Summary of Discussions of January 24, 2012 International Council on Women's Business Leadership

Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
January 24, 2012

The meeting was open to the public via public comment and webcast. The meeting drew more than 50 attendees from the membership, general public and media.

Committee Chair Hilary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, opened this first meeting of the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership (ICWBL) and welcomed the members and other participants.

The meeting focused on what more the State Department and the international community can do to promote women in business and provide more opportunities for women in leadership roles. Secretary Clinton recognized Vice-Chairs Cherie Blair and Indra Nooyi and thanked them for their support for women entrepreneurs and women in business around the world. Secretary Clinton emphasized that the goal of the ICWBL is to hear views and ideas about what can help boost growth, mobilize resources, increase productivity, and ensure that women have a role to play.

Vice-Chair Cherie Blair noted that the global economy will suffer if women are prevented from making a full contribution. Blair conveyed that she and Vice-Chair Indra Nooyi will work to ensure that the ICWBL comes up with positive recommendations and practical actions for the State Department pertaining to the economic empowerment of women for global economic prosperity. Blair recognized the four Subcommittee Chairs: Sri Mulyani Indrawati – Access to Capital; Sally Susman – Access to Markets; Beth Brooke – Capacity Building and Skills Training; and Maud Olofsson – Leadership.

Secretary Clinton commented on important statistics presented by Cherie Blair: women perform 66 percent of the world’s work; produce over 50 percent of the food; earn 10 percent of the income; and own 1percent of the property. Secretary Clinton turned to the membership to provide examples of best practices to promote women’s business leadership.

Sheikha Lubna commented that the UAE’s achievement as a rapid and successful development story in the region is typified by the growing prominence of Emirati women as partners and contributors in the nation-building process, e.g., 70 percent of enrollments in universities are women.

Ofra Strauss mentioned the importance of measuring and standardizing the methods of measuring the number of women employed in organizations and involved in entrepreneurship in order to make a difference. This is important because it allows businesses to share data and compare best-practices in order to drive change worldwide. Additionally, she noted that businesses need to set targets to close the gender gap as part of social responsibility initiatives and that it is important to include men in all processes.

Judith Rodin addressed the importance of public-private partnerships to achieve positive outcomes and accelerate change. Rodin used an example of land needed to build 30,000 units of affordable housing in New York City. The Rockefeller Foundation organized a partnership of philanthropic funding, banking capital and City monies to create collaboration where each sector leveraged its strengths to mitigate risk and produce greater social outcomes. Additionally, when the G-20 wanted to help small and medium-sized enterprises, the Foundation partnered with the NGO Ashoka to run a global competition for new ideas. Rodin also talked about social impact bonds, which leverage resources of both the public and private sector around a common objective or interest in order to scale successful models in the social sector and accelerate corporate social responsibility (CSR) which delivers a return on investment. One example is a partnership between a global insurance company in Zurich, an NGO and the Mexican Association of Social Sector Credit Unions, which created a hybrid value chain that has allowed 56 million Mexicans since 2009 receive insurance.

Secretary Clinton emphasized the need to apply the public-private partnership model to the four ICWBL subcommittees: access to capital, access to markets, capacity building, and leadership.

Access to Capital Subcommittee Chair Sri Mulyani Indrawati emphasized the challenges women face in accessing financial services, especially when a country’s economy is in a downturn. Sri Mulyani emphasized the need for countries to be more active in eliminating discrimination against women in the financial sector and to make processes more efficient. One suggestion would be for women to have their own tax identity or identity cards. A lot of work and research has been done by the World Bank. Of the 141 economies surveyed, 48 different types of discrimination exist against women. The World Bank Development Report identifies political participation as well as the economic access related to gender equality. Sri Mulyani stated that she will ensure that her subcommittee’s work addresses all facets of women’s financial inclusion and promotes policies which are gender-equal.

