The early 21st century is being defined in part by the transformative power of social networks. In short order, we’ve moved from recognizing the value of connecting with friends and family to reaching out to those we’ve never met but who share our interests. Without a doubt, social networks have demonstrated how making connections with those you may not know can open new doors.
If I said Bank of America is investing in a social network, you would assume we have a financial stake in a startup hoping to create the next must-use social platform. But we’re making a very different kind of investment by creating and fostering a social network that connects women entrepreneurs around the world to the resources, access and experience they need to make an economic difference for their families, their communities and the world.
According to the World Bank, women will earn about $18 trillion this year – more than twice the projected GDP of China and India combined. At the same time, more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest people are women. In financial terms, this means women are a largely untapped source of economic opportunity, making for a wise investment.
But as Melanne Verveer, former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and co-founder of the nonprofit Vital Voices stated, this investment has ramifications beyond the business world: “Women are more likely than men to put their income back into their communities, driving literacy and mortality rates down and gross domestic product up."
Unfortunately, while the opportunity is surely transformative, the challenge is significant. Women’s equality in the workforce remains low; the IMF reports that in the 27 EU countries, only 25 percent of business owners with employees are female.
In an increasingly connected world, we hear loud and clear from women entrepreneurs that financial investments in their future are critical, but not enough. They also want to connect with those who faced similar challenges and found success. They want to have the financial ability to open a business but also to have a network of experts for advice, support and encouragement.
We agree social networking and peer-to-peer discussion and collaboration need to be a key aspect of our investment strategy. This is why, through our Global Ambassadors Program – launched with Vital Voices – we enable established women leaders to mentor emerging women leaders around the world. It’s why, when we launched the Elizabeth Street Capital initiative with the Tory Burch Foundation to provide capital to women business owners, we paired our financial commitments with mentoring events and networking opportunities so women entrepreneurs can hear from women who have walked in their shoes. This is the nature of the connected world today.
There may be a few lessons here for policymakers. They might consider working more closely with successful women leaders in business and government who can help drive the economy forward. And, they might keep in mind that any investment should include imparting skills and establishing sustainable networks whenever possible.
Anne Finucane is global chief strategy and marketing officer at Bank of America, and a member of the company’s executive management team.