Applying “The Art of Perception” to Women’s Financial Inclusion

March 2, 2016

“The best technology we have is our eyes,” according to Amy Herman,  who shared her unique approach to “The Art of Perception” in conversation with Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, at Women’s World Banking’s Making Finance Work for Women Summit in Berlin this past November.


Summit participants performing the perception exerciseHere’s a little test: open a magazine and find any image. Take two minutes to describe that image to someone without showing it to them. Ask them to form a mental picture using your description. Now show them the image. Did they picture something different? Did ALL of the details match? Probably not – but why? Didn’t we start with the premise that our eyes are our best technology?

No two people see the world or communicate their thoughts in the same way. So how can we objectively see things and communicate that to others? As Amy showed us through a similar activity, she has found examination of works of art to be an effective tool in training people from a variety of professions to see more perceptively and objectively. For example, she has enabled doctors to pay better attention to their patients by looking at what’s on a patient’s bedside table, what they are wearing, and who is visiting them…all before even looking at their chart. By using art as data, Amy helps her students step out of their comfort zones to reconsider their assumptions and see with new eyes.

So how does this relate to Women’s World Banking’s work to advance the financial inclusion of low-income women?

The Art of Perception, Making Finance Work for Women Summit, Germany, 11-12 November 2015Our clients are not just numbers or statistics, nor are they defined solely by their gender or socioeconomic status. Of course there are some commonalities – Women’s World Banking’s research has shown that women are inherent savers, managing to save on average 10 to 15 percent of their earnings despite low and often unpredictable incomes – but each client’s needs are different. To understand those needs, we can ask questions to elicit the information we need. As Amy suggested, critical inquiry enables us to “see what’s there and what’s not there.” Importantly, this can help mitigate any bias or unconscious assumptions we’ve made and ensure we collect all the information available to us.

Achieving financial inclusion requires us to think broadly about how we can continue to close the gender gap. There are myriad factors that contribute to the financial exclusion of women – lack of access, privacy, and security, to name a few – but there are also many solutions that can address those barriers. How do we find out which solution will be most effective for a client?  Ask her. Or as Amy Herman put it: “change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.”

To see the full conversation between Amy and Raj at the Making Finance Work for Women Summit, check out this video.