The Changing Landscape in Women’s Economic Empowerment

Thursday, May 3, 2018
Women work at Xuan Hoa furniture factory in Hanoi, Vietnam April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kham
Priya Basu

Head of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) Secretariat, World Bank Group

Linda Scott

Emeritus DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; Senior Advisor, Global Business Coalition for Women's Economic Empowerment 


Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

As women’s economic empowerment rises on the global agenda, the architecture to support this development imperative is shifting. Several leaders have recently launched innovative initiatives that afford new opportunities to unlock barriers to women’s economic potential—including the World Bank’s We-Fi partnership, aimed at increasing women’s access to capital, as well as the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, a group of nine leading multinational corporations focused on growing women’s role in the global economy. What are the implications of these ambitious new approaches? And how can governments, multilateral organizations, foundations, and civil society organizations most effectively engage with the private sector to advance women’s economic participation around the world? Priya Basu and Linda Scott join us to discuss the changing landscape and new research on the role of the private sector in accelerating the economic advancement of women.

This meeting is part of the ExxonMobil Women and Development Roundtable Series at the Council on Foreign Relations.


VOGELSTEIN: OK. Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everyone. We’re going to go ahead and get started. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I am the director of the Women in Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which analyzes how elevating the status of women advances U.S. foreign policy objectives, including prosperity and stability. I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Jim Jones of ExxonMobil for his leadership on women’s economic empowerment. (Applause.) Yes, indeed. As well as his continued support for our work here at the Council, including our Women in Development Roundtable Series.

Our discussion this afternoon is focused on The Changing Landscape in Women’s Economic Empowerment. Today we know that the evidence of the relationship between economic participation of women and growth is stronger than ever. And leaders around the world are really taking note. From Christine Lagarde’s reforms at the IMF, to Prime Minister Trudeau’s elevation of this issue under the upcoming G-7 presidency that the Canadians hold, to Prime Minister Abe’s economic reform agenda in Japan, even to the recent rescission of the driving ban in Saudi Arabia, which was largely driven by economic considerations, we are seeing policymakers make significant changes to increase the role of women in economic participation and growth.

And as women’s economic empowerment rises on the global agenda, the architecture to support this development imperative is shifting. There are several new and innovative initiatives that offer the potential to grow economies by unlocking barriers to women’s economic potential. And we can find one very prominent example of this evolution at the World Bank, which has partnered with 14 governments to generate over a billion dollars in financing for women-owned businesses in developing countries through the women entrepreneurs financing initiative. Another important example is the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, which a group of nine leading multinational corporations working together to explore how the private sector can grow women’s role in the global economy.

So what are the implications of these new ambitious approaches? And how can governments and multilateral organizations, foundations, and civil society best work with the private sector to advance women’s economic participation around the world? Well, today we are very pleased and fortunate to be joined by two experts who are really helpful to shape the answer to these questions.

First, we are delighted to welcome to the Council Priya Basu, the head of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative Secretariat at the World Bank. She has served in several capacities at the Bank since 1998, most recently as manager for the multilateral trusteeship and innovative financing, where she designed and managed a $21 billion portfolio to address global priorities, including food security, climate change, refugees, and pandemic threats. Prior to that she was the lead economist in the Bank’s South Asia region, where she led the bank’s finance and private-sector engagement strategy in India, with a particular focus on financial inclusion. She has also held positions at the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and the ILO. Priya, welcome to the Council.

BASU: Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: We are also very pleased to host Linda Scott, the emeritus professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Oxford, and a senior fellow at Chatham House. She founded and is now senior advisor to the Global Business Coalition for women’s economic empowerment, which we’ll talk about today. She’s also the founded of Double X Economy, which is a consulting firm that specializes in women’s economic participation. She works with multinational corporations, international agencies, governments, and NGOS, designing and testing programs to advance women’s economic participation. And she is working on a book, The Double X Economy, which we can all look for some time next year. Linda, welcome and thank you for joining us.

SCOTT: Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: So I’ll begin with a few questions for each of our panelists, and then open the discussion to all of you.

Linda, I’d like to start by setting the context for our conversation about this changing landscape for women’s economic empowerment, with a particular focus on the role of the private sector. So in 2014, you convened a group of leading multinational corporations to focus on this issue, many of which are represented in the room today, to discuss how to better include women in the economy. This is a coalition that shared research findings and approaches and you’ve recently released a report that summarizes what you’ve learned. So tell us, what works best to advance women’s economic participation through private sector engagement? And why do you believe this should be such a priority for the private sector?

SCOTT: Well, I think it’s—I should probably tell a little bit about the group and kind of what their background is, because it’s not a simple answer what works best. And the people who would tell you that with the most passion would be this group of people. I would like to just go ahead and acknowledge that it’s Qualcomm, Coca-Cola, PWC, ExxonMobil, Mondelez. I’m looking at them now. Have I got them all? Walmart just left. And then Goldman Sachs, and MasterCard, and Marks and Spencer. And so that’s who’s on now. And we’re still adding members. And I originally chose these companies on the basis that they already had in 2014, in my estimation, serious programs going. I did not want dilettantes. I wanted people who were serious. And I picked people from different industries, because I wanted a nice distribution in terms of the types of things.

