TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
April 5, 2000
I first met Cate Muther last October when the President and I hosted a
White House Conference on Philanthropy. She was part of a panel exploring
the power of the new economy to transform charitable giving.
Soon, I discovered that Cate and I had something in common. Each of us had
traveled to Bangladesh to visit the Grameen Bank, where the concept of microcredit,
or small loans, originated. And both of us returned to this country inspired
by the power of these loans to enable even the poorest of women to start
businesses, lifting their families -- and their communities -- out of poverty.
I first heard about the Grameen Bank over 20 years ago, when Bill and I
invited the bank's founder, Mohammad Yunus, to Little Rock to help us introduce
microcredit lending programs into some of the poorest rural communities
in Arkansas. Since then, as I've traveled around the world, I have seen
the power of small loans to improve the lives of women and their families.
And I've been constantly amazed by the rates at which these loans are repaid
-- rates that make them the envy of commercial banks. On his recent trip
to Bangladesh, the President also had the opportunity to meet some of the
women whose lives have been transformed by the loans they received from
Over the past two decades, I have encouraged the creation of microcredit
projects in every corner of the world, including our own country. Meanwhile,
Cate, who had been the senior marketing officer at the networking giant
Cisco Systems, drew on her private sector experience and what she had witnessed
in Bangladesh to start the Women's Technology Cluster. The first incubator
specifically targeted to female high-tech entrepreneurs, the WTC was the
first project of the Three Guineas Fund, a foundation that Cate funded herself
and named after a Virginia Woolf essay on philanthropy and women's financial
Both the Three Guineas Fund and the WTC reflect the philosophies of microcredit
lending. For although the economic plight of a poor woman in Bangladesh
who wants a loan to buy a second milk cow or a sewing machine may seem worlds
away from that of a technology entrepreneur in San Francisco, the bottom
line is this: No matter where they live, women need help breaking down the
barriers to capital.
Last week, I traveled to an old San Francisco neighborhood called Dogpatch
to meet Cate and participate in a round-table discussion with some of the
women whose companies are now part of the cluster.
I met Gina Johnson, whose web site, RosePlace.com, offers resources to those
who care for senior citizens. And Lavonne Luqies, who was recently named
one of the Top 100 Influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic
Business magazine. She hopes her web site, Latino.com, will become the premier
cultural portal for the Latino community. Finally, as we watched, CEO Tiffany
Bass Bukow launched MsMoney.com, her new financial services site, designed
specifically for women.
At the WTC, these women and their businesses receive inexpensive office
space, business consulting and mentoring services, discounted health insurance
and long-distance rates, and shared staff support and facilities. Most importantly,
though, they have access to a network of experts, business mentors and programs
that help them attract capital investment.
As Cate explains it, "More than 30 percent of new women-owned businesses
are in the technology field. But accessing capital continues to be a systematic
problem for women entrepreneurs. The Women's Technology Cluster is a model
for breaking these structural and cultural barriers." Muther's goal
is twofold: to provide women with the help they need to break through the
barriers, while, at the same time, developing a new generation of philanthropists.
As I have observed in places around the country and around the world, when
women become full economic partners in their communities, they are likely
to become philanthropists as well. At the WTC, Cate is banking on that fact.
Each CEO who participates in the incubator must pledge 2 percent of the
value of her company to an equity reinvestment fund. Over time, Muther expects
two things to happen: First, the WTC will become financially self-sustaining.
And second, as they participate in the decisions about how to support the
existing charitable endeavors in their communities, every entrepreneur will
become an active and engaged philanthropist.
What I saw at the WTC last week is a remarkable example of how the blessings
and opportunities of the Internet Age can be extended to increasing numbers
of Americans. Not only is Cate Muther opening the doors of Silicon Valley
to women, giving them the opportunity to join the ranks of successful high-tech
entrepreneurs, she is also fostering a culture of charitable giving, turning
entrepreneurs into philanthropists. It's a wonderful idea, and an example
that I hope others will follow.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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