After a career spanning more than two decades leading development initiatives, Margo Thomas, MS ’91, has only one goal on her mind – conquering economic gender disparity around the world.
Thomas, founder and president of the Women’s Economic Imperative, is focused on creating initiatives that promote economic opportunities to empower women and underrepresented groups around the world.
Bringing a wealth of experience from her work on the private sector development and foreign investment, including stints at the International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group and as Chief of Secretariat at the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Thomas believes her latest endeavor is one that can contribute to closing the gender gap and turning the tide against economic inequality.
“WEI is about being able to contribute and help make a difference for women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment, but we also recognize that these are big issues and it really takes a concerted effort by a whole range of actors to effect change,” says Thomas. “We fully understand that we cannot shift this as a small, two-year-old organization, but we really work to build partnerships and engage in advocacy in order to catalyze change.”
Thomas, who earned her master's degree at Smith, later earned a PhD from the University of Manchester. But it was her time in Maryland Smith’s Business Master’s program that she says impacted her understanding of management at the corporate level and positively shaped her approach to nurturing talent and driving change.
“As I reflect on my career, the work I did at the Smith School provided me with core skills that shaped the arc of my career in a very real way,” says Thomas. “I had the benefit of a systems-based approach to looking at organizations and learned how to translate that approach into how I worked to influence change in client organizations and policies in client countries.”
Toward the end of her tenure at the World Bank, she devoted her time to targeting economic actors that had the potential to contribute to inclusive economic growth. That served as the entry point of her mission to focus on women’s economic empowerment. While her latest endeavors are focused on women and girls, Thomas says the outcomes and impact benefit not just women and girls but men and boys as well.
“I always point out that when we talk about women's economic empowerment that we have to realize that this is not solely a woman's issue,” says Thomas. “This is about all of us, because if you're looking at inclusive growth, the goal is to make the pie bigger so that everyone benefits. It’s not just a moral imperative, it’s an economic no-brainer.”
Thomas’ work has taken her around the world to countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Those experiences, in addition to her upbringing in Guyana, she says, gave her a unique appreciation for embracing cultural differences and is integral to her work as she continues with her mission.
“We really need to reaffirm the value and dignity of every human being, regardless of race, creed and culture,” says Thomas. “If we recognize the dignity and value of each other, then we can appreciate the need to recognize our differences in order to better understand each other. Listen and be open to learning and critical thinking, but never lose your sense of self or individual self-worth.”
The mission of the Center for Global Business is to connect the diverse members of the Smith School community to the world and the world to the Smith School. Through these Global Alumni Stories, the center connects the Maryland Smith community with Alumni who have successfully utilized a global mindset in their careers.
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