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Techsauce has had the pleasure of meeting, interviewing and learning from some incredible people recently, and Elie Losleben Calhoun is no exception.
The global impact that Elie's company 'Code Innovation' has generated in terms of elevating and empowering women in underprivileged communities by supporting financial inclusion through technology will be set to revolutionise the way women access, save and generate money.
Read on for the in-depth overview of this serial female entrepreneur...
I’ve always been interested in how technology is created and how it works. I am a serial entrepreneur and joined the technology industry when I started working for UNICEF more than a decade ago. UNICEF was growing their innovation section which is now a global leader in the blockchain, impact investing and leveraging tech for equality.
Code innovation is around ten years old now and was born out of our interest, in particular, using ICT and mobile technology to help address poverty and inequality.
We have gone on to build the largest platform for women’s savings group in the world. The Self Help Group Platform supports women entrepreneurs from extreme poverty, particularly in Africa and South Asia, as they save and lend to each other and start businesses. These groups are savings and private lending cooperatives for women to empower themselves and take collective action for their financial and social empowerment.
Code Innovation can position ourselves in a unique place as we are open-source and agile, with a core team who leverage our skills by bridging the gap between the technical and the non-technical teams. Because we are funded with grant money, we have had a safe environment to innovate as we don’t have investors. We can work at a slower, more collaborative pace to design new features of the platform with our local partners. What this means is that local governments or groups that have created women’s savings groups can use our app from anywhere in the world. It has been developed in 10 languages already.
Financial inclusion is at the heart of the Self Help Group Digital Platform as it supports group members economic and social empowerment. The groups themselves need facilitators, which is where our Android app comes in (called “Self Help Group”) because they are the ones using our app. The app helps them keep track of the groups they run, and they have access to a standardised, localised curriculum so they can be more confident that the group will go well.
One of the most exciting things is to build where there is a gap in the market. Working with the unbanked and helping onboard people to the digital world via mobile is one of our main objectives.
The hardest thing is getting funding for projects at the early stages, particularly for social impact or projects that are for the global public good. For example, I made an app for survivors of sexual assault or who needed emergency healthcare in the world, which is now being used in over 21 countries around the globe (www.rapecrisiscounseling.org). The app gives crucial information for survivors or the friends and family supporting them. There is also a training primer for people who want to become rape crisis volunteers in their communities. However, looking back on that project, finding funding to work on tech that addresses gender issues was harder than I thought it would be.
I travel a lot, and I find that across the world there are very real variables, country to country, in the way that people and communities are focused on empowering women. If we want to leverage the global intelligence of humanity, we need women at the table. We need to empower women entrepreneurs in their communities to facilitate and empower other women.
The Edmund Hillary Fellowship is based in Aotearoa New Zealand and has attracted fellows from all over the world. I am a fellow, and this is how I met Amarit Charoenphan who is the first fellow from Thailand. The Edmund Hillary Fellowship (www.ehf.org) gives fellows a Global Impact Visa to New Zealand, so we can base our social ventures here and create global connections with the amazing projects already here. New Zealand has some incredible advantages, including a thriving technology community known for social innovation.
The more that tech becomes developed and integrated into the daily lives of people around the world, the more we need to think about how we will create tech for social and economic empowerment, especially for women.
Globally, female entrepreneurs are on the rise. However, there is still a significant gap in a lot of fundamental aspects (such as business relationships between male investors & female entrepreneurs)
Within the tech industry, good networks are essential for empowering women. Introducing each other, connecting each other and invitations to conferences to speak are all crucial. It’s about working with the systems that are already in place while supporting diverse entrepreneurs who will disrupt the system.
Bio of Elie Losleben Calhoun
has dedicated her life to social and financial empowerment and equity. For over a decade, Elie has created platforms that leverage the power of exponential technology to scale social change where its needed most. At UNICEF for many years, she worked on digital media advocacy for children confronted by chronic emergencies and saw the power of technology to mobilise people as agent of positive change. She then went on to create Code Innovation (https://www.codeinnovation.com/what-we-do) which has attracted Think Tanks from the Singularity Univeristy and educational Ventures from Silicon valley where the subject of technology and the 'Global Impact Programs' were developed.