Creating a Digital Empire for Good

Audio Description

Media mogul Anu Bhardwaj is reaching millions of women in emerging markets with her new app SHEQONOMI. Will digital wallets put 2 billion women on the board?


This transcript has been generated by an AI tool. Please excuse any typos.

00:06 - 00:15

Welcome to Women and Wealth. I'm Beata Kirr, Co-Head Investment Strategies at Bernstein and this show aims to educate, inspire women to make the right choices for their wealth.

00:20 - 00:46

Hi, it's Beata and I'm excited to be enjoying this episode today. My partner Kim Davis interviewed Anu Bhardwaj, the founder and CTO at SHEQONOMI. What is SHEQONOMI? Well, you're going to have to listen to hear more. But it's the world's first suite of mobile apps focused on women led podcasts built by women. It's really empowering the girls, targeting the bottom billion. She's an incredibly fierce founder and an influencer globally. 

00:46 - 01:31

Hope you enjoy today. I'm extremely excited and honored to be speaking to our guest, Anu Bhardwaj. She's a woman of many accomplishments, but the underlying mission is to lift up women around the world. And she's done that by being a media mogul, being a crypto queen and a champion, literally connecting rockstars to women around the world who are benefiting from access to information and a global economy. So today we're going to talk a bit about her roots in private equity and how she's grown her digital empire for good. And specifically, we're so honored to be able to share some breaking news about SHEQONOMI. Hi Anu. It's such an honor to talk to you today. How are you?

01:31 - 01:33

Good to be with you all today. Looking forward to diving in.

01:34 - 01:44

Well, great. So why don't we start with your back story? Because there's so much accomplishment and there's so much that informs your value search and where you are today. So could you share a little bit more about your background?

01:44 - 02:17

Yeah, absolutely. So I have been a lifelong scholar. Feels like I finished my graduate degree at Georgetown and ended up traveling around the world in the space of international development and one about a half a million dollars in scholarships and grants to do that. And then in 2007 ended up finishing my academic pursuits after an MBA at the Stockholm School of Economics in India at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, where I did a global benchmark on women in private equity.

02:18 - 02:45

And that just kind of catapulted me into the world that I'm in now, where women are taking more control of their money, women are taking more control of their destinies. And now I find myself in the space of digital finance, digital assets, cryptocurrency, blockchain, been in the space for about five years now, co-chaired U.N. blockchain for Impact two years ago and now launched a whole suite of mobile apps called SHEQONOMI.

02:46 - 02:58

Well, that's an amazing accomplishment. And you have some exciting news about SHEQONOMI. So tell us about SHEQONOMI. What is SHEQONOMI? Bring us up to speed.

02:58 - 03:33

Yeah, absolutely. So before the pandemic, I was building out my media platform, women investing in women digital. And during this time, we were experimenting with digital wallets for women. And I have a young daughter. She was seven at the time when I took her to a conference and she tagged along and started attending the sessions and said, "Mom, what is crypto?" Then I told her, like, you should figure this out. Tell me what it is if you can figure it out. And she said, "it's just digital money." If you want to see more women investing. Start with the kids. Can I have my own wallet, please?

03:33 - 04:01

And that prompted us to create a kids wallet. And we ended up creating a conference called Krypto 4 Kids, which we launched in 2018. And that went all the way up to the United Nations as she presented. This was right before COVID, and in 2020 we went to the World Economic Forum to talk about Krypto 4 Kids. And you know what we were working on with this women's wallet and when we got home a few months later, that's when lockdown happened.

04:01 - 04:57

So I was homeschooling my daughter and you know, we were having challenges with Google Classroom and Zoom school, like most moms and kids and teachers and got really frustrated one day. And I looked over at her and I'm like, Yeah, you know, at least you have a computer. At least you can talk to your friends and still go to school. Imagine all those kids that can't go to school. What do you think happens to those girls in India or in other parts of the world? They get sold. They get trafficked. Some of them could end up getting married really early and their futures are basically compromised without an education. And she's staring at me and she's like, This is really awful. Is there anything I can do? Is there anything Krypto 4 Kids can do? Can we help? Can I send them my tokens? And it was this honest question and I said, You can send them your tokens, but how are they going to receive it? Impossible. She's like, You could fix this, right, Mom? And it was one of these things where instead of saying, No, I can't do it, I called my team in India and they said, We'll figure this out.

04:57 - 05:27

I had a podcast. We created Women Invest In Women and Girls. We had a whole series on young girls interviewing role models back in the day. And we ended up getting 950,000 Facebook followers organically from this podcast. So I'm like, look, let's, let's go ahead and use what we have in material and create a podcast app where it's listen, learn and earn. And that way people can learn and they can understand what is covered. How do you protect yourself and understand other topics like women's health, entrepreneurship, investing?

05:27 - 05:48

So they built a prototype and they said, you know, we were going to need some money to build this out. So I told I, look, I've been saving since the day you were born, sweetie. I have some savings. In order to finish this, we're going to need the money. And she said, Mom, it's not a question. If it gives them hope, take the money. I'll find my way to college. You go ahead and build this app. If anyone can do it, you can do it.

