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N° 26 – A Surreal Conversation with Christine Lagarde on Work, Women, and Poverty

Posted by Leila Janah on

Hello, friend.

I’m dashing off this week’s LXMI letter on the Acela train from DC to Philadelphia in the middle of the most insane week — I wanted to share a story from the road about Christine Lagarde, the inspiring head of the IMF and former French finance minister. 

I know. I’m supposed to be running a beauty company and sending you letters about moisturizer. But I can’t help it. To me, real beauty is as much about making a difference in the world as it is about self-care. 

My week began in Boston, where I spoke at Babson College to members of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership and met my friend Kerry Healey, Babson’s President and, along with Lagarde, one of my favorite #bossladies.

Somehow in 24 hours I made it back to SF, gave a talk at Dreamforce, and then took a redeye just in time for a panel with Christine Lagarde, Ray Kurzweil, Hilda Moraa, and John Chambers at the IMF (webcast here).

10 years ago, I worked in the Development Research Group at the World Bank, getting antsy about the impact I was making working on research that I feared no one would ever read or care about.

So it was surreal to go onstage at the IMF annual meetings speaking on behalf of our work at Samasource and LXMI and talking about building pro-poor businesses that help people escape poverty.

And it was even more surreal to have the support of the head of the IMF in making this point.

On stage, Ray Kurzweil made a popular argument I’ve heard from many people: “We should be thrilled! The world is better than it ever was thanks to reduced poverty and violent crime, and the decreasing cost of many goods and services."

While I agree on Kurzweil’s facts, I fear that blanket optimism makes us indifferent to the needs of those who are left behind. In today’s economy, those people include women (who do 66% of the world’s work, yet earn less than 10% of the income and own less than 1% of the assets, according to the ILO), ethnic minorities, and youth. 

We know that while average incomes around the world are going up, young people and those at the very bottom of the economic ladder are experiencing economic stagnation. Some blame old-school laws that protect IP and other business interests but were formed in a very different era, when software wasn’t yet eating every industry with zero-marginal cost solutions.

Lagarde interjected at one point and asked Kurzweil whether we needed to reform patent laws in order to seed a more shared prosperity.

It was all I could do not to get up and hug her. 

How amazing is this! The head of the IMF, an institution often criticized for siding with business interests over the needs of people (especially the poor), challenging a business leader on patents. On stage. In the IMF headquarters. In front of the media.

We need more boldness in these large bureaucracies. And we need more women leaders who bring a sense of humanity and compassion to the job.

xx

Leila

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