Catalyzing Private Sector Investment in Women’s Economic Empowerment

Article Date

02 November 2015

Article Author

By Ibadet Reller

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Today, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) announced a new project that will help corporate programs achieve greater levels of impact – for their beneficiaries and for their business – through their women’s economic empowerment programs.

“Private sector investment and collaboration is essential in global development efforts to advance gender equality and eradicate poverty,” said ICRW’s Katherine Fritz, director of global health who is leading this work. “ICRW is thrilled to embark on this exciting project that will engage corporations to invest strategically in women’s empowerment and refine their approaches for greater impact,” added Fritz.

The project was announced at a special event ICRW co-hosted with Gap Inc. and the Oak Foundation at which ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou gave welcoming remarks along with Dan Henkle, Gap Foundation president & SVP Global Sustainability and Aron Cramer, BSR president. The event was part of the BSR Annual Conference held in San Francisco, November 3 – 5, the world’s most influential sustainability event that gathers hundreds of companies, sustainability experts, foundations and civil society to showcase global strategies that are changing the nature of business. And this is where ICRW comes in.

Last year, commissioned by the Oak Foundation, ICRW and Dalberg Global Development Advisors (Dalberg) set out to create a better understanding of corporate-funded women’s economic empowerment programs – what works and what does not – and make the case for how such programs can increase benefits for both women and companies. Data from this study revealed that while these programs are effective in expanding women’s employment opportunities, training and access to finance, more needs to be done to reduce underlying structural and social barriers that are hindering women’s ability to advance themselves economically.

In efforts to address this challenge, ICRW and Dalberg developed a groundbreaking integrated framework – a blueprint for the private sector to adopt to increase return on investment and enhance women’s economic advancement. Featured in The Business Case for Women’s Economic Empowerment: An Integrated Approach, this blueprint is based on a human rights framework that focuses on broader conditions necessary for women to succeed and reach their full potential – including good health, safety, freedom of movement – as well as training, financial support and employment opportunities.

As a follow-up to this work, the new project “Promoting Effective Investment in Women’s Empowerment,” aims to put this unique business case into practice. In recent years, private sector interest and investment in women’s economic empowerment programs has been growing rapidly due to increased awareness that doing so potentially yields high social and economic returns for everyone. Given the fast growing interest, ICRW recognizes that now is the opportune time to engage with the corporate sector to catalyze greater investments and help ensure they are effective in their efforts.

“There is a real risk that just as the private sector is increasing its investments in women’s empowerment, companies will fail to adopt the strategies necessary for that empowerment to take hold,” said Fritz. “With this work, we will mitigate those risks by pointing a clear path to what works in order to maximize impact and yield high returns for business and the women they aim to empower.”

Through this project, ICRW and BSR will engage corporations to invest strategically in women’s empowerment using the integrated, human-rights centered approach. More specifically, they will create opportunities for corporations to share experience and receive the information and technical assistance necessary to improve the impact of their women’s economic empowerment initiatives, including measurement and reporting about their investments.

“While the private sector clearly has much to offer women, it also has much to gain by supporting women’s empowerment as part of doing business. Doing so will build a more resilient future for businesses and the world,” added Fritz.