05:49 - 06:44

So we basically built this app, got it done, applied for a number of grants, and one of them was the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia. They had a global competition, 5000 applications from 175 countries, 30 winners, seven were women. We won the grand prize, $150,000. And so we built this app. And in December 2020, we had the iOS version ready. In February of 2021, we had the Android ready in March 8th of last year, we had the Kaios version ready. And for those of you who are listening, who don't know what Kaios is, it's an operating system that works on $10 mobile phones. And from day one, we said there's many people out there that can afford Androids and iPhones like us, but there's 50% of the world's population living on $2 a day. So we need to get get something that's affordable for them.

06:45 - 07:30

So we built our app on $10 mobile phones and six months later, we found out that our app is now trending. We're number one podcast listening app globally on Kaios number one, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh, Mexico and the United States. And yesterday we found out that our app is now ready to be pre-loaded into 150 million Jio devices, including their low cost laptops, low cost phones, Android phones. And this is a global game changer because we're the only women led up in the world on the app, in the world that's on all four platforms that's now got digital wallets and rewards built on the backend.

07:30 - 07:40

Well, I've been listening. First of all, just can we repeat that statistic? If you compare and contrast the number of Spotify users and I'm sorry, can you just repeat that again? That's huge.

07:40 - 08:26

Yeah. So just to put this in context, Spotify has 300 million paid subscribers. What we've done is within a year, like we just said, this is the bottom billion. These are people that would have never had access. We're going to give them a free app and put them on the board. Their voice matters, but they have the ability to now list and learn. And we've got 150 million phones, mobile devices, I should say, not just phones. We're getting ready to basically make some noise with Reliance Jio. What you have is breaking news. It's just I can't contain my excitement. So what we're building is next level for women who can't read. We've got content in English, Spanish, Chinese, and I have another partner that has content in Bahasa and Tagalog. So we're going to start adding more languages as well.

08:27 - 08:44

Well, so I love the fact that this is going to be accessible to people in multiple languages, but for our listeners, right on. I'm really excited to talk about this digital wallet. Can you describe to our listeners what is this digital wallet and how does it work?

08:44 - 09:17

Absolutely. So a digital wallet for those of you who are listening for the first time is a way to store points. So let's say or rewards and many of you already have been using wallets. If you're doing online banking, for instance, or if you're working with airline companies to manage your frequent flyer miles or your hotel points, like you have a place where you can store rewards. Right now we have rewards. We have sheet tokens that you can collect, just like you're collecting airline miles.

09:17 - 09:32

That's really helpful. And I realize I use a digital wallet, but I wasn't even thinking about it because I'm not a crypto expert or a blockchain expert. Why does having access to this particular digital wallet matter so much to the women you're trying to help around the world?

09:32 - 10:16

My God, that's such a fantastic question. There's so many people on this planet that we don't realize that have no identity. And if you don't have a presence, how are you supposed to have a credit history? And that's why we have a whole class of people on this planet called the Unbanked and the Underbanked. But now I think the world is really thinking this through, because if we don't know who these people are, how are we supposed to know what health issues they have? And if they have problems, we're all at risk. We're all so interconnected. So this whole thing comes down to: let's give them an identity. Let's give them a history. Let's give them opportunity. And once we know what they're listening to, what they're learning, where they're spending, saving, investing, donating, that's a lot of data.

10:16 - 10:45

So at the end of the day, SHEQONOMI is now not interested in taking your data to go and sell it to brands. This is about data for good. This is about human right. It should be, but it's not. And so if we can give them a free app, put it out there and say, we're doing this because we want to listen to you be we want this whole community to be better, more educated and see because it's the right thing to do. We're all going to win.

10:46 - 10:47

That's awesome.

10:47 - 11:04

So picture a young woman in India or another part of the world that doesn't have access to information or the ability to make financial decisions or transactions. Can you can you give me an example of what that might look like for the girl if she were to utilize this?

11:04 - 11:47

Yeah, absolutely. So in India, if they're listening, they hear content for the very first time. It's this podcast that we're recording right now. But she has access now to your content or content on breast cancer or content on financial literacy. And depending on whatever she's interested in, you can choose different topics just like you can on Spotify or Pandora, iHeart and and basically you listen, learn, and if you like, share or follow, you get reward points and you start getting these points. And just like airline points and hotel points, you start collecting. And instead of people taking your data, selling it to brands, they're rewarding you. And this is how it should have been done in the first place.

11:47 - 12:04

I think that is so amazing. So back to this girl in India or a young woman in India who's able to learn but also express her interest and benefit from that. So she gets points. And then what did she do with those points? How does she actually get to use them and benefit from them?

