What is the best idea you have ever had?

How did you invest in your idea?

What happened?

In 2018, I asked 55 women these questions as part of my research for my 9th Annual Rich Thinking® report called Smart Women – Big Ideas being launched in Stockholm on March 8th in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Women around the world have big ideas that range from writing their first novel to building a global company to patenting their Big Idea so that others won’t steal it! Here are the three dominant categories:


Carpe Diem: Ideas that demand immediate action to capitalize on opportunities such as a current trend or a gap in the marketplace.

Ronna Sieh, Founder of The Coding School in Manila, Philippines

“A World Economic Forum study showed that when today’s primary school students graduate from college, 65% of today’s jobs will no longer exist. We will need to overhaul the Philippine education system to address this fast-changing world. This creates an opportunity. I am going to scale an educational platform that teaches Filipinos to code. This will prepare each student for the new future.”


Self-Actualization: Ideas that are about realizing or fulfilling one’s talents and potential.

Maria Javiera Contreras Abarca, Lead Partner, Transaction Advisory Services at Ernst Young, Santiago, Chile

“In today’s world, tax advisors need to be ever more sophisticated. They can’t just provide tax advice. As an advisor you need to completely understand the big picture – the language (finance/tech/robotics, etc.). My latest big idea was to invest in myself and do my MBA at night. My Mom sees me running all day with three kids, a husband, and a big job and about this decision she said to me, “Are you sure?” It has taken me a while to realize that my energy level is a differentiator. I never really get tired mentally and I always have a hunger to discuss ideas!”


The Greater Good: Ideas that will benefit society by promoting health, children’s welfare, gender equality, or other forms of social justice.

Funda Akpinor, Founder of Mutlu Panda Montessori Kindergarten in Istanbul, Turkey

“After an amazing career in the world of finance I became a mother at 41 and, over time, I noticed that my child was having trouble socializing. I did a lot of research on early child education and then I decided to start a “Toddler Montessori Classroom.” My daughter became a student and just one year later her therapists couldn’t believe she was the same child. I wanted to share these tools with more people, so I partnered with the ergotherapist that I met and together we have developed an app for training parents in child development.”


How long did it take them to get started?

Once they have their Big Idea, two thirds get started on it right away.

Sieh from Manila: “When I decide to spend time on something, it has to be something that will move the needle and that will create jobs. This dream is beyond myself and I can’t stop when there is fire in my belly.”


Where did they come up with their idea?

Most come up with their Big Ideas while they are busy at their ‘official job’ or while reading.

Abarca from Santiago: “My mother would hand me various clippings from the career section of the newspaper and one day I saw one that had the general description of “multinational clients.” I immediately thought, “I want that.”


What was the dollar amount they personally invested?

Over 25% of the women surveyed spent $100,000 or more on their Big Idea.

Akpinor from Istanbul: “I have invested a significant portion of what I have saved throughout my career on this Montessori Kindergarten idea. My husband kept asking me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes, it is expensive, but I am sure I want to do this and now I feel that I have a social responsibility to do this and to do it right. This will be a game-changer in Turkey!”


What’s the big idea?

Today we have a powerful combination of digital tools and motivated women with a high tolerance for risk. It is incredibly exciting to hear about the speedy execution of their Big Ideas. Whether they are driven by an opportunity in the market, self-actualization, or working for the greater good…smart women are taking action.


Barbara Stewart, CFA is one of the world’s leading researchers on women and finance, focusing on real life financial behaviours and providing global insights into how smart women think and communicate. Barbara is an advocate for women, for diversity, and for financial education. In addition to her Rich Thinking® research, Barbara uses her proprietary research skills to work as an Executive Interviewer on a project basis for global financial institutions seeking to gain a deeper understanding of their key stakeholders, both women and men. Barbara is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio and print, both financial and general interest. She is a contributor to the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor website. For more information about Barbara’s research, please see www.barbarastewart.ca.