Detours Ahead for Gender Equality in International Development?

There are two new reports (and one brief declaration) from the United Nations family of which we should all be aware – as they affect women’s economic empowerment efforts internationally. First, I’m sure that we’re all aware that 2015 is the year that the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals were to have been achieved. While much has been accomplished, those goals have not been achieved, and the focus is now shifting toward SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.

roadblocks1Last year, the “Women’s Major Group,” one of nine groups involved in the process of developing the SDGs, issued a statement highlighting “8 Red Flags,” or shortcomings, of the SDGs, stating that they lack “real ambition for the urgent transformational change that the world needs to achieve gender equality.” And in late June, during negotiations for the “zero draft” of the SDGs that will be discussed at a UN Summit this fall, the Women’s Major Group issued a Ten Red Flags declaration highlighting areas that need to be strengthened in UN efforts moving forward, including that:

  • Gender equality and the human rights of women and girls must be recognized as a cross-cutting issue critical for the success of the post-2015 development agenda;
  • Commitments to human rights and inclusivity must be strengthened; and
  • Commitments to civil society and major group participation must be strengthened.

A good summary of the history of this issue is contained in the recently-published discussion paper, “Accelerating Gender Equality Through the Post 2015 Development Agenda,” from the Australian National Committee of UN Women.

There’s a civil society organization, beyond2015.org, with over 1,000 NGO members in more than 130 countries that have joined forces to ensure a strong framework for poverty alleviation and empowerment moving forward from the expiration of the MDGs.

Thirdly, every few years the United Nations publishes a look at the progress of the world’s women with respect to their health, education and legal empowerment. The latest in that series, Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, was recently published. The previous reports are archived on this page.

The UN has also published data compendia (every five years, from 1990 to 2010) on The World’s Women. These reports, which contain a wealth of statistical data from around the world, are archived on this page and are well worth adding to your womenabling research shelf.

Mixing Purpose With Passion: Women’s Enterprise in Scotland

Having recently returned from Scotland, I was struck by a new-found energy and optimism. Though the recent independence referendum was defeated, it brought out a renewed national spirit – which certainly carried over in the surge of support for the Scottish National Party in the recent U.K. elections.

wes-logo-colourThis energy surge is also manifest in support for women’s enterprise development in Scotland. Last year, Scotland launched a Framework and Action Plan for Women’s Enterprise, based on feedback from the women’s business community and other stakeholders and containing a series of policy and program recommendations.

What took me over to Scotland was a Think Tank gathering, #WESMovingOn, in which best practices from within and outside Scotland and the U.K. were considered and discussed. The day was kicked off with a thoughtful presentation by futurist Anne Lise Kjaer on a more inclusive view of ‘the good life’ and the drivers of change in the future, incorporating the four P’s of people, planet, purpose and profit.

Then we (“womenablers” from government, the private sector and the third sector, from the U.K., Europe and North America) all rolled up our sleeves and shared our views – from our countries and communities – of what’s working, what lessons we’ve learned, and what recommendations we’d make for Scotland moving forward. I was asked to reflect on some lessons learned from the U.S. perspective, based on the 27 years of progress (and pitfalls) since the “big bang” of women’s enterprise development in the U.S.: the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. Here’s a brief summary of the ideas that I shared:

  1. Policy is only the starting point. For progress and sustainability attention must be paid on three key levels:
    • In the public sector level, to set such frameworks AND to establish programs based on policies;
    • On the customers/clients of women’s enterprise support: listen to them, then modify programs based on changing needs. This is something we do NOT do nearly enough of in the U.S.; and
    • On intermediary groups, such as implementing partners. This is the all too often forgotten link between policy and customer.
  2. Don’t “fence in” women business owners. By this I mean not isolate them, but don’t limit their growth by setting policy sights too low. U.S. federal support for women’s business centers is a prime example of this; they are hampered by restrictions on what clients they can serve with their federal grant money, which leaves many growth-oriented women business owners underserved;
  3. DATA, DATA, DATA: it’s critically important to measure. In the U.S. government, policy efforts are limited by restrictions on conducting research, so the Center for Women’s Business Research (now defunct) was critically important in 1990’s, as it monitored progress and showcased needs;
  4. Private sector partnerships: Enlightened corporations and financial institutions need women business owners as customers and as suppliers, so they are stakeholders, too.

We also heard from several of WES’ excellent women’s entrepreneurship ambassadors: women business owners who give back by speaking to women and girls about what it’s like to start and grow a business. One of them was Sylvia Douglas of MsMissMrs. You owe it to yourself to CLICK HERE to learn more about her enterprise … and her empowerment pants. (Here’s us posing with some during the Think Tank discussion.)empowermentpants

What’s next for women’s enterprise development in Scotland? I’d say that they will be a leader in the U.K., if not throughout Europe and beyond, for their inclusive, consultative approach, for thinking well outside the box and all along the size continuum, for being inclusive of diversity from the outset, and for bravely stepping out in front and leading the way. Keep an eye out for the report from this think tank event, and keep an eye on Women’s Enterprise Scotland … the Brave!

#MakeItHappen on March 8

March 8 marks the celebration of International Women’s Day. The observance began in the early 1900’s to support equal rights for women – including protesting employment discrimination, ending World War I, and voting rights. In early years the celebration date varied somewhat from country to country, but came to be marked on March 8 after a widespread strike in Russia on that date in 1917. And while, in early years the celebration was associated with socialism, its appeal has broadened and is now an official holiday in over a dozen countries. (Read a short history of the day here.)centredinternationalwomensday

This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Make It Happen.” The United Nations has a somewhat wordier theme this year: “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”.

