Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Honoring Women of Courage

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, March 8, 2012
Women march through central Ankara, Turkey, to commemorate International Women's Day, March 8, 2012 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This post is co-authored with Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.

The past year represented some extraordinary moments for women. It began with a revolution in Tahrir Square, where women organized and led historic protests. It ended with a Nobel Peace Prize recognizing three extraordinary leaders who have led women in Liberia and Yemen to reach for democracy and human rights. Read more »

Uneven Progress for Arab Women

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Women walk past graffiti of an electoral slogan for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Toukh, Egypt, December 31, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

In honor of International Women’s Day, Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, asked a cross-section of female scholars, activists, business executives, journalists, politicians, and officials to comment on how women have fared in the Arab uprisings. The answers, especially from women living in the thick of it in Middle Eastern countries, are depressingly negative—and sometimes scathing. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Banking for the Poor, Reform in China, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, March 5, 2012
A customer has his money ready at a store in the sprawling Kibera slums in Kenya's capital of Nairobi, April 23, 2010 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights topics from financial services for the poor to Venezuela’s presidential race. I hope you enjoy the selection.

  • Banking for the Poor: Quality matters as much as quantity in expanding financial services to the poor, suggests a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Pascaline Dupas and co-authors first offered a random sample of rural Kenyans a savings account with no opening fees and simplified procedures. More than 60 percent opened an account, but only 28 percent made at least two deposits in the following year. Surveys suggested that many feared “embezzlement, unreliable services, and transaction fees.” Working with another group of Kenyans, the researchers offered vouchers that made it easier to receive loans. Six months later, only 3 percent had started to apply. According to surveys, recipients feared losing their collateral if they could not repay their loan. Clearly, financial services must be appealing and trustworthy—not simply available—if low-income people are to use them. Read more »

Guest Post: Putin and Russia’s Electoral Hoops

by Isobel Coleman Friday, March 2, 2012
Workers attach a pre-election poster featuring Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the southern city of Krasnodar, November 24, 2011 (Eduard Korniyenko/Courtesy Reuters).

International election observation can be an effective way to expose electoral manipulation and encourage democratic reform. But observers’ reports can be used for good as well as ill, and determined governments can also simply ignore them. Judith Kelley, an associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, writes here about Vladimir Putin’s handling of election monitors in advance of Russia’s presidential election on Sunday. Kelley is the author of Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works, and Why it Often Fails, forthcoming this month from Princeton University Press, and she is also featured in this week’s Economist. Read more »

Investing in Female Entrepreneurs: The Impact of Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women”

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, March 1, 2012
Rosalie Mukangenzi (third from right), the owner of a flour milling business in Rwanda and graduate of the Goldman Sachs "10,000 Women" initiative, with her employees (Photo credit to Isobel Coleman).

Four years ago this month, Goldman Sachs invited me to attend the launch of 10,000 Women, a $100 million philanthropic initiative, which at the time, was the largest in Goldman’s history. The goal of the five year program is to provide business and management training to 10,000 underserved female entrepreneurs in developing countries. Why? Goldman’s own research (and that of many others) shows that female education is a driver of macroeconomic growth. Moreover, there was (and still very much is) a stark need to expand access to business education for women in emerging markets. When Goldman launched 10,000 Women, there were only 2,600 women attending MBA programs in all of Africa, a continent of 900 million people. Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has estimated that if African women were given equal access as men to vocational training and technology, the continent’s economy would expand by at least 40 percent. Read more »