Inspirational Woman Interview: Joyce Meng
Joyce Meng is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing. She is the CEO and Co-Founder of Givology, a 100% volunteer-run online giving marketplace for education which connects donors to grassroots projects and student scholarships around the world. To date, Givology has raised over $540,000 to help over 4,000 students in 30 different countries through 50 grassroots partnerships, with 20 chapters globally, 8,000+ social media supporters, and 40,000+ registered donors. Joyce has been featured as Forbes “30 under 30” in education and Wharton’s “40 under 40.” Outside of Givology, Joyce works in the investment industry. She is a Partner and Managing Director of Vernier Capital. Joyce graduated summa cum laude from the Huntsman Program of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a BA in International Studies and a BS in Economics from the Wharton School. As a Rhodes Scholar, she then went to Oxford to pursue her graduate studies. She completed the MSc Economics for Development degree with distinction, receiving the Arthur Lewis Prize. She also received a MSc in Financial Economics from the Said Business School with distinction
What is your background?
Joyce Meng: I graduated from the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, where I studied Finance and International Studies with minors in Mathematics and Spanish. I went to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, where I got a M.S. in Economics for Development and a M.S. in Financial Economics. It was fascinating because the Economics for Development program did not focus only on classical economics with all the assumptions of perfect competition and rational agents, but also featured market failure, intra-household bargaining models, the economics of education and health, and poverty traps. It was a great program and I loved Oxford. I came back to the US and pursue a job in investing (my day job). Givology continues to be my core passion; my Co-Founder and I have done this through numerous job changes, continents and countries we were involved in. I can’t believe it has been seven years already, but we are committed to growing our network and the students and schools that we help.
You are a Co-Founder and CEO of Givology, a P2P nonprofit that leverages dollar donations to fund education projects in the developing world. What inspired you to found Givology, and what has been its impact so far?
Joyce Meng: One of the reasons why we started Givology in 2008 when I was in college was because we wanted to democratize philanthropy. It didn’t seem fair that if you are a large philanthropic foundation, you got full transparency into how an organization worked with full progress updates, but if you were a small donor with only five dollars but wanted to make a lot of change, you didn’t have access to that same level of information. We really cared about giving everyone transparency to engage in projects and student scholarships one to one.
We were also quite disillusioned about how certain organizations were very inefficient with their spending. Many organizations have large marketing budgets and significant overhead but we didn’t want to support those types of organizations. We wanted to work with grassroots organizations with impact-driven models so that we could maximize impact per dollar with innovative, community-driven and led solutions. We also wanted to create a community of giving; a community where each individual has something to give and in the process of giving, can learn something about himself or herself. Givology has a certain idealism in that it’s 100% volunteer-run. It’s not just about crowdfunding small dollars, but about crowdfunding small hours across many different areas of expertise so that we can become a movement for change.
Can you discuss some of Givology’s girls’ education initiatives and women’s economic empowerment projects?
Joyce Meng: We have so many different projects and partners who work on diverse causes. We have funded couples’ literacy projects in Afghanistan, which is an interesting model supported by religious leaders who teach man and wife to combat adult illiteracy; the program’s completion rates and success rates are much higher because it empowers women in a context-specific way. Our partners include Starfish One by One in Guatemala, More Than Me in Liberia, the Kakenya School for Girls in Kenya, Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya, all of whom have many projects that work with girls and economic empowerment, focusing on making quality education accessible.
That’s one of the most inspiring part about working with Givology: that each organization has its own model, each has its own story, and whether it’s trying to find the best students and cultivate the next generation of very significant leaders through a top-notch boarding school in Somaliland or developing a very low-cost, very efficient $20 per child after school program in rural India to combat poor public education, each is focused on delivering the best results and innovation.
From your work with Givology and your studies in development economics, what would you say are some the most crucial links between women’s empowerment and international development?
Joyce Meng: I’m very glad there are so many studies lately about these links; there are so many statistics and evidence that suggest that educating girls and giving them jobs has a significant impact on society. Investing in girls and women results in high investment in families and the next generation. An educated mother will lead to a better educated child, better health outcomes for her child through lower infant mortality rates, better knowledge of nutrition and many other factors that combat poverty. There are studies that show how returns on education can very linear; when you educate a girl, lifetime incomes go up 20% for every year that education occurs. Educating girls prevents child marriage and many of the abuses that happen. Educating girls creates a positive cycle that combats poverty as we know that mothers and daughters invest more in their families.
In your opinion, what are the most critical determinants of a social venture/nonprofit’s success?
Joyce Meng: It depends on your model and what you’re trying to achieve, but I think there are determinants unique to social entrepreneurship:
- You have to have a good theory of change. Even if you have a good financial model and you know how your organization is going to be run, you have to figure out how the model of change you are proposing impacts the community and how you are going to measure that change. What are the qualitative and quantitative metrics that are you are using to benchmark and deliver this change?
- A focus on sustainability. When we launched Givology in 2008, crowdfunding was a new concept. Many organizations that started back then are gone. You are not doing much for the community if your organization lasts 1-2 years and then disappears; you have to create a model that is sustainable over time. We are a small organization but we are 100% volunteer-run so our cost structure is very low.
- A bias towards action. A lot of people are interested in starting things, doing things, and volunteering but if you just sit on your hands, it’s just constant inertia. When we came up with the concept of Givology, we just went for it. We learned a lot of things, made mistakes, but we acted and experimented. You can’t plan for everything but you just have to roll up your sleeves and get started.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Joyce Meng: It’s a very personal issue – women are half of the population and they can do so much for society – they’re leaders, inventers, entrepreneurs, mothers, caregivers, and residents. It’s very unfair to exclude half the population from contributing to society and shutting their voice away through stereotypes and unfair assumptions. That’s a big detriment to overall progress and also fundamentally a violation of social justice.
On a personal note, it’s very disconcerting to see how few women are represented in the business world. The percentage of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 is a dismal 4%. I’ve seen this myself in the corporate world in which women often make up a large bulk of entry/middle management but face glass ceiling impediments to advance to more senior levels. I’ve seen double standards judging the performance and perception of women.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Joyce Meng: The first woman who comes to mind is obviously my mother. My mother was a new immigrant to the US from Taiwan and she’s always been such a huge inspiration to me. She was the one who showed me how important education was from an early age; she often told me money can be lost, beauty fades over time, but no one can take away the knowledge in your head. Her focus on education opened up all of the doors and opportunities I have today.
Beyond that, there are so many there are so many inspiring female role models at a societal level. There are so many female entrepreneurs from Givology’s network – all of whom have phenomenal stories of fighting to create change. I recommend that you check out our book on Amazon to read about their stories.
What books, films and websites about gender equality, women’s empowerment, development economics and education have inspired you?
Joyce Meng: Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo is my number one read; it goes through understanding incentives, designing proper intervention programs, and measuring impact. I really like Half the Sky for its discussion on women’s and girls’ education. The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier is interesting because it talks about certain poverty traps that countries face. Portfolios of the Poor is also a great read for those who want to know how the poor allocate their money, which provides many insights. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo is also helpful as it shows the contrarian perspective on aid. Peter Singer’s books also provide an opposing view on the morality and ethics behind aid. But definitely start with Poor Economics. You can also check out my book list at Goodreads.