Can Data Predict the Future of Women’s Economic Empowerment?

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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Cloudera Foundation websiteIn April 2021, the Cloudera Foundation merged with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

by Sonja Kelly, Mehrdad “Mehi” Mirpourian
Dec. 10, 2020

Women’s World Banking is starting on a journey to find out if data can predict the future of women’s economic empowerment—and we’d like you to follow along.

The task is daunting, even for a team of data scientists who love crunching the numbers. Many institutions—the World Bank, the EIU, Brookings Institution, the IMF, and Kantar, to name a few—have set out to track country-level progress toward access to and usage of financial tools. We know from these efforts, however, that the gap between women’s and men’s financial inclusion varies by country, according to the World Bank Global Findex (2018). For example, in Pakistan, for every one woman with an account there are five men. In Indonesia, men and women have very similar rates of account ownership. We also know that financial inclusion does not automatically translate to women’s economic empowerment. The picture is more complicated with social norms, legal and regulatory frameworks, technology access, on-ramps to financial inclusion, and other factors straining or improving the relationship between financial inclusion and economic empowerment among women.

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Our hypothesis is that a cluster of policies or enabling environmental factors facilitates women’s economic empowerment through financial inclusion. Fortunately, there are datasets developed by our peer institutions (some listed above) that explore the policy landscape, enabling environment, financial inclusion, and economic empowerment. We will use these datasets to look at key policies and track their correlation with outcome variables for women over time.

Through this data-driven exercise, we want to identify turnkey policies that unlock women’s economic empowerment through financial inclusion. With resulting recommendations, we will have evidence to drive our policy advocacy around the world. Once we build and test the model, we can project the results of interventions. For example, if a country reforms its movable collateral laws, what might that mean for women’s ease of doing business through the availability of business credit? If a country creates a universal ID system, do women have more agency over their household finances because they have easy access to a safe place to store their funds?

We are thrilled by this opportunity, as the Cloudera Foundation’s first Data4Change Accelerator grantee. This project gives us the freedom to explore what the data tell us, and flexibility if the data do not coalesce into a cohesive model. We are eager to move forward, with technical guidance, thought partnership and financial support from the Cloudera Foundation, and will keep you posted as we progress over the next six months.

Sonja Kelly is the global lead for Women’s World Banking research. Through research on the financial sector, policy trends, financial services providers, and end users, Sonja and her team advocate for women’s financial inclusion. Before joining Women’s World Banking, she advised the U.S. Department of State on strategy for U.S. Embassy engagement in digital finance around the world. She has served as the director of research at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, has held consulting roles at the World Bank and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and has worked in microfinance at Opportunity International. Sonja holds a PhD in International Relations from American University where she researched financial inclusion policy and regulation.

Mehrdad (Mehi) Mirpourian is a Senior Data Analyst with the Research team at Women’s World Banking. In this role, Mehi deploys advanced analytics to support different projects. Prior to joining Women’s World Banking, he was a Statistician (Fraud Data Scientist) with the New York City Department of Finance. Mehi holds an MS in Statistics (Baruch College), an MS in Management (Polytechnic University of Milan), and a BS in Industrial Engineering (K.N.Toosi University of Technology). He is a member of the Social Innovation Group of Polytechnic University of Milan and the Iranian Society of Industrial Engineers.