Vital Voices (Washington, DC)

2 October 2013

Africa: Invest in Women. Change the World.

Blog

When Victoria Kisyombe’s husband died, his family reclaimed all of the couple’s property under Tanzania’s customary laws. Victoria was left with just one cow to support her children. Because the banks would not lend money to women, Victoria saw a business opportunity and launched a micro-credit institution. She provided leases on farm animals and machinery for widows and young women starting businesses. She took the extra step of mentoring the women and making sure they were able to repay their loans.

To date, Victoria’s leasing business has provided more than 25,000 women entrepreneurs with $16 million US dollars in credit, helped create 125,000 jobs, and improved the lives of more than 200,000 people in Tanzania.

Milagros Johanson, CEO of Fidenza Disegno in Lima, Peru, got certified as a women's business enterprise and as a result is now selling her products on Walmart’s website and is able to employ over 300 people, the majority of whom are single mothers. Milagros also used her contract to hire other certified women's business enterprises to help grow her business.

Like Victoria and Milargros, there are women entrepreneurs in all corners of the world, visionary leaders, finding solutions to market problems and gaining success where there is demand. But, there is enormous room for growth.

That is the idea behind the five-year, $1.5 billion US dollar commitment that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced at the Clinton Global Initiative's Annual Meeting. On an unprecedented scale, multinational corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government partners are combining efforts to address the challenges associated with advancing and promoting women in a competitive global economy and their effective integration into global value chains.

The leaders of this initiative, Advancing Women-owned Businesses in New Markets, include Accenture LLP, The Boeing Company, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, The Coca-Cola Company, DLA Piper, EY, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, IBM, Intel Corporation, The International Center for Research on Women, The Inter-American Development Bank, Johnson Controls Inc., Marriott International Inc., McLarty Global Fellows, Pfizer Inc., The Rockefeller Foundation, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, Thunderbird School of Global Management, the U.S. Department of State, Vital Voices, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and WEConnect International.

Multinational corporations know that strategically investing in women-owned businesses is more than just a sourcing strategy; it is a global economic strategy that benefits companies, consumers and communities. The support of major corporations for women entrepreneurs in the developing world will inspire a sea change in cultural attitudes and send a powerful message to governments and citizens that mothers, wives, and daughters are valuable.

Commitment to Action partners with expertise in international women’s development will deliver supplier-readiness initiatives that will include leadership training, mentoring, technical assistance, certification and networking opportunities, targeting at least 15,000 women business owners outside the U.S. by 2018. Over the five-year period, corporate partners will track and measure $1.5 billion US dollars in combined money spent on women-owned businesses in the developing world.

Experience shows that investing in women works. In Mexico, the focus on women-owned businesses as suppliers to major corporations has yielded three new contracts in just a year for Gloria Garcia of Global BMT consulting; and in India, entrepreneurs like Sudhamai Puli of ProSearch, a recruitment firm, have become integrated into multinational corporate supply chains and are expanding their capacity to sell direct to end users.

In women like Gloria and Sudhamai, we see the strengths we have seen in women around the world, including a strong desire to promote positive change; deep ties to their communities; an emphasis on building networks; and a propensity for audacious ideas and bold action. Women are bringing forth a new model of leadership, one that is more collaborative and inclusive.

In fact, the tendency to give back, to share knowledge and resources is a hallmark of women’s leadership styles. Because Victoria Kisyombe was determined to pay it forward, a network of women entrepreneurs is now growing businesses in Tanzania, lifting their families out of poverty, reforming the laws that disempower them, and playing larger roles in their communities.

The time is now for all of us to think about how we spend our money, and how much of it is going to the women of the world who want to earn your business so that they can grow their companies and create more jobs and prosperity in their communities.

Alyse Nelson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Vital Voices Global Partnership. Elizabeth A. Vazquez is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International.

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