Saturday, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, when we celebrate the vital contributions of free media around the world. Unfortunately, journalists, independent media outlets, and the legal and constitutional freedoms they depend on to do their jobs are all under attack in many parts of the world.
Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy — without a free media to provide citizens with the information they need to hold elected leaders accountable, the institutions of democracy simply cannot function.
The latest edition of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, released on Friday, shows that the proportion of the global population living in countries with a free press has declined to its lowest level in over a decade — just 14 percent. The growth of new online and social media outlets in particular has triggered an authoritarian backlash as countries from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela to Thailand crack down on these new forms of communication.
This Saturday, April 5, marked the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act (JOBS Act), which paved the way for “equity crowdfunding” in the United States.
This year, the crowdfunding community celebrated that anniversary as Global Crowdfunding Day. While rules are still being drafted to make equity crowdfunding a reality in U.S., the broader crowdfunding world has already grown by leaps and bounds since that act was signed into law.
Simply put, crowdfunding allows anyone to invest in making an idea a reality — whether it’s a new product, a business, a book, movie, album, or video game, or a charitable project. By harnessing the power of the Internet and social media, crowdfunding platforms let people with innovative ideas harness donations as small as $1 from thousands or tens of thousands of people around the world who share their enthusiasm.
Someday, equity crowdfunding will allow these contributors to earn a return on their investment when they invest in a project like Oculus Rift, which was recently bought by Facebook for $2 billion. In the meantime, however, there is no shortage of creative ideas and potential in the crowdfunding community.
Facebook made headlines on Tuesday when it announced it would acquire Oculus Rift, a maker of virtual reality headsets, for $2 billion. Such acquisitions are not unusual in Silicon Valley — just last month, Facebook bought chat service WhatsApp for $19 billion. What’s unique about Oculus Rift is that it started as a project on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
Under the Kickstarter model, backers contribute to projects because they want to see them made. The most they can expect to receive is a copy of the finished product and a token of appreciation. The more than 2,000 backers who gave less than $275 to the Oculus project received only items like T-shirts and posters, along with the hope of one day being able to buy the VR headset in stores.
Some backers were outraged at the sale. If those who received a headset had instead received a share of the company, a $300 investment would result in a $20,000 payout (after accounting for subsequent venture capital funding.)
Even in difficult environments where women’s economic and political participation is constrained by law or culture, the impressive women in CIPE’s networks find ways to create opportunity for themselves and become leaders in their communities and industries. Wrapping up our celebrations of International Women’s Day, we would like to continue the annual tradition of suggesting influential women leaders that are worth following on Twitter.
The women’s empowerment initiative Lean In made headlines recently by partnering with Getty Images to produce “a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them.”
Lean In was launched by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg with the publication of a book by the same name encouraging women to become more ambitious and make the best use of their opportunities. Among other things, the organization hopes to see more women running companies and serving on corporate boards — which, despite the decades of progress women have made in the workplace, remains shockingly rare.
Only one in ten board members worldwide are women, and just 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs. While women now make up 40-50 percent of the workforce in many countries, the upper echelons of the business world are still overwhelming male-dominated.
CIPE recently helped support the first-ever Women’s Chamber in Papua New Guinea.
It is a simple fact of economic development that no policy or program will succeed if it leaves half of the population out of the equation. In far too many countries around the world, women are denied opportunities to participate fully in economic and political life. Barriers that prevent women entrepreneurs from starting and growing their businesses or shut them out of positions of power in corporations, governments, and business associations not only deny opportunity to women themselves — they hold all of society back.
This is why CIPE works to make sure that women are empowered to develop their power base, advocate for reform, and exert their own leadership to change their operating environment politically, culturally, and economically. Whether it is through the formation of women’s business associations, changing laws to allow women to own property and access capital, or working with young women to develop their entrepreneurial potential, women’s empowerment is often central to CIPE’s mission and to our partners’ agendas for democratic and economic reform.
In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, the CIPE Development Blog will focus this week and next on stories of how CIPE is helping enable women around the world to build their own future and seize their own opportunities.
Follow all of our women’s day coverage at the IWD tag here on the blog.
Jon Custer is Social Media / Communications Coordinator at CIPE.
Think tanks play a vital role in any democratic society, providing policy analysis, carrying out advocacy campaigns, and keeping politics focused on key policy issues. Particularly in developing countries or societies in transition, a good think tank can make enormous contributions to democracy — as in Ghana, where CIPE partner IEA sponsored the first-ever presidential debates and helped ensure a smooth and peaceful electoral process in 2008.
The important role played by many of CIPE’s think tank partners around the world was confirmed again this year by the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania. In their annual list of global “go-to” think tanks, at least 14 current and former CIPE partners were listed among the most influential in their respective regions and even globally.