Remarks at the Innovation Awards For the Empowerment of Women and Girls Ceremony
Secretary of State
I want to thank Ambassador Verveer and her team for all the work that they have done in putting together these awards and in recognizing the importance of innovation in transforming the lives of women and girls around the world.
Over the past three years, we’ve been focused intently here at the State Department on the challenges facing women and girls, and we’ve done that not just because we think it’s a moral imperative and absolutely historically necessary. We’ve done that because we really believe that transforming the lives of women and girls transforms societies, countries, and our world. So we ask ourselves all the time how to create economic opportunities, how to improve women’s social and cultural standing, how to open up governments and political processes to women.
It is, for us, part of what we call “smart power.” The full participation of women is essential in order to raise the GDPs in every economy in the world, including our own; essential for achieving the peace and security objectives of American foreign policy; and we know that working with women and on their behalf can open doors for employment, healthcare, and education, which have ripple effects that lift entire communities, foster peace, prosperity, and stability.
But all that potential goes untapped when women have few resources and little support. That’s why two years ago, the State Department partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to establish the Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Now, these awards support our most creative thinkers and committed activists. Under the leadership of Dr. Judith Rodin, the Rockefeller Foundation understood that we could, together, enhance our impact and help unleash potential that would otherwise not be available.
So the innovations we’re supporting today help overcome some everyday challenges. For example, if women farmers in impoverished areas can’t afford irrigation equipment to grow profitable crops, how do we work with them to put the right tools at the right price in their hands? If jobs are out there but out of reach, what does it take to connect women with employers? If women and girls face dangerous and unpredictable work conditions, how can we help them organize, speak out for themselves, demand the protection and compensation they deserve?
We really believe – in fact, we know – that targeting specific problems with carefully tailored solutions can pay enormous dividends. Now, there are people who have been doing this for a long time around the world. One of them served on our screening committee for the awards, Muhammad Yunus. We’ve seen the difference that creative innovations can make, but we’ve also been absolutely amazed at what combining social media and the internet with good ideas can do to actually increase exponentially the impact of what our efforts are. So these awards may be facing age-old problems, but they are coming up with 21st century innovations.
Now, it’s only possible for us to do this because of strong, effective partnerships. Government can’t do it alone, the private sector can’t do it alone, civil society can’t do it alone. So what we’ve done is to try to bring people together in these partnership networks. That’s why we set up the Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls, which enables us to work with private sector partners to target funding. It’s why we created the incredible partnership office here so that we can work with a wide variety of partners. And with this award, the Rockefeller Foundation is fulfilling the promise of the International Fund for Women and Girls.
Now, I want to have just a moment of personal privilege here, because it’s exciting to see these three young women sitting here on this stage. I will be introducing them one by one as our award winners. But I think it’s very important to recognize that we have to empower young people – young men and young women. So we have begun a big youth initiative here at the State Department, and I rolled it out and announced it in Tunis about two weeks ago. Because honestly, innovation is a young person’s game, by and large. (Laughter.) So I want to encourage – I see some young people out there. I want to encourage you to take this work and just keep thinking and building on it.
So let me now begin by recognizing our awardees. These are innovators who are making a difference in India, Kenya, and Tanzania. These are people who looked at a problem and said, “I refuse to accept this. I’m going to do something about it.” And after I introduce each one, I’m going to ask them to say a few words to you, because obviously it’s more important to hear from them than it is for me.
Now, most Indian cities rely on workers from the informal sector to recycle their waste. These workers represent a small part of the population, but what they do can reduce a city’s waste by 20 percent. This is dangerous, dirty work – picking through garbage to remove recyclable material. Exposure to toxins and pollutants put their health at risk.
At the same time, the industry receives absolutely no formal legal recognition. There’s no system for protecting workers from danger or ensuring that they are treated fairly. Chintan, an Indian nonprofit, is working on the ground to train and organize waste pickers and to eliminate child labor from their ranks. This group is advocating for those who work in the informal sector, pushing for recognition, basic protections, and fundamental dignity.
Chintan’s efforts have reached more than 20,000 waste pickers in India in the past five years. More than 2,000 children have been pulled out of the trash heaps and put on a path toward education and opportunity. Chintan’s work in advocacy and research has expanded beyond local concerns and is helping change the way we understand informal labor sectors around the world.
It is also a stark reminder about why we must protect and advocate for the rights of workers to organize. In advanced economies, it is sometimes easy to forget what used to happen in our own factories, on our own shop floors, in so many industries where, yes, children were exploited and people’s working conditions were dreadful.
