Plus, the Trump Doctrine—one that extends to trade, immigration, sanctions, treaty negotiations, and foreign affairs—is zero sum and America First. It is grounded in the belief that there are winners and there are losers, and if one is not winning, one is losing. This doctrine seemingly extends to humanitarian aid and development policy, too, with experts having spent the months since Trump’s election bracing for deep cuts. “Globalism and multilateralism have gone substantially too far, to the point that they are hurting U.S. and global growth,” David Malpass, Trump’s top financial diplomat, told Congress late last year. “President Trump articulated a vision of international affairs in which each country’s government has a responsibility, first and foremost, to serve its own people.”
So how did We-Fi spring into existence? The story is one of philosophical incoherence, personal brand-building, frantic favor-currying, true need, and real ideas. It shows how the world has sought to push back against the zero-sum Trump Doctrine. And it shows that, when it comes to foreign policy and international affairs, sometimes everyone can win, and the world does end up being positive-sum.
The policy problem We-Fi aims to fix is urgent and real. In the developing world, women own or run just 30 percent of small and medium enterprises, meaning everything from technology startups in Nigeria to roadside shops in Mexico to goat farms in Kenya to recycling businesses in Vietnam. Of those women-owned ventures, nearly three in four are shut out from the traditional credit markets or are suffering from financing shortfalls, resulting in a “nearly $300 billion annual credit deficit for formal, women-owned” small and medium-sized businesses, the World Bank has found. That disadvantages women, making them more vulnerable to deep poverty and less capable of upward economic mobility. It hurts innovation, depriving markets of the ingenuity of millions and millions of would-be entrepreneurs. It also, economists fear, slows poor countries’ rates of growth and inhibits development around the world.
Ivanka Trump has made supporting female business owners one of her signature policy issues, her interest in it stemming from her own experiences as a jewelry entrepreneur and real-estate mogul. During the transition and in the early days of the administration, she held a number of conversations with global experts on women’s empowerment and economic growth. The idea for We-Fi grew out of meetings that she had with Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, and Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, among others.
At a summit called Women20 held a year ago in Berlin, Trump represented the administration behind the scenes and at the public keynote. That precipitated an awkward question: What was her role in the administration, anyway? “As part of the audience, especially the German audience, is not familiar with the concept of a first daughter, I’d like to ask you your role,” Miriam Meckel, a German journalist, said to Trump as she sat between Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director. “Whom are you representing? Your father as the president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”