From Lagos to Davos: A Journey of Resilience and Hope

Posted on 02/22/2024

Grameen Foundation team members stand around a motorcycle in Uganda
Grameen Team Members in Uganda

As the CEO of a global organization, I often operate at the 30,000 foot perspective, focused on goals and long term strategies. So, when the opportunity to get ‘back on the ground’ arises, I welcome it. 2024 has given me the chance to be on the ground in four countries in as many weeks, seeing firsthand the resilience achieved by the women Grameen Foundation supports.

I began the month with a trip to Nigeria to meet with Grameen partners new and established. One of my first stops was in bustling Lagos where I joined with local organizations like Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA) that are working towards Grameen’s goal of building more inclusive financial systems. EFInA’s holistic approach to expanding access to financial services for all, especially for low-income households, is based on research, innovation, advocacy, and capacity building. This kind of foundational work to increase access is crucial to Grameen’s comprehensive approach to building full ecosystems of support so that women can show up in their full potential and power.

Grameen Foundation CEO Zubaida with Oluwatomi Eromosele aka Tomi from EFInA
Grameen Foundation CEO Zubaida with Oluwatomi Eromosele from EFInA in Nigeria

My next visit was to meet with leaders from the Nigerian Microfinance Platform (NMP). The NMP is the leading network of all major stakeholders in the Nigerian Microfinance sub-sector and is focused on facilitating cooperation and building synergy in the development of microfinance. Strengthening opportunities for income and entrepreneurship through microfinance have been proven to lead to poverty reduction, wealth creation, and improving the general standard of living. Grameen was founded on the idea that microfinance can be a catalyst for socio-economic change and partnerships with groups like the NMP extend that capability. Another cornerstone in the work Grameen is doing is to enable new systems for investing in the power of women.

For the next few days, I continued meeting with organizations in Nigeria who are equally committed to creating long term sustainable change in innovative ways. Organizations like TGI Group, House of Tara International, TechnoServe, African Food Changemakers, LAPO, EdFin, Welcome2Africa, and even more are finding new and unique approaches to our shared goal of ending poverty through local, community change. An important layer of Grameen’s strategy to enable holistic systems of support around women includes creating pathways in her community that allow women to leave poverty forever. But changing systems and communities has to start at the household level, engaging all family members in developing constructive dialogue skills that ensure women have male champions around them. Understanding the ways harmful gender norms shape our relationships must be investigated in order to cultivate awareness and equip both men and women with effective communication strategies to navigate challenging dynamics. We have seen first hand the powerful impact new communication and dialogue skills can have on families, households, and their surrounding communities. Reminding us that investing in the power of women has a long-term, scalable impact.

A group photo of the Grameen Foundation team standing in front of the Uthabiti Refugee Settlement
Group Photo of the Grameen Foundation Team Standing in Front of the Uthabiti Refugee Settlement Sign

Leaving the sights and sounds of the city, I headed to the remote refugee settlement of Nakivale in Uganda. Grameen Foundation’s work in this region includes the Uthabiti Activity, a part of our wider Refugee Finance program, which has been going on since 2019 and works in six refugee settlements. Joining me on this leg of the trip was Director of Global Program Operations, Alfred Yeboah and Director of Major Gifts, Nadeige Uwamba. Part of our efforts with the Uthabiti Activity is to encourage resilience through the use of technology and educate women about how certain tools such as digitalizing information and digitizing records can ensure financial security. Speaking with many of the women in the settlement, I understood the profound impact one tablet can have on a group of women. A device that is often taken for granted in many places, has changed the lives of a generation of women. Nadeige has written a beautiful recollection of our time at the settlement and I encourage you to read it here to learn more about the power of our work.

My next adventure took me to Davos, Switzerland for the events at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of leaders and organizations from around the world. After spending the last two weeks on the ground, it was time to return to my 30,000 foot perspective and I dove into the conference eager to share Grameen’s mission and impact to any who would listen. I didn’t imagine that the overarching themes from Davos would be so aligned with the work Grameen is doing. One of the major themes turned out to be the power of investing in women and it was declared that investments addressing the women’s health gap could add years to life and potentially boost the global economy by $1 trillion annually by 2040. Other themes included building resilience and generative AI. If you were present in Davos , you might recall hearing the phrase "AI or die." While I'm uncertain of the originator, it's important to note that these were not my own words. Despite the seeming extremity, it underscores our ongoing commitment at Grameen to harness the potential of AI. Recently, we partnered with Technovation and the The AI Forward Alliance (TAIFA), which will train 25 million young women globally to become capable critical thinkers and supercharge sustainable economic development. Grameen will be focused on extending the initiative’s global reach, powering the Alliance towards its long-term goal of seeing six million young women enter the technology workforce by 2030.

Zubaida Bai sits onstage for panel discussion during Davos 2024, Zubaida is showing with three other women
Zubaida Bai (far right) Speaks Onstage for a Panel Discussion During Davos 2024

As I reflect on this whirlwind journey from the heart of Colombia, one truth shines clear: investing in the power of women is not merely a choice but a necessity. Grameen Foundation stands resolute in its commitment to end poverty in our lifetime, knowing that loans alone are not enough. Through holistic systems of support, we invest in the power of women to thrive, one community at a time.

My voyage from Lagos to Davos has reinforced the profound impact of creating ecosystems that enable women to cultivate resilience from the ground up. As we embark on the road ahead, I am filled with anticipation for what the rest of 2024 holds. Together, let us continue to sow the seeds of change, knowing that the promise of hope lies just beyond the horizon.

With Hope and Anticipation,

Zubaida Bai

Empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty.
Give Now