So, for all of these reasons, it is a pleasure to welcome Chintan’s founder, Bharati Chaturvedi. Thank you so much, Bharati. (Applause.)
MS. CHATURVEDI: Secretary of State Clinton, Dr. Rodin, on behalf of all these women and young girls who scavenge through the Indian middle class’s trash, I want to thank you for acknowledging them. The organization that I work with, Chintan, creates green jobs. We convert waste into social wealth, not just wealth. And these women I work with, their children don’t go to school. It’s hard for them to get in because there’s a lot of discrimination, and they experience a new kind of untouchability, even though what they’re doing is recycling our trash in a country that’s becoming more and more affluent.
We will use this award to get a lot of young girls into school out the trash heaps, but also create more and more green jobs for women waste pickers. But most of all, because poor women feel and experience the brunt of climate change, we also want to talk about how they can be foot soldiers in the battle against climate change. And through green jobs, we can really transform how cities in India – and India is an urbanizing country – how they experience just being better, more equitable cities and more inclusive of these people.
And we hope that this recognition helps us get Indians to recognize and embrace and acknowledge waste because – and realize that their work is important, not only for the recycling, but also because it makes our existence on this planet more sustainable. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so very much for what you’re doing. And I also just want to make sure everyone knows and to announce that each of these recipients will receive $500,000 to assist them in their work. So we’re making a very big investment in each of these programs because we believe in their missions and we believe in their leadership.
Now, around the world there is an unmet demand for digital service jobs, tasks that can be performed online anywhere in the world for companies in the United States and elsewhere. In the world’s most impoverished areas, as many as 70 percent of the population is unemployed, but the people there don’t have the training or education or the technology to do the jobs that online digital jobs can provide.
In Kenya, Samasource is approaching this problem from two angles: first, providing women and girls with the training they need to do these online jobs; second, providing access to the internet so that this untapped workforce can connect with a waiting job market. So far, Samasource has connected more than 2,000 women with these jobs.
This new way of bringing opportunity to impoverished areas has gotten a lot of attention. Samasource is partnering with investors like the Ford Foundation, the eBay Foundation, and Google.org. I had the privilege of meeting its founder last fall and was very intrigued and impressed by what she was doing. I had no idea that she was going to be selected for this award, but I am delighted that she has been. And I want to welcome to the podium and introduce to you Leila Janah. (Applause.)
MS. JANAH: So a couple of days ago I was in San Francisco and I visited my favorite spot, which is the MLK Memorial in the center of the city. And I re-read one of Dr. King’s most favorited quotes. He said in 1964, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can afford three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” And that was the year that we passed the Civil Rights Act. But now, 50 years later, women are still so far from achieving their economic potential in the world. Women account for 66 percent of the world’s output, and yet earn less than 10 percent of the income, and own less than one percent of the property. That’s a one percent that we don’t hear very much about these days. (Laughter.) So I think today’s award ceremony is really about turning that around. We are so thrilled to accept this award from three visionary women, Secretary Clinton, Dr. Rodin, and Ambassador Verveer, who have each devoted a substantial part of their lives to advancing women and girls.
We plan to use this transformational grant to employ one thousand women across our centers in East Africa through microwork, which is an innovative model that connects them directly into the supply chains – the digital supply chains of some of the world’s largest companies, like Intuit and eBay. And what’s really amazing about our program is that, beyond just the income, these women start viewing themselves as equal members of society. They start voting, they start demanding equal access to things, they start investing in the health care and education of their children. I really look forward to the day when Dr. King’s belief does not seem so audacious, particularly for the 50 percent of the world’s population that’s currently waiting to unleash its potential. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Leila. Now in Tanzania, women farmers cannot often afford the tools they need to irrigate their crops, which makes it much harder to keep their crops healthy and profitable, especially during the dry season. So a few years ago the NGO, KickStart – I love that name, KickStart – developed the MoneyMaker Hip Pump. (Laughter.) It costs about $30, it looks sort of like a big bicycle pump, and this new irrigation tool allows women to grow fruits and vegetables throughout the year. It’s lightweight and easy to use. And now KickStart has introduced a micropayment program so that women can pay for it over time if they need to.
This initiative is transforming agriculture for women in Tanzania and I predict soon will across the continent and the world, because if you just stop and think, that 60 to 70 percent of the small-hold farmers in the world are women, this has enormous potential. I think the last figure we saw was, as of January, nearly 30,000 pumps have been sold. This is a model that can be replicated again and again. By harnessing technology and spurring entrepreneurship, KickStart is changing the way we work to alleviate poverty and promote development. So I’m very pleased to present the Secretary’s Innovation Award to KickStart, and I’d like to invite Anne Otieno to accept the award. She is Tanzania’s Country Manager.
