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My Most Impactful Project Goes Public on Tuesday

Tuesday, March 29, at 10 AM ET/3PM GMT. Register here.

About a year ago, I began working with my friends Anja and Noa on a project that may well have more impact than anything I have ever done. Our final product was recently distributed throughout the World Bank. On Tuesday, it will be made available to the public.

Anja Robakowski-Von Stralen and Noa Gimelli both work for the World Bank. In fact, Anja is the Gender Coordinator for the Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions wing of the World Bank and Noa, acting in several roles, has been my "partner in crime" in the women's economic empowerment movement for a decade.

What we have now developed is a toolkit that teaches people to analyze multiple datasets and synthesize the information into a complete picture of a country's gender situation—and then use it to build a realistic, effective action plan to take down the constraints that hold women back. The toolkit has already been distributed to World Bank offices all over the world, with the expectation that officers will apply the knowledge to the many poverty-fighting programs they administer.

Distribution through the authority and wide reach of the World Bank is what makes me think this may be the most impactful thing I have ever worked on. To have all those people, all in positions where they affect the future every day, using this toolkit to make change—well, the significance that this could have takes my breath away. Indeed, the very fact that an institution of the stature of the World Bank is implementing this path to change is, in itself, a very big deal.

The toolkit comes complete with a carefully-curated collection of indicators that are accessible through a single link. (OK, so maybe not that tightly curated—there are 125+ measures—but we pored over them for months, trying to select the most relevant and powerful.) You just open up the page, choose a country from the drop-down menu, and it all pops up. Each measure can be explored further by links to the original source.

Then, there are guidelines on how to conduct interviews among people in that country, like government officials and private sector players, to illuminate and reconcile the hard indicators. Recommendations are made to augment all of it with narrative reports on the country's conditions and current programs, including even its history. Finally, there are instructions for putting it all together into a basis for action.

(The toolkit is framed as something to use for women's entrepreneurship. Don't be distracted by that if the topic seems narrow or out of your sandbox. This is something that can be used to design programs for any aspect of women's economic exclusion, from girls' education to inheritance rights. In fact, we are already doing exactly that for a pilot in Africa and, for years before we started this particular piece, we have each worked in a variety of situations where this wide range of indicators and the recommended methodology were relevant.)

Now, there are other places where you can get compilations of data by country—in fact, you can download a lot of it, one bit at a time, from the World Bank Data Bank. What makes this different is that (1) the measures have been selected for their relevance to forming effective policy recommendations and programs, and (2) they are intended to be used in conjunction with qualitative work, not instead of it. The idea is to undertake a multi-method approach to ensure what you do is solid.

But there is a still bigger idea here. The underlying assumptions are, first, that gender inequality can be recognized everywhere by the same set of indicators and, second, that the second-class treatment of women is harmful and should be changed everywhere.

For years, it has been common to assert that the gender conditions in each country are peculiar to that culture. And, the typical practice, in international policy and elsewhere, has been to declare that local practices subordinating women cannot be criticized or changed because each culture must be accorded its own singular, immoveable sovereignty. Under this dubious rule, some of the cruelest and most barbaric crimes against humanity are given a pass.

And yet the huge mass of data we now have has shown, unequivocally, that there is a distinctive global pattern to gender inequality and that the practices that keep it going are not benign. Gender inequality is devastating for whole societies, including having a positively toxic effect on economies, which is why the World Bank is taking on the challenge.

Now this is not to say you can ignore culture. When you use only the quantitative data to analyze the gender situation in a country, you virtually always project the presuppositions of another culture (yours) on the analysis, bringing to bear your own unfounded stereotypes and increasing the likelihood that your efforts might be ineffective or even cause harm.

So Anja, Noa, and I have been careful to emphasize that both kinds of data must be used. However, synthesizing the data this way is not a common skill. In particular, you must bring into your work measures that you would not normally use in an economic analysis, such as the availability of contraceptives and the prevalence of child marriage. Further, you have to learn to read across categories of information in order to discern the constraints being applied to women that do not affect men. Then, and only then, can you make a plan with real integrity.

Since most people are unaccustomed to working this way, we have also made a little presentation that elaborates, explains, and instructs. That presentation will be live on Tuesday, at 10 AM EST (3PM GMT) and will be open to the public.

I have been graciously allotted thirty minutes to explain the method of data analysis and feel super honored to be doing it. We have done this presentation once already for people internal to the Bank. Tomorrow, we speak to the world!

Please join us! We have only just begun to promote this and already more than a thousand people have signed up. You can register here.


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