Investing in Equality: Leveraging Untapped Potential in Women, Girls, and People of All Genders - SecondMuse

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    How do we prioritize inclusion when tackling global challenges? Featuring insights from three incredible women on our team, Laura Benns, Sabrina Abdalla and Marie Mimiaga share stories and learnings from running programs aimed to build diverse and inclusive economies across key sectors.

    As we marked International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month this year, the SecondMuse team took some time to reflect on how gender equity enhances problem-solving and improves outcomes on a global scale.

    We believe that prioritizing inclusion — so that all voices can be heard and all genders can be represented — plays a crucial role in addressing  some of humanity’s most persistent challenges.

    Recognizing the Undervalued Role of Women in the Fight Against Climate Change

    Laura Benns, Director of Programs at SecondMuse in Asia Pacific, emphasizes the interconnected nature of today’s toughest challenges, especially within the climate sector. She points out that, “when looking to understand the link between gender inequality and climate change, it’s crucial to recognize that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it’s a complex web of interconnected social, economic, and environmental factors.”

    In our work across South and Southeast Asia, we’ve witnessed this complex web within the informal waste sector. Women play a critical role with 65% of the informal waste workers in Vietnam being female, while in Pune, India, this number can be as high as 90%. Despite this, women informal waste workers are especially disadvantaged. They face many challenges like lack of access to occupational safety and health, unstable incomes, and even face social discrimination.

    Laura notes, “In many communities across South and Southeast Asia, women also play a crucial role in agriculture. Climate change can lead to unpredictable weather patterns, affecting crop yields and food security. Women often have less access to resources, such as land and credit, making it challenging for them to adapt to these changes.”

    We can see the disparate impact of climate change in virtually every facet of life. The UN has pointed out that women are likely to face severe levels of job losses in the near future due to their high levels of participation in sectors like agriculture, which are on the front lines of climate change.  At the same time, women are often excluded from the clean technology and renewable energy sectors where their ideas and experience can help to make a difference.

    We strongly advocate that in order for meaningful change to occur,  women must be actively included in climate change efforts.

    Amplifying Women’s Voices on Climate Change

    Imagine what could happen if the women on the front lines of climate change – the people with the most direct experience of its consequences – could contribute their insights and vision to the global conversation.

    At Second Muse, we’ve witnessed this kind of transformation, again and again. Under The Incubation Network, we’ve worked with women to create and support innovative solutions to plastic waste management. Our team worked with EcoSattva Environmental Solutions  – a women-owned group – to support waste pickers in rural India to cross over into the formal sector and take on waste management projects for local villages and businesses. The result? Women gained valuable skills, formal employment, and a broader network, while local businesses and municipalities met their waste management needs.

    The Future Economy Lab Asia (FELA), a research and design project under SecondMuse Capital, supported by Visa Foundation, SecondMuse Foundation and in partnership with AVPN, dives deeper into understanding the barriers faced by women-led MSMEs  in South and Southeast Asia, and opportunities for transformation.

    Through extensive desktop research, in-depth workshops, and various stakeholder interviews, the research carried out by FELA found many specific challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in the region: women often don’t have physical assets to use as collateral for loans; they lack access to business networks; and investor biases make it harder for them to access traditional forms of capital.

    Laura shares, “Gender inequalities in decision-making processes also limit women’s participation in climate-related policy and planning. This lack of representation hinders the development of effective and inclusive climate solutions.”

    Overcoming the Obstacles to Accessing Capital

    FELA has developed six concepts to address several key opportunity areas in getting more accessible capital into gender-smart climate MSMEs in South and Southeast Asia. A Revolving Grant Fund will provide growth capital to gender-smart MSMEs with high growth potential but considered high risk or lacking creditworthiness. The recoverable grants/zero coupon loans between $150-$500K, will be for working capital and capex of MSMEs to help them scale their business models. This may be the first time these enterprises have been able to access capital of any form. The Fund will focus on the waste management and recycling sector, and harness the plastic credits market to increase sustainability of the mechanism.  

    A Blended Debt Fund will combine commercial and concessional capital to provide affordable debt capital for gender-smart MSMEs combating climate change more broadly. Interest rates will be linked to climate and gender outcomes, providing an incentive for portfolio businesses to achieve measurable impact. The loans will be between $150-$500K with flexible tenor, to unlock additional efficiencies of scale or capacity for overall business expansion for a wide range of climate-focussed businesses.   

    As Laura points out, “gender inequality and climate change are intertwined, with women often bearing a disproportionate burden of the impact. Addressing gender disparities is not just about promoting equality; it’s a critical aspect of building resilience and scaling sustainable solutions in the face of a changing climate.”