MS. OTIENO: Thank you so much. I’m really honored to be here. It’s actually my first time in America. It’s a great honor to really come and receive this award on behalf of KickStart Tanzania. But I just want to share with us a little bit about what we do back at home in Tanzania. Like, you’ve already heard – that in rural Africa, 80 percent of them are poor farmers. And out of that, we at KickStart, we have introduced the MoneyMaker pump which has helped many to start agribusiness through irrigation, because many families in Africa wait for the rain. But when they’re able to irrigate their land, they’re able then to start to grow high value crops, which means that they’re able to sell crops when nobody else is selling, they’re able to get access for their crops, which is not so during the rainy season because everybody else is already doing it.
So in KickStart Tanzania, we’ve been able to work with women. We’ve seen many of the women being able to lift their lives out of poverty by starting small agribusiness through the MoneyMaker pump. The only obstacle around it has been, women have to save for it – they have to save for like eight months to be able to buy the pump. Now with the new layaway mobile system that we want to start, we will be able then to turn around and get many women to be able to get the pumps within two and a half months – about 10 weeks. And so that way, we will be empowering more women to get out of poverty. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, I have to say that this is one of these programs that gets me very excited and encouraged, because we are answering needs, fostering innovation, helping to recognize young leaders like these young women. And we couldn’t do it alone. We do need partners and I want to invite my friend and my partner, Dr. Judith Rodin, to the podium. Judith’s visionary leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, now at the Rockefeller Foundation, is opening up a lot of space to do things that just were not even imagined in the past. So Judith, please.
MS. RODIN: Thank you so much. Let me begin by thanking Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Verveer for their extraordinary leadership, not only as really living wonderful examples of the embodiment of achievements of women, but also for their enduring commitment and empowering others and raising awareness of so many of the world’s most pressing and most important challenges, particularly those facing women and girls.
I’d like to congratulate this terrific group of winners. This is the inaugural Secretary’s Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. And you’ve heard from them and you can understand why we’re so excited about them. We are thrilled at the Rockefeller Foundation to be able to provide the funding for these awards and to be associated with these amazing group of innovators. And we believe that with this half a million dollars, there can be really acceleration of what are wonderful models, bringing them further to scale. There are so many terrific pilots that falter because of that lack of next-step funding, and when we talked about what this award could do, we really felt that we could take some of those pilots and give them that accelerating capital that would move things forward and begin to help taking it to scale. And it’s critical that we do more of that.
For almost 100 years now, the Rockefeller Foundation has been enabling innovations and investing in innovation that have led to huge improvements in the well-being of humanity. From funding an unknown scholar named Albert Einstein to catalyzing the field of public health around the world, to creating the green revolution in Asia, the Rockefeller Foundation has always been committed to identifying and then supporting innovation, scaling them and applying them to the most pressing challenges facing humankind.
The innovators here today have made great strides in one of these critical challenges: the empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the developing world. But as Leila said, the story is far from over. The problems facing women and girls worldwide are still very real. We’ve heard the statistics about work. We know that 70 percent of the world’s one billion people living in poverty, still living in poverty, are women. And we know that despite the fact that the majority of the producers of food, the growers of food in the developing world are women, they make up 60 percent of the chronically hungry.
At the Rockefeller Foundation, one of our primary objectives is to expand opportunity for more people in more places around the world. And so I’m particularly delighted that these three winners are really focusing on economic empowerment. Chintan’s innovative work on green jobs and advocacy and organizing in India is an incredible example of really bringing all of these things together. I’d like to again, take a moment of personal privilege and express Rockefeller’s special pride in the other two award winners because they are or have been our grantees: Samasource and KickStart, doing extraordinary work that you’ve heard about.
These award winners really demonstrate the power of innovation to accelerate the well-being of humanity, and it is exciting to see three young women sitting here because they hold the keys to the future. I want to thank Secretary Clinton again for using her inimitable star power to shine a light on these organizations and for challenging all of us to continue to support innovations like these and to bring them to scale to ensure that their benefits are shared by more people around the world. That is really how we will ultimately solve these pressing global challenges. Thank you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: So this brings us to the end of our ceremony this morning, but to the beginning of greater innovation and impact around the world. We congratulate our awardees, wish them well, thank them for what they’ve done and will continue to do. We thank Dr. Rodin for this collaboration. And of course, we thank our Secretary for her extraordinary leadership. Thank you all for joining us. (Applause.)