At the recent Fortune-TIME Global Forum in Rome, Cherie Blair and Bineta Diop joined New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to discuss the ways that the private sector has both a moral and commercial interest in harnessing the power of women and girls to grow their business. All three speakers agreed that focusing on girls’ education and female economic empowerment is not just a matter of social responsibility but is instrumental in driving growth.
“It’s not just about doing good,” said Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security for the African Union. “It’s also doing the smart things because women have the capacity and knowledge and competence to bring another dimension into the workplace.”
There has been extensive research suggesting that investing money in women, whether in education or supporting women as entrepreneurs, is highly cost effective. USAid, a U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty, reports that aid programs that provide women opportunities to better their health, education, and well-being have effects far beyond a single individual. In fact, a woman multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by extending benefits to the world around her, creating a better life for her family and building a strong community.
Melinda Gates has found that helping women and girls is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to global development. She recently was quoted in Fortune Magazine as saying, “If you want to make life better for a community, you should start by investing in its women and girls.”
“When I talk to women, a universal desire is to bring every good thing to our kids. Women tend to spend their resources on their families—prioritizing things like healthcare, nutritious food, education, and all the building blocks of a thriving society,” Gates said. “The way I think about it is that when we invest in women, we invest in the people who invest in everyone else. So, when we match their commitment with our own, great things are possible.”
On the global front, Convoy of Hope and their Women’s Empowerment program has a tremendous impact helping women around the world to realize their value and reach their potential through job training and education. As a result of the program – which features a Women’s Micro-Enterprise Program, Mother’s Club, and Empowered Girls components – many women throughout El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Tanzania now own businesses that enable them to feed and care for their own children. This matters because of the 1.3 billion people living in abject poverty, 70 percent are women. As Kara Edson, director of the program says, “That’s unacceptable. We’re helping women break the cycle of poverty.”
On a business front, it boils down to encouraging female participation in the workforce and clearing the way for women to reach leadership positions. Morgan Stanley research teams recently reported that calls for more female participation in the economy have grown louder, often based on political or cultural arguments founded on fairness. Yet, a persuasive argument for diversity and equality is also anchored to the bottom line. Quantitative analysis showed that ensuring that more women are working and leading in the workplace is simply good business, especially for investors who not only care about the ethics, but also want returns.
One way you can invest in women is by advocating for women in the workplace and by being a mentor. Mentors matter, and many women in business today attribute part of their success to lessons learned through a mentoring relationship. On one level, a mentor helps women become empowered, with more self-confidence and resolve. On another, mentors serve as a guide, role model and advisor.
When women win, we all win, which is why now is the perfect time to reach out and look for ways to help. It is up to all of us to build strong support systems, and help one another while connecting in the workplace, the community, and the world at large. And bottom line, the best investment you can make is a personal commitment to help a woman step into her own power and create the life she deserves!