Using AI to build financial independence—at any age!

On February 8, Technovation hosted the virtual workshop “Girls and Grandmothers —Funded!” at the 35th annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Over 100 women of all ages and professional backgrounds joined from countries around the world—including Mexico, Egypt, Greece, Nigeria, and Kazakhstan. We heard from women leaders, entrepreneurs, and a team of Google engineers about how to start a business, raise money, and use technology to invest in a better future.

One of the most important steps that girls and women can take to improve their financial independence is equipping themselves with the tools to make smart, informed decisions with their money. But as girls and women face disproportionate burdens due to Covid-19, economic strain, climate change, and general uncertainty, it is more important than ever for women to lead in financial innovation and become agents of their own financial success and independence.

Women are creating innovative tech solutions to make money management easier, but the lack of representation and support for women-led financial technology (fintech) startups has left the financial needs of many women unmet. Studies have shown that women are less likely to be entrepreneurs than men, and face more disadvantages starting businesses. In fact, in 40% of economies, women’s early stage entrepreneurial activity is half or less than half of that of men’s. This discrepancy highlights the need for spaces where successful women can share their experience, expertise, and insights with aspiring entrepreneurs and technological changemakers. Through these conversations, we hope to foster a new culture of diversity and innovation in tech, finance, and beyond.

As easy as some of our guests make it look, starting and growing your own business is no small task. As serial social entrepreneur Jane Leu stated in her opening keynote, “the place to start is with a problem, not a solution.” Jane’s latest venture is Smarter Good, a global professional services firm with a dual mission to improve the efficiency and impact of small nonprofit organizations and create purposeful careers for aspiring changemakers in emerging markets. Smarter Good is a great example of a business idea born out of the specific global need for support for nonprofits. Jane encouraged participants to challenge themselves with a hard problem—like climate change, racism, healthcare, and lack of education—and leave the easy problems to other people. But, Jane explained, we cannot let ourselves become discouraged by the complexity of these issues, because these are the kinds of problems that will require women to solve them.

Building your foundation

To solve these complex problems, the first step is ensuring girls and women have the proper foundation of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to think critically and develop a solution.

Lucy Tancredi shared some of her financial expertise that she developed during her 25 years at the financial software and data firm FactSet and in her current role as FactSet’s Senior Vice President of Cognitive Computing. Her crash course titled “How to be a millionaire” covered topics such as investments, diversification, risk assessment, and return on investment. Lucy also explained the “crawl, walk, run” approach to financial planning—starting strong and early in order to reap the compounded benefits over time. While this method is most effective for individuals at the beginning of their careers, Lucy reassured our diverse audience members that it is never too late to start investing now in order to reach your goals tomorrow. 

To teach us how to integrate technology into our financial planning and problem solving, Technovation invited a team of engineers from Google to present two tutorials on how to build mobile applications and virtual assistants. First, Machine Learning Specialist Tuba Islam demonstrated how to build a mobile app that can help track personal cashflow. Using the new no-code app development platform, Google AppSheet, Tuba explained how to assign and input variables for spending and income data, auto-populate a spreadsheet, and use that data to keep track of and analyze spending habits.

Next, Tony Okwechime, an Applied AI Specialist, showed us how to quickly build a virtual voice-controlled assistant that can help manage money and provide spending suggestions and projections. Tony used Google Dialogflow, a platform for building conversational interfaces, to automate many of the inputs and commands that we learned from Tuba’s AppSheet tutorial.

Technovation CEO and Founder Tara Chklovski sat down with New York Times-Bestselling Author Alexa von Tobel for a fireside chat to discuss how women of all ages can tackle the fears and unknowns surrounding money to become financially fearless. Alexa talked about the power that comes from understanding how money works, and reminded us that the goal should not be to make as much money as possible, but to know how to make your money do the things you need to do so you don’t need to worry. Alexa reiterated the importance of preparedness in her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: do the work! Whether it’s equipping yourself with the latest tech skills or knowing how to balance a checkbook, be confident and lean on your knowledge and experience to help you through uncertain times. Alexa closed with the wisdom that “there is no dress rehearsal to life, it’s just life. You get one shot, so believe in yourself and dream big.”

Lifelong Learning

One of the goals of this workshop was to encourage women of all ages to use technology to solve financial problems and to be proactive in their own economic empowerment. The majority of these conversations focus on young women who are just beginning their careers, but economic empowerment and justice is for all women. Elena Bardasi, a Senior Economist at the World Bank, shared her research on the relationship between gender and active aging, and how lifelong learning is the key to addressing the challenges that women face over the course of their lives, especially in the later years.

The global share of the population over 65 years of age is projected to increase from 9% to 16% in the next 30 years. This trend can be attributed to increased life expectancy and the decrease in fertility rates. While a longer life reflects the vast improvements in prosperity and well-being, if the aging process is not active—healthy and productive—then global health, production, and economic systems will suffer, as will individuals and their communities.

On top of this, Elena explained, women tend to live longer in almost every country, but they spend more years than men in bad health. Women tend to earn and save less money throughout their lives, and are expected to provide unpaid care to children and adults. Covid has exposed the fragility of existing systems and amplified gendered and racial gaps in earning power and access to resources that can help increase it.

Elena stressed the role of learning in the effort to increase the quality of women’s jobs and close the gap in lifelong earnings and quality of life. Learning is not only useful for women to remain competitive in the workforce, but in maintaining their health as well. Studies have shown that a continuous learning mindset can contribute to increasing psychological well-being, delaying cognitive decline, and improving social engagement and financial stability.

Learning at all stages of a woman’s life is important whether she is attending university for the first time, taking online business courses to launch a startup, pursuing a mid-career professional certification, or learning to code with her grandchildren.

To emphasize this, we brought together three women entrepreneurs who are at different stages of their careers to discuss their experiences surviving COVID as a small business-owner, and share advice to women of all ages who are interested in starting their own businesses.

  • Nina Chauhan is a retired doctor who served in the Indian Army Medical Corps from 1993-2001, and currently serves as Principal of Chiragh Grammar School in Uttar Pradesh, India while learning how to code on the weekends.
  • Garima Pande is an engineer and founder of WanderingJane, an activity based travel platform for women.
  • Voneat Pen is a technology entrepreneur and engineer, and a co-founder of startup 606 Digital. She is currently the Chapter Ambassador for Technovation Cambodia.

The three women talked about the barriers, both external and interpersonal, that they faced while launching their business and the importance of building cross-generational connections to pass down wisdom and advice.

Video recordings from each workshop session can be found in this YouTube playlist.