Michaela Walsh, Women’s Finance Pioneer

Michaela Walsh, World Bank Foundation for Women. / WWB Colombia . Foundation

Photo: WWB Colombia

Until 1972, Wall Street, the main financial center of the United States and the world, did not involve any woman, because it was a world of business. The process was slow and women’s participation was still low.

A study by the consulting firm Deloitte showed that in 2019, women represented more than 50% of workers in the financial sector in the United States, but only 22% of managerial positions held them, and in 2030 this figure is expected to reach 31% in the states United.

Although the road to increasing women’s participation in the financial sector is still very long, there was a turning point in 1972, when Michaela Walsh, a financier and banker from Kansas, became the first woman to work on Wall Street as a representative for the Merrill Group. Lynch Corporation.

Walsh established a committee with participants from the World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975, to search for alternatives that would connect women to the formal financial system through credit. In 1979, she founded the Women’s World Bank (WWB), a global organization dedicated to providing financial services to women, serving the productive areas of the economy, with a focus on small and medium businesses.

Walsh initiated the operations of this network, facilitating access to credit and expanding financial services to the most vulnerable women. The United Nations Development Program has joined the WWB Network, to support the pooling of US$6 million in capital.

His work in Colombia focused on Cali, where the first meeting of the WWB took place, in 1979, where he accompanied the creation of the WWB Colombia, as a subsidiary of the WWB Network, with the support of Margarita Guzmán, who worked in the realization of the rural workshops of the National Federation of Coffee Growers, promoting the development of Small business owners and training them in the financial field.

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At 87 years old, Walsh continues to advise the WWB Foundation in Cali and tells of her experience accompanying the process of women’s economic empowerment around the world for more than forty years.

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What motivated you to go to Wall Street?

My idea is that women have more options and an easier path than I had. I wanted to go to Wall Street because there was money and work. I went to work in Lebanon and five years later, when I came back, I realized that they still don’t allow women to work in sales or jobs where the money is.

I wanted to work with people, so I started working on financial issues with teenage girls for several years, and in 1975 I attended the first UN Women meeting in Mexico. Since then I have never looked back.

How did you get started with the United Nations to support women’s economic independence?

When I started working with the United Nations, I knew nothing of international development. I knew about savings and international banking, so I had been learning and visiting five regions of the world for four years to determine the needs of women in economic matters. I found that women did not have access to banking services, because they needed the husband’s signature to access them; They were excluded from the financial system.

My goal was to focus on creating products designed for users, not investors. Although we didn’t know the details of how the business was done in those countries, the goal was to give women access to money to apply for loans and develop their businesses.

How does the World Bank for Women relate to the United Nations?

Our survey work for the regions with the United Nations was important, to identify the needs and problems of women, but for the second meeting of the World Bank for Women, the United Nations wanted to send observers. We told them no, because our goal was not to continue doing things as men do, as in a world with rules made by men, but to take advantage of the opportunities and solutions that can be generated from the work we have done.

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How has the World Bank for Women worked with organizations in Cali?

We contacted a German company and developed what was then known as the International Development Organization, which later became the World Bank for Women. The first meeting of that organization took place in Cali and I found that the work is done here with low-income women from the Carvajal Foundation so that they can get credit and financial services.

Why did you choose Cali to work in Colombia?

Cali is a model for the promotion of women independent organizations that should be expanded and made visible. What is important is that we encourage the development of women’s enterprises so that their voices are heard in the world. There are women who do things differently, some working in large conglomerates and some in smaller operations or in different fields, but from whatever field they are leaders who should be supported and promoted.

Banks focus on expanding the bank, and that’s fine, but the important thing is that through their institutions and organizations they can provide women with education, training, and confidence to be able to thrive in societies, and be owners of their own operations. and property, something that has not yet happened in many countries.

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What are the benefits to the economy of working for financial inclusion for women?

When we started, women had no banking services and the answer was that giving them these products posed too many economic risks for the entities. We need women to have equal access to the financial system, because studies have shown that if they have a higher income or earnings from their business, they invest up to three times as much as men in the health, education and nutrition of their families. This generates sustainable economic and social development, and positively affects the country’s growth and economy.

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How does Women’s Global Banking support women’s entrepreneurship and financial inclusion in countries where their rights remain restricted?

The constant call is to encourage women’s organizations and even international cooperation to raise their voices for women’s rights and respect for a decent life. The next head of the United Nations is likely to be a woman from the Caribbean; It would completely change the dynamics, as it would be a move to transform white men’s thinking about women’s participation.

What barriers still exist to accessing the financial system?

We need to tap the new generations, especially their great abilities with new technologies, so that we can uncover and understand where we come from, what our common points are, and look back, and identify processes that were outstanding and that still have potential. They can become new opportunities for equality.

The problem some time ago was the ability to get a job, which has persisted to a lesser extent, and now the challenge is to achieve equality.

Why is it important for more and more women to take on leadership and decision-making positions?

Women played an important role in taking care of the family, even while working. Women are aware of health and education in their homes, but in the societal sphere there are also nurturing homes: we care more about environmental issues; Likewise, the solutions we propose and our way of working are different, we do not imitate men.

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These characteristics are essential when making decisions, we need more women and diverse women in these positions to improve corporate sustainability, greater social impact and better corporate governance.

What can governments do to promote women’s participation in rural areas and in leadership roles?

They must create mechanisms so that more women participate in normative processes, so that they are the ones to rewrite and remove constraints that hinder women’s progress and independence, which, in the long run, also affect the development of countries.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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