Strengthening the Business Case for Women’s Economic Empowerment

Article Date

21 October 2014

Article Author

Ibadet Reller

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

In recent years, there has been growing private sector interest and investment in women’s economic empowerment programs due to increased awareness that doing so potentially yields high social and economic returns for everyone.

Commissioned by the Oak Foundation, the International Center for Research on Women 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 for the companies.

Researchers looked at corporate-funded programs aimed to expand women’s employment opportunities, training and access to finance and found they need to do more to reduce barriers hindering women’s ability to advance themselves economically.

The new report presents the study’s findings and includes a groundbreaking integrated framework that the private sector can adopt to increase return on investment and enhance women’s economic advancement.  The integrated approach is based on a human rights framework that focuses on broader conditions necessary for women to succeed—including good health, safety, freedom of movement – as well as training, financial support and employment opportunities. This approach addresses the underlying human rights violations that prevent women from realizing their full potential.

The paper presents eight ‘building blocks’ identified as universal requirements for improving women’s economic empowerment programs. The eight building blocks include:

  1. Access to equitable and safe employment
  2. Education and training
  3. Access to and control over economic resources and opportunities
  4. Voice in society and policy influence
  5. Freedom from the risk of violence
  6. Freedom of movement
  7. Accesses to and control over reproductive health and family formation; and
  8. Social protection and childcare

Companies have the ability to ensure that women advance economically not only due to their financial resources, but by also adopting this integrated approach, they can create real impact through people, investments, brand, purchasing power and partnerships. Doing so increases growth as well as improving the lives of women.

“Implementing this integrated human-rights based approach can truly advance women’s economic empowerment by addressing underlying barriers that prevent them from reaching their potential as true economic agents,” explained ICRW’s Katherine Fritz, Global Health Director and co-author of the report.

The report also examines program evaluations of three initiatives working to empower women: the Nike Foundations’ Toward Economic and Sexual/Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls (TESFA); Gap Inc.’s Personal Advancement, Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.); and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative. While all three programs achieved very positive results in improving the lives of women and girls, the study reveals that there is not enough evidence on the impact of corporate-funded programs.

“Collecting more and better data is critical in designing effective programs that bring about real and long lasting progress for both women and businesses,” Fritz explained.

A set of recommendations are laid out in the paper for ways in which women’s rights advocates can support business in adopting an integrated approach. Some of which include informing key stakeholders of the business value of an integrated approach using messaging tailored to specific companies and corporate foundations; convening philanthropists, funders and practitioners to bring together advisors and partners from different sectors to collaborate for stronger programs; and supporting corporate-funded programs to effectively adopt an integrated approach to their programs.

“Companies are in a unique position where they have the ability to create extraordinary change for women while also driving growth, not only due to their financial resources but by also leveraging change through their brand and investments. Business leaders want to improve the impact of their programs. By building a bridge between corporations, philanthropists, and practitioners, together we can design effective programs that deliver real and long-lasting results for both women and business,” said Fritz.