Name: Debbie Watkins, CEO & Co-Founder, Lucy
I’m British, based in Singapore, and have been living in Asia for the past 20 years. I’ve lived in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and worked in 35+ other countries from DR Congo to Pakistan to Papua New Guinea, with a focus throughout this time on increasing financial inclusion through the use of technology. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Lucy, a neobank designed from the ground up to help women entrepreneurs become unstoppable.
Linked In: @debbie-watkins
Content, in various forms, has helped shape our strategy. At the beginning, this was in the form of various research that has been published online, including this research from the Boston Consulting Group and this article from HBR that demonstrated the potential for supporting women entrepreneurs.
The more we looked, the more we found information that reinforced how underserved women entrepreneurs were - at all socio-economic levels, all around the world - and also learned that this has been recognised by people like Melinda Gates, but still not enough is being done to address the gap.
In our Annual Letter, @BillGates and I reflect on the hard work, heroism, and global cooperation that brought us closer to ending this pandemic, and why prioritizing equity must come next.— Melinda Gates (@melindagates) January 27, 2021
I hope you’ll read it. https://t.co/dGxiepq0Zm
The extent of content we found online reinforced our own in-depth experiences in financial inclusion across Asia and beyond, and built our confidence that what we were planning to do was not just based on personal opinion, but was a very real need.
Content has also been very useful in seeing trends in economies and ways of working since COVID-19 - especially a growth in micro and small businesses, an accelerated increase in the “gig economy”, and a reduction in long-term formal employment. According to the Wall Street Journal and London Loves Business, new businesses are being created faster this year than any other in the decade, and individual stories such as these of women in Singapore adds depth to these statistics.
Starting and growing a business is a scary and lonely proposition for many people, especially those who have spent most of their lives in the comparative comfort of salaried employment. Online posts from women like Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, has highlighted that those that are now recognised names also face the same challenges and self-doubt (and are willing to be open about it) - and this made it clear for us that in order to help women entrepreneurs to grow and thrive, an empowering community was needed that went beyond only financial services.
I have personally worked in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Kyrgyzstan. I have seen first hand that, despite cultural and socio-economic differences, the aims of female entrepreneurs the world over are the same - to build businesses that provide financial stability and increased opportunities for their families; to save for unexpected future costs or special events; to have security when they are older; and to make a positive impact on their communities. The issues facing them are largely the same, too: building a small business from the ground up requires access to relevant and responsibly-priced financial services; the tools and know-how to develop an effective strategy and keep control of cashflows; not to mention the ability to persevere and have belief in yourself. In both developing and developed economies, women in particular face an uneven playing field with regard to many of these issues.
The developing world has always been a hub of microenterprise - driven largely by necessity rather than opportunity, in the absence of formal employment. The changes in the world of work under the “new normal” made me realise that, contrary to the common way of thinking, now could be the time that the developed world could learn from the developing one.
Could women entrepreneurs in Singapore or Canada have something to learn from those in Sri Lanka or Cambodia? How can learnings from one be adapted to the other, so that women worldwide who want to start and grow their own businesses are equipped with the tools and services they need?
Supporting new and emerging women-run businesses in developed countries can help increase the momentum of a positive ripple effect in productivity and the economy, while supporting women entrepreneurs in developing countries remains of key importance. I strongly believe that helping women entrepreneurs across all socio-economic divides is the key to an effective post-pandemic rebuild/reset.