If I Was a Billionaire…

Sat on a train whilst writing this blog, I heard a man say ‘she is just a woman…is it ok to say that?’. Umm……  I’m indignant not just because of the sexism…that’s too obvious.  And I’m indignant not just because woman empowerment is what we do at the Sophie Hayes Foundation, working with survivors of trafficking to help them build hope filled futures.  I’m indignant because this concept of women somehow adding less to society, being a less fruitful investment is actually untrue. In Half the Sky (highly recommended), Sheryl Wudunn and Nicholas Kristof (2009) write that the way to change the world is to invest in women – this is the untapped part of the economy in many nations, and those who have seen this, and chosen to provide education and invest in women, have prospered.

So when you ask me what I’d do with my billions, I thought I’d ask some of survivors of trafficking their view.  Because if empowering and investing in women is the greatest way to shift the global economy, and to reduce some of societies most appalling atrocities, who better to ask than those who have experienced these. Using their words as headings (thank you Q, M, D, V, L and E), here’s what I’d do…

  1. ‘I’d stop child sexual abuse and early marriage’ said one of our most inspiring women. Women’s role as the child bearer’s and carer’s (rather than breadwinners) in many countries means that they carry high risk and impact yet are often undervalued, and denied access to basic healthcare and protection at their most vulnerable moments. Incredibly, over 300000 women still die every year due to childbirth or pregnancy[1].  In China alone, 1.1 million baby girls are aborted or left to die each year, just because they are a girl[2], And 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 globally[3].  When women are neglected or abused in this way they create a vulnerable family situation.  More than one women we’ve worked with in this situation was sold by other family members into prostitution or childhood marriage after their mother died.  It’s the women that often shape the destiny of their children (and so on), for life or death, good or bad, health or sickness, protection or vulnerability.  This is real girl power.  And investing cash, through local programmes, to protect female health and safety throughout their most vulnerable times – as a baby girl, a potential bride, a new mother, leaves a legacy far beyond their own years.
  1. ‘I’d build schools‘… The majority of women we work with have very few educational or training experiences, and we have no doubt that this led to their initial vulnerability to be trafficked. Indeed, globally 31 million girls are not in primary school, with that rising to 34 million by secondary school[4].  Economic success, health, child birth, birth rates, employment are all correlated to % girls remaining in school – so any investment in this area makes great sense, especially if the schemes are grassroots developed, designed for the cultural nuances, beliefs and values in that region.
  1. ‘I would invest heavily in a mental health service. Amazingly, happiness is only 10% down to what happens to us, and 90% in how we respond[5].  The happiness advantage has the power to build our productivity, creativity, decision making[6].  So this suggestion of providing holistic mental health centres for women (and men) who need them, is a great one for long term recovery, productivity and reducing crime and poverty over time.
  1. ‘I’d open businesses to help others find a job’…: Our Sophie Hayes employability programme shows us that everyone has an idea, a possibility of how they could make money.  I love the use of microfinance, offering small loans to help women set up a business.  Successful microfinance creates more respect for women in their homes and communities, reducing abuse and increasing the stability of the family context, increasing the likelihood of children staying in school and therefore interrupting cycles of poverty to drive economic growth.
  1. I’d help others acquire skills to get into work and stability’ Microfinance is harder to implement in more prosperous economies. Perhaps a solution elsewhere is a more conscious capitalism, blending brilliant business with societal impact. Businesses absolutely can and do change the world….and it’s even more important now globalisation is placing our futures into the hands of corporate giants who can choose to cast a deep shadow or a shine a bright light.  I’d overinvest in finding and equipping the new Blake Mycoskie’s (TOM’s Founder) of this world – those who combine good business with good social impact, at a global level.  I’d infiltrate them to shape and create organisations that yes, provide employment and financial security, but also take a responsible approach to their footprint – reducing slavery in supply chains, fair trade providing fair wage, reducing corruption, honouring our planet.  This does everyone good.

[1] World Health Organisation. 2016

[2] All Girls Allowed, 2017.  www.allgirlsallowed.org.

[3] Girls not Brides, 2017.

[4] Unesco, 2013. Girls Education – The Facts.

[5] Shawn Achor.  2010. The Happiness Advantage. .

[6] Isen, A. (2000). Positive Affect and Decision Making.

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