Learning On The Ground

Michaela WalshAt a conference in New York this fall I spoke with a woman from Africa who leads a well-known NGO. In her presentation, she spoke about how often people say to her, “What can we do?  What do you want?  What does Africa need?”

Her answer reminded me of the early days of figuring out what our global financial network was going to be.
She said, “I tell them….come to see us. Come to learn about what we do and who we are. Then we can work out, together, how you can help.”

After 1975, when the idea of working collaboratively to get women into the financial marketplace was born, we spent much of our time and meager resources visiting each other and learning. The dominant model, even then, was that experts from Western nations could tell less-developed nations what they needed, and how to get it. Because we all had different backgrounds, training and goals, we never worked on the ‘expert’ agenda.  Each of us had gifts to share.

Perhaps the most valuable and useful early support we received was a grant from UNDP to test our idea; to find out if networking women and supporting local entrepreneurs would work.  We used that grant to hold international meetings every other year. These meetings included visits to businesses and practical skill building, but they also included lots of fun—singing, dancing, dressing-up and having a wonderful time. Because we truly knew and respected each other, we could work together.

When young people ask how they should begin to work in international development, I advise them to go to another country, live there, and learn. We need to return to this model as we work together in a connected but complex world.

Michaela Walsh, November 2012

Why Did Women’s World Banking Succeed?

Women's World Banking LogoPeople often ask why Women’s World Banking worked so well.  The most important reason is that many voices, many business and banking traditions, and many cultures came together in true collaboration.

When we began there were no international networks as we know them today.  The world was really still colonial. We did not ever follow that model.  We created our own person-to-person networks and exchanged information to help each other.

The links were woman to woman without hierarchy.  We knew from day one that each woman knew how her country’s business and banking worked; what we needed to learn was how to enter the formal financial system from a global perspective.  We did not tell anyone what to make, sell or buy—each person was responsible for her own participation and to each other.  We were not experts.  We did not need experts.  And no Queen Bees.

We were determined to build a global network country by country, not a centralized or top-down institution.  We all benefited from the larger success of working together.  We learned to trust each other because we all depended on each other.

That’s why it worked!

Michaela Walsh, September 2012