Corporate Investment in Women Poised for Continued Growth

Article Date

08 March 2012

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

For private sector investment in women in developing countries to be sustainable and profitable, businesses must work in partnership with organizations who understand their unique needs, a panel of social investors convened by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) said Wednesday.

“It’s incredibly good business for financial institutions to be thinking about outreach to women and developing products that they’re going to be interested in,” said Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking.  “There is a way that the business community needs to be interacting with women to unlock that real treasure trove of the market.”

With women comprising half the world’s population and controlling 70 percent of household purchases, Iskenderian said in many countries they do not represent “the emerging market. It’s not the bottom of the pyramid. It’s the market.”

Iskenderian was one of four panelists who spoke during “The Bottom Line: How Big Business is Empowering Women and Girls,” ICRW’s latest gathering in its Passports to Progress discussion series. About 200 came to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to hear the conversation, which was moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.

ICRW brought the panel together to better understand the motivation behind the growing number of  private sector businesses and banks that are directing their corporate social responsibility dollars to women in poor and emerging economies. They include The Coca-Cola Company and its new 5 BY 20 initiative, which by the year 2020 aims to economically strengthen 5 million women who have a role with Coke, whether it be packaging their products or farming the fruit for one of the brand’s juices. 

“It makes good business sense,” panelist Charlotte Oades, global director of women’s economic empowerment at The Coca-Cola Company, said of investing in women. Key, however, is to work with local partners, examine who is participating and perform longitudinal studies to evaluate whether women – as well as their families and communities – indeed benefit economically. 

“If you can actually help somebody grow their business and their livelihood by growing your business too, it’s a win-win for both,” Oades said. “It’s much more sustainable than just handing out a check.” 

Panelist Darlene Daggett agreed. “We tend to look at businesses through a fairly economic lens,” said Daggett, founder of Ikatu International and former CEO of QVC, “but always there’s this enormous component of humanity underneath it that is so critical to the success of the biz.” 

The Coca-Cola Company’s approach – as well as that of many other private corporations and institutions – represents what panelist Jackie VanderBrug said is the emerging field of “gender lens investing,” or making investment decisions to benefit women and girls – while also turning a profit. In most cases, VanderBrug said that involves putting dollars toward helping women increase their access to capital, improve equity in the workplace and boost the number of products and services that benefit women and girls. 

It’s a field, the panelists indicated, that is poised to continue growing. Indeed, a day after the discussion, The Calvert Foundation launched a new investment initiative aimed at women. 

“This is about voice,” VanderBrug said, “and it’s about women and people who believe in women’s leadership and gender equity standing up and starting to ask that their investment dollars make a difference.” 

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s senior writer and editor.