Sally Susman, Subcommittee Chair, spoke about the Market Access Subcommittee and its work to identify barriers and identify a niche beyond CSR to emphasize return on investment (ROI). Increased longevity will impact society and there is a need to focus on the impact of health and wealth for women to be strong contributors to society as well as the primary role of caregivers.

Subcommittee Chair Beth Brooke addressed the Capacity and Skill Building Subcommittee’s desire to “move this needle” for progress. Capacity building and education are key to creating a strong entrepreneurial pipeline. It’s about ROI and the contributions of half of the world’s untapped population – women – are the economic engine for growth. The subcommittee’s mission will be to help figure out what it can do to train women better for entrepreneurial skills and employment skills, especially women in the supply chain. With globalization, the private sector is looking for new growth markets. There is a demand in the supply chain to invest in women and a need for companies to understand women as a market.

Maud Olofsson, Chair of the Leadership Subcommittee, commented on the need for more women around the world to talk about women leaders and women in business and the value of the ICWBL as a platform to advance women as leaders, including leadership at the local village level. Support from other women is crucial. Women are consumers, yet women are not represented on boards. As Deputy Prime Minister in Sweden, Olofsson noted that her position as a role model encouraged other women to take leading positions. She emphasized Sweden’s childcare and parental benefits that facilitate women moving into leadership positions. Olofsson stressed the importance of women being visible, working with international organizations to advance women, and recognizing best practices of women in politics, the private sector/business and NGOs.

Wanda Engel responded to the Secretary’s queries about the conditional cash transfer/microfinance programs that Brazil pioneered to decrease inequalities and ensure that more citizens benefit from economic growth. The program partners federal and state governments with the biggest bank in Brazil and has a main focus on assisting poor women. Engle pointed out that collecting accurate data is crucial to properly identify the problem and to develop solutions that benefit women and girls. Finally, Engle pointed out the need to strengthen secondary education. Brazil, as many countries, has a large population between the age of 15-17. In Brazil only 5 million out of 10 million receive secondary education. Secondary education is critical to break the cycle of poverty.

Liz Shuler added the worker perspective to the discussion. She emphasized that labor organizations should be included in partnership discussions. For example, the AFL-CIO just entered into a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to leverage pension investment dollars to build infrastructure in the United States. There are a lot of opportunities for women in the green energy sector. Countries and companies should invest in training programs for women in the green energy sector. Shuler highlighted how unions can be strong partners in this type of innovation and assist in developing ways to make business more efficient.

Wendy Luhabe commented on South Africa’s democratization in 1994 and gender equality, i.e., women must support gender equality policies and provide leadership to these programs. Luhabe founded an investment company with three other women that educated South African women about investing; this resulted in 18,000 women participating as investors and gaining financial independence. She noted that three areas should be discussed: identity, financial independence, and access to resources. She suggested insurance products could be created to protect and compensate for child-raising, family tragedies, death of a spouse, divorce, or illness of a child or parent, as these major life events greatly impact women’s lives and ability to participate in the economy.

Audrey Hinchcliffe mentioned the Way Out Project in Jamaica and addressed how to get women “unstuck” from lower and mid-level positions and the upward mobility needed to attain leadership positions. She addressed the role of women on boards, the effect of education on women’s leadership, financing for women-owned businesses, and the need for role models and mentoring to help women get to the top. Now that Jamaica has a new woman prime minister, there is an opportunity to focus on projects and programs to address the base of the pyramid, the majority of whom are women.

Meera Sanyal noted the cultural and generational attitudes towards women in India. Women are becoming increasingly empowered, and when that happens, there are positive outcomes in health and family indicators, in governance and anti-corruption, housing, and environmental protection. When it comes to financial inclusion, women need to have access to basic savings, affordable credit, and insurance in times of trouble. Women need to shape the agenda towards sustainable policies and create positive perceptions for their daughters.

Sue Fleishman emphasized the importance of communications. She offered the ability to use media in a positive, constructive way to tell stories that would lead to doing good and supporting women around the world.

At the conclusion, ICWBL Chair Hillary Clinton thanked the participants for participating in this groundbreaking effort and concluded the meeting.