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How life’s twists helped Lisa Mensah find her passion

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews between expert panelists for the Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls. Lisa Mensah works to make sure business owners who “don’t get a fair shake” can get the capital they need to grow. She’s the president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), which…

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews between expert panelists for the Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls. 

Lisa Mensah works to make sure business owners who “don’t get a fair shake” can get the capital they need to grow. She’s the president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), which provides capital, advocacy, and capacity building to community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Driven by a mission to serve rural, urban and Native communities underserved by mainstream finance, CDFIs lend to small businesses and community developers who build thriving communities. 

Lisa brings her experience working at the crux of finance and advocacy to the Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls. As one of our expert panelists, she helps us decide what organizations will receive funding from Google.org to help women and girls reach their full economic potential. I recently sat down with her to learn more about her path to OFN and why supporting women-led businesses is crucial. 

What got you started on your path? 

I’m from a bi-racial, bi-cultural family, and lived in Ghana as a young kid. I always thought I would do something in international relations. 

While I was getting my master’s degree, I was most interested in helping refugees and women in developing countries. But I felt I was missing out on powerful conversations — often led by men — on how nations develop. These conversations were frequently about money. So, my path pointed me to the financial industry, where I could be involved in strategic decision-making that would ultimately affect issues surrounding women. 

I began my career in commercial banking at Citibank. From there I moved to the Ford Foundation where I used my banking knowledge to help the Foundation build its program in microfinance and development finance. That’s where I fell in love with CDFIs, and I’ve worked with them ever since. Life’s twists pointed me to my true north, which is a combination of finance and advocating for change for people in poverty. 

What sparked your interest in inclusion for women in finance?

From an early time, I was interested in the economy at the grassroots. That’s usually the economy that women inhabit. I wanted to understand: Who is really feeding everyone? Who is keeping kids healthy? Who is providing income to families? Women across the world, often in informal employment, were leading this.

Poverty in the U.S. is a phenomenon that is quite gendered, often women-led households are lower income. By getting involved in development finance, I was able to see who controls the money and found that women-led enterprises and activities were being left out. 


How have CDFIs been transformative for female-led businesses?

Female and minority entrepreneurs have a harder time accessing affordable bank financing than their male counterparts. This is where CDFIs shine: where others see risk, we see opportunity. CDFIs take time to understand our clients and tailor products for them. This played out again and again during the pandemic when CDFIs provided great relief to women-owned small businesses.

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Seniors search what they see, using a new Lens

“Often, when I go for a walk, I stumble upon an unknown flower or a tree. Now I can just take a picture to discover what kind of plant I am standing before,” Verner Madsen, one of the participants, remarked. “I don’t need to bring my encyclopedia. It is really smart and helpful.”Seniors in a…

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“Often, when I go for a walk, I stumble upon an unknown flower or a tree. Now I can just take a picture to discover what kind of plant I am standing before,” Verner Madsen, one of the participants, remarked. “I don’t need to bring my encyclopedia. It is really smart and helpful.”

Seniors in a country like Denmark are generally very tech savvy, but with digitization constantly advancing — accelerating even faster during two years of COVID-19 — some seniors risk being left behind, creating gaps between generations. During worldwide lockdowns, technological tools have helped seniors stay connected with their family and friends, and smartphone features have helped improve everyday life. One key element of that is delivering accurate and useful information when needed. And for that, typed words on a smartphone keyboard can often be substituted with a visual search, using a single tap on the screen.

Being able to “search what you see” in this way was an eye-opener to many. As the day ended, another avid participant, Henrik Rasmussen, declared he was heading straight home to continue his practice.

“I thought I was up to speed on digital developments, but after today I realize that I still have a lot to learn and discover,” he said.

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Meet the entrepreneur connecting Kenyans to healthy food

When Binti Mwallau started Hasanat Ventures, her dairy processing company in Kenya, she expected some resistance from her peers in an industry dominated by men. But she was surprised to run into more skepticism from her customers. Despite her background in finance and biochemistry, many of them questioned her credibility as a woman entrepreneur.Worried that…

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When Binti Mwallau started Hasanat Ventures, her dairy processing company in Kenya, she expected some resistance from her peers in an industry dominated by men. But she was surprised to run into more skepticism from her customers. Despite her background in finance and biochemistry, many of them questioned her credibility as a woman entrepreneur.

