Q&A with Cherie Blair of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Article Date

23 February 2011

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Cherie Blair - panelist at ICRW March 8 Event Passports to ProgressCherie Blair is the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which works to strengthen women entrepreneurs’ access to resources they need to establish and grow successful businesses. Blair will be one of four panelists at ICRW’s Passports to Progress event on March 8, International Women’s Day. Their discussion will focus on innovative ideas that have the potential to change the lives of women and girls in developing countries.

In anticipation of our event, we asked Cherie Blair a few questions via e-mail about the work of her foundation. Here are her responses:

ICRW: Why is it important to focus on women entrepreneurs in developing countries?

CB: Women entrepreneurs, and especially those at the small and medium enterprise level, are the drivers of their economies. Women tend to invest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities, much more than men. I wanted to focus on women entrepreneurs in developing countries because I have seen with my own eyes that there are a number of women out there with the potential to do so much if only they had some support. Women have made great strides in education over the last ten years, and although we still have a long way to go, there are a number of educated women who have the ability to become financially independent, but are prevented from doing so because they lack access to the tools needed to succeed in business such as technology, business skills or finance. When I set up my foundation, it was clear to me that if I could support women in their efforts to become successful entrepreneurs, this could help transform their lives for the better, and benefit their families and communities in the process.

ICRW: What have been the opportunities and challenges toward progress in this area?

CB: Women around the world face similar challenges in setting up and expanding new businesses. For example, many find it difficult to get a loan approved, while others lack business skills training. Many women are unable to access or use the technology needed to manage their businesses, and many do not have the peer networks that they need to get ahead. But there are great opportunities here. With the right support, women can not only succeed as entrepreneurs, but also substantially contribute to their countries’ economic growth.

ICRW: Your foundation works with a wide range of partners, from local organizations to private sector companies to public sector entities. How have you been able to bring these organizations together toward a common purpose?

CB: These different organizations have clear incentives to work together and so it makes sense for us to join efforts. None of us could achieve half as much on our own. We need the private sector for the innovation it can offer, the public sector for regulatory frameworks in the long term, and local organizations for the valuable knowledge they can offer which ensures our work reaches the right people in the way that is most beneficial for them. By working together we amplify our results.

The mWomen programme under the leadership of the GSMA Development Fund is a good example. On the back of our joint report, mobile operators came together with the aim of closing the gender gap in access to mobile phone technology. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department launched the mWomen initiative last year. Nonprofit organizations such as my foundation are working together with local community-based organizations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to improve health, education, finance and business opportunities for women through mobile phone technology.

ICRW: Your foundation and ICRW are working on a project that investigates how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help women conquer barriers that may limit their business efforts. How do you think the mobile phone, a type of ICT, can contribute to women’s empowerment?

CB: The mobile phone is absolutely vital for development, yet 300 million women are missing out on the benefits. This simple tool has the potential to transform their lives. If we are able to reach more women with mobile technology, it will bring valuable health benefits, education and increased income opportunities.

ICRW: As part of ICRW’s 35th anniversary celebration, you will be part of a March 8 discussion on innovations that have the potential to change the lives of women in developing countries. What is one innovation you think the private and public sectors need to pay more attention to, and why?

CB: The role of ICT is changing the lives of women in developing countries for the better:

It is in the best interests of the private and public sectors to ensure more women have access to ICT as it opens new opportunities, from allowing women to access information about market prices, thus increasing their profits, to ensuring women have vital information about pre-natal healthcare – thereby reducing the risk of infant mortality. I am a firm believer that by being better connected, women feel safer, are able to find more employment opportunities, start businesses, access banks more easily, and altogether benefit socially and economically.