and the ability to contribute to household decision making, and resilience to withstand setbacks that will come her way.

When a woman has agency, she has a voice in decisions that impact her family and her community's well-being. She can live free from the consequences of harmful gender norms. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same resources as men, 150 million fewer people would go hungry. This is because women tend to invest 90% of all earned income back into their households, spending it on education, nutrition, healthcare and other income generating activities that result in ending intergenerational cycles of poverty.

I’d like to share another example of Grameen’s work over the last year that increased agency for a group of 420 women entrepreneurs. Grameen partnered with this group of women to provide financial literacy education and the necessary technology to develop their businesses. This innovative group of women were able to use their enhanced learnings and new strategic business models to deliver services to 52,000 of their neighbors. Grameen’s use of technology and education enabled these women to have a voice in household decision-making, to feel respected by their family and community, and to show up with their full power. Because when women have full agency, their communities also change forever.

What’s Next for Grameen Foundation

Over the next decade, we are poised to scale our impact to millions of women around the world, entrepreneurs looking to start and evolve business ideas, smallholder farmers who feed the world but lack access to provide for their families, and young women who should be helping to build the financial world they will be participating in. All of us at Grameen will continue to deeply invest in their power to transform the world around them. We’ll be evolving our holistic approach to ensuring that our partners and stakeholders have the agency needed to thrive, the resilience required to withstand adversity, and the access to income and entrepreneurship opportunities that will pave new roads for themselves, their families, and their communities. Our investment in women will ensure entrepreneurs have the tools to succeed and will support the next generation of young leaders who are already playing a critical role in creating a more equitable world. We’ll also be bringing together a world-class ensemble of trailblazing women in the Arts for our inaugural Amplify HER Power event in my home state of Colorado in March. I’m excited to share more details about our strategy and goals in the coming months. 2024 is going to be an incredible year and I can’t wait to start the journey together.

With Gratitude,

Zubaida Bai

Empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty.
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