SIRE 2023, Inaya Zaman, W’25

As a student in International Studies and Business, I have thoroughly enjoyed my economics, international politics, and development coursework at Penn. One such course is Consumers, Firms, and Markets in Developing Countries (BEPP 2330), where I realized my interest in intersecting theoretical development concepts with practical research applications. Wharton’s Social Impact Research Experience (SIRE) was the perfect opportunity to allow me to merge my ambitions and guide my own intellectual curiosity.

This summer, I traveled to Bangladesh to conduct research on digital financial services and their impact on women’s economic empowerment in Bangladesh. I worked with researchers at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) to investigate this relationship in a rural village in Comilla, a district in Bangladesh. I was able to interview several women in this village about their usage and preferences for these mobile financial services, collecting qualitative data on how these new digital accounts have had an impact on their individual financial agency and behavior.

I find this intersection of technological development and women’s financial empowerment a particularly exciting topic. Learning about both the social equity and economic development gains that can stem from these advancements motivated me to explore this dynamic through my own research. The rapidly growing economy, entrepreneurial digital finance landscape, and increasing women’s economic participation in Bangladesh, as well as my own personal background as a Bangladeshi-American, helped me finalize my research location.

Through the research process with BIGD, I learned about both the technical and personable elements to fieldwork. Having professionals guide me through conducting qualitative interviews was invaluable, particularly for learning about protocols for asking questions about more sensitive topics. Moreover, my Bangla language skills were put to the test during these interviews, necessitating some translation help from the other researchers. Even though my research was an independent proposal, the collaborative process along the way made for a much richer learning experience.

My summer experience has shown me my true passion for international development research and fueled my interest in pursuing a career focusing on global women’s economic empowerment. I would like to thank SIRE, BIGD, and my mentor Professor Shing-Yi Wang for their invaluable resources and guidance.