Andrea Jung knows a bit about empowering women to be entrepreneurs.
For more than a decade, she served as Chairman and CEO of Avon Products, Inc. She was not only the longest-serving female CEO in the Fortune 500, she also helped countless women launch home-based businesses of their own.
Today Jung is President and CEO of Grameen America, which calls itself the fastest-growing microfinance organization in the United States. Its goal is to help women and families rise out of poverty through small business loans of about $2000. It was modeled after the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh – an example of the poorest nation on the planet modeling a business solution for the richest one.
At the “Fast Forward” women’s leadership forum held this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Jung noted that only 4% of money in traditional capital markets – $1 out of every $23 – goes to a female entrepreneur.
“Giving women in poverty access to capital in this country has made a tremendous difference in terms of self-employment, helping them grow businesses that employ women in our neighborhoods and lifting them up,” Jung said. ”If one out of three micro-businesses employ just one employee, that would solve the unemployment problem. That’s the power of financial inclusion, particularly to women in this country.”
Micro-financing like this could have a major impact. Jung noted that 17 million women in the United States live in poverty; women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men.
“When a woman earns a dollar, we’ve all seen the power and impact of that dollar, not just on herself and her business but on her family, community, health, education. It’s true in the developing world and it’s true in the United States.”
One other nugget from Jung’s remarks that we find particularly inspiring: the repayment rate at Grameen America is an astonishing 99.6%. When the micro-lending model first started in Bangladesh, it was offered to both men and women – but the repayment rate was almost 50 points lower.
“The major reason is this was the only organization that trusted women. Men had other opportunities but women were disadvantaged,” Jung said. When they started making money, they paid back their loans. “It’s been a brilliant aspect of micro-finance worldwide.”
Jung has been recognized on the top of every power list in the country: Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business” and Forbes magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in the World” among them. We at Women’s Leadership LIVE salute her for the work she is doing for the non-powerful. She is sharing her expertise and putting trust in women – proving that every one of us has value that’s worthy of investment.