My "Curiosity" Led to My Progress
By Professor Linda Scott, DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Said Business School, University of Oxford March 16, 2015 12:00 PM
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Professor Linda Scott, DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Said Business School, University of Oxford, shares her story about the defining characteristic that led to her progress.
I had just finished a book on the history of the beauty industry in the United States when I accepted a job at the University of Oxford. I had learned while doing research for the book that the modern economy had empowered American women in many ways, rather than creating their disadvantaged status, as feminist academics have long argued. I decided that at Oxford I would study whether the same mechanisms that worked for women in 19th century United States could be used now to empower women in developing countries. Specifically, I focused my study on the cosmetics company Avon , which operates all over the world, and whether it could economically empower poor women in Africa.
When I approached the main research funding body in the United Kingdom with my thesis, they literally laughed in my face. But, they said, it was just a crazy enough idea that it might prove true.
Africanist anthropologist, Catherine Dolan , agreed to pitch in with me, even though at that point I had never even been to Africa.
We were awarded the grant and, as it turned out, that project was just the first in what would become a portfolio of work focused on harnessing the market economy to empower women. Dolan and I jumped from one seemingly outlandish idea to another—whether distribution networks made a difference, for example, or whether modern consumer goods (like sanitary pads) helped, and if access to finance was influential. Eventually, I began to rethink many of the most broadly accepted beliefs about economics. I worked through these out-of-the-box ideas on my blog, The Double X Economy.
These ideas are proving to be effective, and a whole movement has materialized around the idea of using markets to help women. Now, every year, Oxford hosts a “Power Shift” gathering of people involved in this movement. Again, this was an idea people thought was off-the-wall when I first brought it up.
I still have ideas that make people look askance. Some of them will, no doubt, come to nothing. But I have learned to take the doubters in stride—because some of these ideas will be worth having kept.