Worried that her gender would affect Hasanat Ventures’ reputation, Binti considered hiring a man as the face of the business. But she eventually decided against it, standing firm in her pride as a solo founder and committed to tearing down the perception that women-run businesses in Africa aren’t as successful as those run by men.

“I think we should be challenging the outdated narrative that businesses run by men are guaranteed to be more successful,” Binti says. “Based on research, we’ve seen that businesses run by women actually perform better. We should use this as an opportunity to prove that as a woman, you do stand a chance to succeed in everything that you do.”

Just as important to Binti as breaking this bias was giving Kenyans more access to affordable nutrition. “I realized that many people couldn’t afford premium yogurt. So we entered the market with a high-quality product that’s affordable for lower and middle-income earners who have become more health-conscious,” she says.

Binti knew she had to drive awareness for her brand, particularly to reach Kenyans who needed convincing about yogurt’s health benefits. So she turned to Google Digital Skills for Africa, which offers virtual classes to help entrepreneurs grow their skills and businesses, and completed a digital marketing course to help her get Hasanat Ventures online.

“After participating in the course, we knew our online presence had to be bigger than just social media,” Binti says. “Now that we have a fully functional website, we are actually getting leads from outside Kenya.”

As part of the course, Binti learned how to use Google Analytics to measure her website’s performance. She could now monitor traffic insights, analyze pageviews and better understand who was visiting her site.

Binti’s determination and passion for her business are showing up in the results. In its first year, Hasanat Ventures supplied over 300 retailers with affordable dairy products. Three years later, it’s grown to support more than 50 farmers and even built its own production facility to keep up with demand.

“I really want to make sure that I am visible and speaking up in spaces women don’t usually have access to,” Binti says. “As Hasanat Ventures continues to grow, I am confident I can help change the perception of African women in business.”

58% of Africa’s entrepreneurs are women. That’s why we’re empowering them with the platform and tools to grow their businesses. Learn more about our #LookMeUp campaign, highlighting Africa’s women entrepreneurs like Binti who are working to break the bias.

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100 things we announced at I/O

35. The Google Home and Google Home Mobile software developer kit (SDK) for Matter will be launching in June as developer previews.36. The Google Home SDK introduces Intelligence Clusters, which make intelligence features like Home and Away, available to developers.37. Developers can even create QR codes for Google Wallet to create their own passes for…

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35. The Google Home and Google Home Mobile software developer kit (SDK) for Matter will be launching in June as developer previews.

36. The Google Home SDK introduces Intelligence Clusters, which make intelligence features like Home and Away, available to developers.

37. Developers can even create QR codes for Google Wallet to create their own passes for any use case they’d like.

38. Matter support is coming to the Nest Thermostat.

39. The Google Home Developer Center has lots of updates to check out.

40. There’s now built-in support for Matter on Android, so you can use Fast Pair to quickly connect Matter-enabled smart home devices to your network, Google Home and other accompanying apps in just a few taps.

41. The ARCore Geospatial API makes Google Maps’ Live View technology available to developers for free. Companies like Lime are using it to help people find parking spots for their scooters and save time.

42. DOCOMO and Curiosity are using the ARCore Geospatial API to build a new game that lets you fend off virtual dragons with robot companions in front of iconic Tokyo landmarks, like the Tokyo Tower.

43. AlloyDB is a new, fully-managed PostgreSQL-compatible database service designed to help developers manage enterprise database workloads — in our performance tests, it’s more than four times faster for transactional workloads and up to 100 times faster for analytical queries than standard PostgreSQL.

44. AlloyDB uses the same infrastructure building blocks that power large-scale products like YouTube, Search, Maps and Gmail.

45. Google Cloud’s machine learning cluster powered by Cloud TPU v4 Pods is super powerful — in fact, we believe it’s the world’s largest publicly available machine learning hub in terms of compute power…

46. …and it operates at 90% carbon-free energy.

47. We also announced a preview of Cloud Run jobs, which reduces the time developers spend running administrative tasks like database migration or batch data transformation.

48. We announced Flutter 3.0, which will enable developers to publish production-ready apps to six platforms at once, from one code base (Android, iOS, Desktop Web, Linux, Desktop Windows and MacOS).

49. To help developers build beautiful Wear apps, we announced the beta of Jetpack Compose for Wear OS.

50. We’re making it faster and easier for developers to build modern, high-quality apps with new Live edit features in Android Studio.

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