Member Spotlight: Kym Cole

Kym Cole, Initiative Director, WEE-DiFine with the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development sat down with us to discuss measuring intimate partner violence, whether digital asset insurance builds and protects the assets of pastoral women vulnerable to climate change, WEE-DiFine’s priorities for the rest of the year and much more.

Photo courtesy of Kym Cole

FinEquity: Tell us a little bit about yourself. A fun fact? Something that might surprise most people? Your superpower? 

Kym Cole: Hi, I’m Kym and I’m the Director of the WEE-DiFine Initiative at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, a research initiative that explores the intersection of digital financial services (DFS) and women’s economic empowerment (WEE). I’ve worked in the impact evaluation space for seven years, and in international development for 10, on topics including gender, education and private sector development. I’m a third generation Californian, so I can’t help but bring a little bit of SoCal beach culture with me wherever I go. In my free time you can often find me in nature or studying yogic and Buddhist philosophy. A little-known fact, which perhaps doubles as a superpower, is that I am trained as a professional reiki master!

FinEquity: What originally drew you to the women’s economic empowerment space? What has kept you here?  

Kym Cole: I was initially drawn to the women’s economic empowerment (WEE) space as a graduate student. I was enrolled in an economics course on the methodology of growth diagnostics and was excited about the prospect of applying this concept in microeconomic contexts. For my master’s thesis, I explored the theory of binding constraints as a lens to develop solutions for rural female entrepreneurs in India. While my thoughts on this idea have certainly evolved over the years, the impetus for that initial spark remains unchanged – the complex nature of WEE leaves lots of space for innovation and creative solutions.

Photo courtesy of Kym Cole

FinEquity: Any current projects you’re working on that you’re finding particularly exciting/engaging?

Kym Cole: Of course, I am excited for all of WEE-DiFine’s funded projects! At the moment I am particularly enthused about the challenging task of ethically, precisely and reliably measuring intimate partner violence (IPV). We have several projects addressing this important issue, including this pilot study in Bangladesh led by Dr. Zaki Wahhaj and Maliha Rahanaz at the University of Kent, Canterbury. I am also very excited about our project led by Dr. Carter of UC Davis in collaboration with the BOMA Project in Kenya. This RCT tests whether digital asset insurance, in conjunction with an ultra-poor graduation program, sustainably builds and protects the assets of pastoral women vulnerable to climate change. One very cool component of this project is that the team created a video game modelled on the SIMS, as well as a comic book, to reframe the merits of asset insurance in a way that speaks directly to women’s interests. Final results are forthcoming, but this project has already garnered substantial interest, including from NASA, who is keen to apply this team’s approach to other forms of agricultural insurance.

FinEquity: What have been some of the most impactful findings you’ve come across in your career? What about in the last few years?  

Kym Cole: Years ago, I had the opportunity to work on an RCT under Dr. Leora Klapper examining the impact of digital wage distribution products in Bangladeshi garment factories. This study quantified the time and cost savings of digital wage payments relative to cash, which not only mesmerized my data brain, but also set me on my current career trajectory. More recently, I have been inspired by Dr. Jayachandran et al’s work developing a five-question survey module to measure women’s agency. Of course, measuring WEE is complex, time-consuming and expensive; this piece is an inspiring example of how machine learning can be used to accurately measure this multifaceted concept in an accessible way.

Photo courtesy of Kym Cole

FinEquity: What are your top priorities for the remainder of 2022 (and beyond) for your work? 

Kym Cole: WEE-DiFine is committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the space of development economics research funding. We aspire to build a community of practice to this effect and plan to share our own learnings to date. We also look forward to positioning WEE-DiFine as a thought leader in the space of DFS and WEE. With a portfolio of 18 studies spanning nine countries, we are excited to engage the public in our research findings.

FinEquity: What can our members connect with you about/what can they ask you about? 

Kym Cole: I love connecting with members of this community! Please feel free to reach out to me at to discuss WEE-DiFine’s portfolio and upcoming opportunities, best case practices in research financing, or just to say hello!

FinEquity: What role does FinEquity play in your work? Where do you see value in this community? How has being a member shaped your work? 

Kym Cole: FinEquity members are deeply committed to women’s financial inclusion. Whether it be through a timely webinar or a crowdsourced solution in a Dgroups thread, FinEquity offers me a daily reminder that I am working in the right space and with the right people. FinEquity also offers invaluable resources to WEE-DiFine’s network of researchers. As just one example, we frequently recommend FinEquity’s brief “Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment in Financial Inclusion” in response to inquiries regarding relevant measurement tools.

Kym Cole is the Initiative Director, WEE-Difine with BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University. 

This interview has been reposted from FinEquity Blog.