12:04 - 13:02

We have an NFT gallery that we started during Art Basel last December. We had a showcase of of women and girls art. And what we did with this collection is we said, what if we put this in one platform where we can create smart contracts, like when they sell their art, they get incentivized. So it becomes philanthropy. And the artist can then choose what currencies they want to accept. But more importantly, every single piece of art that sells donates to a charity of the artist's choice. And if they're like, We don't want to donate to anyone, it goes to the State of Women Institute, which is, again, distributing these low cost phones with our apps preloaded. We built all of this on $150,000. We're not a Spotify. We're not worth $86 billion yet. But all I can say is we're thinking about the people at the bottom billion who need the access and yeah, they have value. And yeah, your voice has value.

13:03 - 13:26

Well, it clearly does. And I see that in the short amount of time you've had exponential growth and interest, and I mean that in a number of different ways. The fact that you're getting so much more support and much more traction, but you see this multiplier effect of more and more listeners and learners and so forth. So the word it word is getting out. So I feel honored that we're part of the conversation with you when this is happening live. This is really exciting.

13:26 - 14:05

Yeah. So all of this is like, you know, $150,000 stretched. But it's because we have partners like Reliance Jio. It's because we have partners like the Islamic Bank. And to put that in context to everybody listening. The Islamic Bank stretches from Morocco to Indonesia. We had 900 million girls that we were trying to help, but we actually ended up getting 2 billion women of color as a bonus. And when I say women of color, it's people from Morocco, Indonesia, all of Southeast Asia. You've got the Arab world, right? So from North Africa, all the way up to Southeast Asia is part of the Islamic Bank's territory, 57 nations.

14:05 - 14:53

I admire your tenacity and what you've done, and I also wholeheartedly believe that it's not just one country, one background, but to lift women up around the world, to give them access to information and education is for everybody's benefit for them to participate in the global economy. And I see what you're doing and it's amazing. I can't wait to see what you do after not just 12 months or I imagine if I give you 15 months, I'm a little bit intimidated, but at the same time, I'm really in awe. And so I love to talk a bit more about strategic vision for the future. So I realize that may be unfair because you just have this huge boost and win and exciting news, but where are you focused and where do you see the direction going? More specifically.

14:53 - 14:55

Awesome question and thank you for that.

14:55 - 15:46

I'm going to take this back to Aria, my inspiration in October of this year. We are going to be having Krypto 4 Kids again and Krypto 4 Kids Caribbean in Barbados. And what we're doing is this island, it's got 270,000 people, tiny and I just recruited a CEO and she happens to be a rockstar CEO, a real life rockstar CEO. And this rockstar is Shontelle. And she has a Grammy nominee. This Rockstar CEO has actually performed like opened Beyonce, she's opened Lady Gaga. She has co-written songs with Rihanna. She's a voice unlike any other that's also a web3 metaverse expert and smart contract. So she understands how this world works.

15:46 - 16:14

And so we met a couple of weeks ago and just like, you know, I'm sitting in her presence and I'm like, would you like to would you like to to share your voice? I mean, Barbados was where the slave trade began years and years and years ago. And when we talk about cryptocurrency and how this is a liberating force for humanity, where this is decentralized, finance is the future, I'm like, what better way than to start in this tiny little nation?

16:14 - 16:54

But what we're going to do is we're going to have one session where some of these kids during COVID have started investing, they've started trading, and they're managing their own portfolios. And I'm like, You're going to give a workshop. And I'm also going to invite two kids from every single school primary, elementary, high school and university to come. And that way these stars become the stars of this nation. So it's not so much that we have the tech is what are we going to do with it? Who are we going to serve and how many of these people have not been served that are now going to have access for the very first time? And then we're bringing on armies of women who are standing by saying, you know what, I want to participate. I want to support, I want to help, I want to get involved. And that's what the future is.

16:54 - 17:28

Well, that is fantastic. So it's not about just one V.C. investment. It's not about one piece of technology, but really the underlying mission. And then I almost see what you're doing and the people you're conducting and the talent, the leaders. It's like you're that wiring, right? You know, that's connected around the world, right? You're that connective tissue. Which brings me to I love the vision. And so one question we ask all of our guests is around investing with intention that has different meaning to everybody. But I love to hear how you think of investing with intention for you. Awesome.

17:28 - 18:27

So investing with intention, it's about the legacy that you plan to leave in the world and it's how many lives can I touch and how deeply can I touch them? And that to me, like whether these people realize who I am or even if I exist or not, I want to know that I've had some part in trying to make other people's lives better. And the rewards, I mean, it's beyond money. When I think back of like how we started SHEQONOMI, it was my daughter donating her college fund and investing in others and and saying, Mom, we can do something to help them. And that I think in a way, it's it's basically greatest investment is her the greatest investment is seeing all of this come back multiples and just knowing that it wasn't me that came up with this. It was that compassion, that kindness, that ability to love someone that you know you've never met and everyone wins.

18:27 - 18:42

Well, that is beautiful. And a perfect moment in our conversation on that high note. Thank you so much for joining us. We so value the conversation and we're just really honored to be part of the story and tell your story.

18:42 - 18:43

Thank you.

18:44 - 18:59

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