Scott Anderson

Weekly Roundup – 3/8/14: Why ‘women’s empowerment’ impacts much more than 51% of the population

George Orwell wrote: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” (Credit where it’s due: It’s the motto of uber blogger Andrew Sullivan and his site, The Dish). Anyway, this week we didn’t need a bloodhound to pick up on the trail of enterprises and nonprofits that advance the cause of women and girls, advancing the world economy in the process.

First up, the Skoll Foundation announced the seven winners – each receiving $1.25 million – of the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The winners included B Lab, Fundación Capital, Global Witness, Medic Mobile, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). The seventh organization receiving the funding and core support was Girls Not Brides, which as Skoll notes, was founded with the “bold goal of ending child marriage in one generation.” Created by Mabel van Oranje, the organization is well on its way toward that goal. Girls Not Brides has linked up with more than 300 civil society groups in 50 countries. In addition to stealing girls’ innocence, child marriage undermines six of the eight Millennium Development goals, according to GNB. The sad practice in which almost 14 million girls are married before they turn 18 also damages the economies in which they live.

One day after the Skoll announcement, the Goldman Sachs Foundation and the World Bank made their own news, announcing the creation of a $600 million fund to invest in women-owned businesses in developing markets. “The Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility” includes a $100 million investment from the World Bank and a $32 million contribution from Goldman Sachs. The duo will try to attract hundreds of millions more in capital from corporations, banks and others for more than 100,000 women-owned-and-operated businesses. The new facility will provide lines of credit and share loan risk with local banks in developing countries as well. The fund is big, but so is the challenge. The IFC estimates there is a $300 billion credit gap for women-owned enterprises. (I’d wager that’s a conservative estimate).

IFC will manage the facility, which in part is an expansion of the 10,000 Women project by Goldman Sachs. The 10,000 Women project provides training and advice to women entrepreneurs around the world, often in partnership with NGOs and universities. The Goldman Sachs Foundation will provide $18 million in grants — $11 million of which will go to IFC to provide advisory services — to expand financial-planning support for women entrepreneurs.

“We hope the facility will demonstrate to banks, other commercial ventures around the world what powerful investments women are,” Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein said. “In that way, (the program) is not just a transitional thing that will erode. It will appeal to people’s profit objectives to invest in women because it’s good business.”

The Dasra Global Philanthropy Week also kicked off on Wednesday. The focus of the fifth annual event was squarely on improving the lives of women and girls by empowering them, mainly by investing in organizations and businesses that seek to keep girls in the classroom and away from childhood marriage and/or pregnancy. NextBillion will have more coverage of the goings-on at the conference next week, so I’ll try to avoid stealing that thunder. But in a report launching the conference, Owning Her Future: Empowering Adolescent Girls in India, Dasra and the Kiawah Trust note this important statistic:

“Giving adolescent girls the opportunity to stay in school and delay early marriage and pregnancy could add $110 billion to India’s GDP over their lifetimes, indicating not only the social benefit but the economic importance of investing in empowering adolescent girls.”

Today is International Women’s Day and no doubt several of these announcements were timed to coincide with that annual recognition. But to think that the shifting ground around women’s economic empowerment, which is inextricably woven into health and educational empowerment, is limited to one day would be beyond short sighted. Looked at purely from a dollars and cents perspective, it would be akin to dismissing 51 percent of the global economy and untold trillions in financial growth to boot.

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business development, impact investing