There are now nearly 500 events registered in nearly 40 countries on the International Women’s Day information hub as of now, with over 1,000 expected by March 8. Check out the list and find out about an event near you – or organize your own.

And, don’t forget to share your #womensday activities on social media using the suggested hashtags: #makeithappen, #womensday, #internationalwomensday, #IWD2015, or #PaintItPurple. (Why purple? find out here.) Share photos, too. For photographic inspiration, check out this photo gallery assembled by Thomson Reuters.

Here’s to an inspiring International Women’s Day, during which you will make something happen!

On the Importance of Roadmaps

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.

‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.

‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (1865)

road to futureOf course, when it comes to navigation, the road taken usually does matter – as it does in women’s enterprise development. That’s why the focus of this Womenable WED Brief is on roadmaps for women’s entrepreneurship. The occasion is the recent release of a report, A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, from the United Nations Foundation and ExxonMobil. While the report has a development focus and some specific areas of emphasis (farming and youth), it does contain some good recommendations for women’s entrepreneurship writ large, such as the fact that access to capital alone will not advance the growth of women-owned firms, and that access to education alone (especially of the “primary level” variety) will likewise not lead to an increase in the number of women-owned wealth- and job-creating firms. Check out the report and other related information (such as some interesting videos) at womeneconroadmap.org.

As valuable as this roadmap report is, there are three other roadmaps for women’s enterprise development of note: the US-focused 2010 report from Quantum Leaps: A Roadmap to 2020: Fueling the Growth of Women’s Enterprise Development; the 2003 Canadian Prime Minister’s Task Force Report on Women Entrepreneurs; and the 2003 UK government’s Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise. All are available for your reference at Womenable’s Virtual Reference Shelf.

Measuring the BEE for WOBs in LAC

Taking on those who might attribute gender gaps in business performance to differences in entrepreneurial drive, commitment or motivation, there is a growing body of analysis focused on how the business-enabling environment (BEE) affects the development of women-owned businesses (WOBs). We womenablers are well aware that a woman entrepreneur can be as committed and motivated as all get-out, but her enterprise will not grow as strongly as one owned by her male peers if (for example) she cannot own property in her own name – thereby depriving her of the collateral needed to fuel the growth of her business via access to capital.
WEVS_cover

Property ownership and capital access are among the 49 input variables in five key categories (security & stability, business climate, finance, capacity and social services) that are codified and analyzed in a new regional assessment of women’s entrepreneurship in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The WEVentureScope, from the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), was announced in a launch event last week. Featuring speakers from the MIF, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducted the analysis (and which brought us the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index), and a panel of experts, the event announced the availability of a summary report as well as a marvelously interactive web site (www.weventurescope.com) which allows users to change the weighting of different factors and see how it affects a country’s overall score.

At present, the WEVentureScope analyzes and ranks 20 countries in the region – ensuring coverage across the region but focusing on countries with a higher level of data availability. In this inaugural effort, these five countries lead the list:

  • Chile (scoring 64.8 out of a possible 100):
  • Peru (62.4);
  • Columbia (61.8);
  • Mexico (60.2): and
  • Uruguay (60.0).

During the announcement event (which you can watch at your leisure by clicking on the link to the archived event below – the event starts at 1:45:00 and runs just under 2 hours), the point was made that, even among these top-ranked countries, there is much room for improvement, given that the top score is just two-thirds of the way to a perfect score of 100. Speakers also mentioned the challenge of comparative data, and the hope that a report such as this will spur more governments to start keeping the sort of sex-disaggregated data and statistics that could add new countries to this effort in future years.

Women’s Entrepreneurial VentureScope Launch Event

Visit the web site to learn more, read the news release, download the report, and play with the weighting of different environmental factors.

This effort is an important step forward in understanding the barriers to entry and growth of women-owned firms in the region, and to informing policy and programmatic action to support their improved success. ¡Viva las mujeres empresarias!

Who are the Most Powerful People on the Planet?

woman_icecliff copyNot too long ago, Foreign Policy magazine offered its take on the 500 most powerful people on the planet. Who’s missing? Women. This isn’t FP’s fault, of course – and a great op-ed article in the same issue, The Balance of Power by David Rothkopf, pointed out the glaring absence of gender diversity.

Here’s a link to the list, for your edification. The list includes heads of state, chiefs of enterprise, and movers and shakers in government and civil society. It’s exasperating, yet reflective of reality, that just 10% of the list is female.

What shall we do about it, fellow womenablers? Volunteer, contribute, vote, and run for office ourselves for a start. But continue our steep climb into other spheres of influence as well.

European Union Equivocates on Gender Equality

In summary, one could say that it was one step forward, one step sideways during European Union meetings in Brussels recently. The week of October 15 saw meetings at the EU celebrating SME Week, and at least one positive outcome of note – the signing of an agreement between the EU and UN Women to launch a joint regional program for women’s empowerment in North Africa, Spring Forward for Women. (In photo below, UN Woman Deputy Executive Director John Hendra (left) and European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle (right) sign the agreement).

They also issued a warm and fuzzy news release calling for a higher level of women’s entrepreneurship and job creation, and calling attention to their Women’s Entrepreneurship Ambassador program (a wonderful example that should be emulated elsewhere, in my view).

However, the news coming out of that week was a retreat from a proposal to impose a 40% quota on female representation on the boards of publicly-traded companies in Europe. The proposal has (quelle suprise!) encountered resistance from some governments, and certainly from the corporations themselves. The vote has been postponed, and may be watered down to a lower level or to voluntary targets.

Change is never easy, even when the results (as research has shown) will be better decision-making, higher employee retention, and higher profits and investor ROI.