    Deepening Well-being Through Community Engagement

    Women and individuals from other marginalized genders or communities, often face mental well-being challenges that grow out of their environmental and social circumstances, which start at a young age. 

    We see this as an opportunity to listen, shift existing structures, and bring about change.

    What can women and girls teach us about health and wellness?

    Why are we facing such a widespread need for care, especially among our youths?

    How can we address these challenges while ensuring their voices are heard?

    Collaboration and Healing

    We believe that technology is not just a tool, but a platform for progress – a space for collaboration, connection, and growth. Rather than putting the blame entirely on technology, and seeing it as a challenge, we view it as an opportunity to bring about positive change. Though some research has pointed out potential pitfalls of digital platforms, it’s important to remember that these spaces aren’t inherently harmful. They are what we make of them.  

    In Headstream, we’ve implemented multiple youth programs that leverage youth collaboration in transforming digital platforms and technology towards inclusivity.

    Sabrina Abdalla, Program Manager  with our Headstream program said, “By actively involving youth in the design process, we tap into their fresh perspectives and innovative thinking, guaranteeing that the technologies we create are truly representative of their needs and aspirations. When we center youth in the creation process, we not only foster inclusivity but also pave the way for more equitable and impactful digital innovations.” 

    One of the programs is the Collab Lab, where we invite young people to re-imagine the digital spaces they spend most of their time in. We learned and witnessed the positive impacts of letting young people to work directly with leading tech practitioners to exchange ideas, identify harmful patterns, and work to create a better online experience.

    At the heart of Headstream is the Accelerator program, designed to support early-stage innovators in building technologies that are improving the digital experience for BIPOC, Latino, and LGBTQIA+ youth while also protecting their mental health. This program works hand-in-hand with the Youth Collective, another youth program that facilitates the co-creation and collaboration of young people and innovators from the accelerator to find more creative ways to improve their products, develop new features, and ensure youth voices are heard.

    What do all of these programs have in common? They offer people of all genders the chance to be active participants in their own future while helping to build strong, healthy communities.

    “Equipping young people, particularly those from systematically excluded  backgrounds, with the skills, tools, and networks needed to innovate strategies for supporting their mental well-being necessitates a multifaceted approach rooted in genuine listening and agency,” shared Sabrina.

    She further added, “This genuine listening forms the foundation for co-creating solutions that resonate with what they imagine is needed and developing innovative strategies tailored to their personal goals. Through these efforts, we not only equip young people with the tools and resources they need, but also recognize and uplift them as drivers of innovation and agents of positive change in mental well-being support systems.”

    Building Equity and Making Space for All Humans to Thrive

    We believe that true gender equality will be achieved when marginalized genders can fully engage with economies and communities. It’s helpful to think of equity as a dynamic relationship in which historically oppressed groups can reach their full potential and make valuable contributions.

    We strive to give equal access to opportunity, supporting ideas through innovation and inclusion that span across borders, educational backgrounds, cultures, and genders. Together, we can create, explore, learn and build an inclusive future, rich in opportunities and empowerment.. We’ve seen this in just about every aspect of our work, but it’s been especially striking in the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

    When women, trans, and non-binary humans are given equal access to opportunity, the whole world benefits from the resulting exchange of ideas and innovation. We’ve seen this in just about every aspect of our work, but it’s been especially striking in the  NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

    Equal Access to Information

    Funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division through a contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, Mindgrub, and SecondMuse, the NASA Space Apps Challenge is the largest annual global hackathon that invites coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, and innovators from across the globe to use NASA’s free and open data in creating innovative solutions to the challenges we face on Earth and in space. 

    Programs like the NASA Space Apps Challenge level the playing field, giving people of all genders the same access to opportunity. Marie Mimiaga, Program Director at SecondMuse, said, “At the NASA Space Apps Challenge, we say ‘there’s always space for one more’ as the program was designed for everyone to have a seat at the table. It doesn’t matter if it is your very first hackathon, if you have a technical background, or if you have more of a creative skill set, this innovation program embraces collaboration across borders, sectors, age, cultures, and genders.”

    Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion 

    At SecondMuse, we’ve always focused on growing healthy, strong, and inclusive networks made up of humans of all genders. For us, that commitment starts close to home. That’s why we’re dedicated to fostering resilience and mental health among our team members, so that they have room to flourish in all areas of their lives.  

    We maintain that same dedication to well-being and strength in all of our work. Whether we’re working with young people to create more inclusive online spaces, or working with women in Southeast Asia to foster innovative businesses, we always prioritize balance, diversity, and inclusion.

    Reach out to us to learn more about our mission and find out how you can be a part of our vital work.