The Next Emerging Market: Women

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Today I attended the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the UN Office for Partnerships sponsored event, Turning Inspiration into Action: Next Steps for the Private Sector to Empower Women Globally. This annual forum — now in its fourth year — brought together over 100 leaders from nonprofit, government, multilateral, and the private sector committed to the economic empowerment of women worldwide.

Given that many nations are still struggling with sluggish or no economic growth, it is timely for countries around the world to develop sustainable, inclusive economies to maximize their growth potential. And the key ingredient for achieving this is integrating women into the equation. As Carolyn Buck Luce from Imaginal Labs LLC highlighted in the opening remarks at the event, “the next emerging market is women. Over one billion women globally will enter the workforce in the next five years, and they will mostly come from developing nations.”

To capitalize on this immense opportunity, here were some actionable plans that were discussed by the panelists at the forum:

Forming partnerships across sectors – no single sector can accomplish the ambitious goal of employing and empowering all women into the economy. Ambassador Melanne Verveer stressed the importance of forming win-win partnerships that maximize returns on investment and produce added social values. For example, H&M, the Swedish clothing company, is partnering with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Swedish Development Agency, as well as local NGOs to provide vocational training for women so that they can gain productivity and also gain long-term employability skills. This is a win-win situation because “H&M support[s] women and work to address gaps in skills training in an effort to develop business models with a positive impact on the people living in poverty.”
Breaking technological barriers for women -  in today’s globalized, interconnected world, economies will be left behind if they do not strategically use technology. Yet, technological literacy is not gender equal — on average across developing nations, 23 percent fewer women than men have access to the internet; and this number jumps even higher to 43 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. To address this concern, Intel Corporation launched the She Will Connect initiative to reduce the gender and technology gap around the world. The campaign will kick off in Africa with an ambitious goal to reach 5 million women and reduce the gender gap by 50 percent with the ultimate goal that there will be more women who use computers and thus Intel will expand their consumer markets within these locations in the future.

Integrating more women into global supply chains – corporations, especially large multinationals, have the scale to integrate more women workers into their operations. Sourcing from women entrepreneurs/suppliers is especially powerful. Walmart is already doing this through their global women’s economic empowerment commitment to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses worldwide and empower one million women through vocational training. They’re already learning some hard lessons such as the need to take more time to achieve their commitments. Ann Inc announced today at the event their commitment to empowering 100,000 women in their global supply chain in the next five years.

Look up #inspire2act on Twitter to read today’s discussions about how other companies are doing to economically empower women around the world.

Maiko Nakagaki is Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.

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