And I think a lot of people don’t realize that there has actually been quite a lot of activity in the private sector over all this time. I think the one who has been engaged the longest is ExxonMobil. And they’ve been working since 2004. But everybody is really pretty active. And they—I think a lot of people look to the corporate sector mostly for funding. So they think that it’s just one-off stuff that they do. But it’s actually been very programmatic. This group is collectively in 132 countries. And that’s not 132 offices of theirs. That’s 132 women’s economic empowerment programs. They’ve already reached 18 million women. So it’s a very, very serious thing.

And I think that what needs to happen now—and that’s part of what that changing landscape is about, and I think Priya can speak to this as well—is that we’ve learned a lot about kind of what the challenges are for practical economic empowerment, because that really is the kinds of things. They’re trying to work out, you know, the nuts and bolts of how you do this. That we’re getting to the point where we need to start thinking about scale. We need to start thinking about—you know, we’ve got a situation where we’ve got half the world’s species—half the species is seriously economically disadvantaged. It’s going to be a long game. And we cannot do this through one-off charity donations. And so that means there’s going to have to be a systemic alliance of some sort. So that’s kind of where we are.

VOGELSTEIN: Linda, perhaps as important as what does work to advance women’s economic empowerment through private sector engagement is what doesn’t work. And, you know, we’ve talked earlier about some of the challenges that you’ve seen, in particular the challenge of integrating women-owned businesses into supply chains. So can you illuminate for us what some of those challenges are? And if you can, some of the solutions? What we can do to address those challenges?

SCOTT: Mmm hmm. Well, I think that there are a variety of barriers, depending on which supply chain you’re in. But I was really fortunate to have done some research on Walmart’s Empowering Women Together, which—of course, Walmart is in a very large range of supply chains. And, you know, I think—you know, I’ve done a lot of field work for many, many years. And people would always say to me: If we could just get these women connected up with Walmart so they could sell their—fill in the blank—their scarves, their rugs, whatever it was, right? And everybody thinks, wow, that’s it.

And this is one of the things that Priya and I have also been talking a lot about is that people think that, well, you know, the thing to do is to get them into these supply chains. And they come up with programs or proposals that say that but don’t really realize what really is involved. And this is one of the reasons why the private sector is wanting to engage at this point. So for example, you know, once a small women-owned business wants to trade with a multinational corporation, they really do kind of need to be of a certain size. They need to have a certain amount of capital. Otherwise, it’s going to actually hurt them to try to do it.

They’re going to have to be much more formalized. And sometimes women don’t particularly want to formalize. And there are certain requirements in terms of ethical sourcing, even animal cruelty came up at one point because we had some horn bracelets. And we had to be sure that nothing, you know, untoward had been done. There’s all kinds of certifications and things that happen that if you don’t know that in advance really frustrate your effort to integrate them into the supply chain. I think that how to—how to solve that problem should be something that collectively this—the world system should be looking at.

One of the things that I found the most troublesome was that women would have an order, they would have a design they were supposed to execute. And they would be supposed to, for example, match a certain color. OK, so you’re used to going into the department stores, right, in a certain season, and you see the purse that matches the shoes that matches the scarf, right? And it’s an exact match. OK, if those objects are being made around the world, everybody has to have the chip that’s going to match, right? And then you have to make that happen. Well, in some cases, the women did not have access to the right pigments. And the only way they had of dying things was a big pot of water on a bunch of stones, right, and drying things out on bushes, right? It’s really hard to control a dye under those circumstances.

So there’s some really, really basic things, material things, that have to be thought about. And it’s—you know, it’s not enough just to have a networking event, OK? So that’s what I’m saying. (Laughs.) You can’t stop there.

VOGELSTEIN: That’s it, we’re seeing really, serious practical challenges that—

SCOTT: Yeah, I mean, it really—it gets down to the nubs. You just can’t be holding a party. You just can’t. (Laughs.)

VOGELSTEIN: Right. Right, right. Fair enough. Fair enough.

Priya, I’d love to bring you into the conversation to talk about the Women Entrepreneur’s Financing Initiative, which is known here in Washington by its seemingly requisite acronym, which in this case is We-Fi. So we’ll go with that. Just a few weeks ago at the Bank, at the spring meetings, Jim Kim announced the first round of grants under We-Fi. So tell us a little bit about where the money that’s been generated so far is going, what you hope to achieve, and how you’re specific collaborating with the private sector to achieve your goals.

BASU: Thank you. So, yes, the first round of funding for the We-Fi was just announced on April the 18th. So maybe I’ll just kind of tell you a little bit about the We-Fi and then, you know, what—where we are and what we hope to achieve to this first round. You know, as Linda’s mentioned, really scale and impact are sort of the two ambitions of the We-Fi. I think, you know, we know there’s been lots of little successes around the world, lots of isolated projects. We really want to use the We-Fi as a platform to make a difference. We-Fi was announced, as you know, at the G-20 in Hamburg last July. And then we moved very quickly to have it launched at the World Bank/IMF annual meetings last October. And then in less than six months, we did the first round of funding allocation.

It is different, I think, from other initiatives because it really tries to address the challenge facing women entrepreneurs in a more comprehensive way. We acknowledge that access to finance is, you know, one of the problems, access to markets is another problem, access to technology and information. And then on top of that, problems that women face because of the legal and regulatory environments in which they operate. So we’re trying to take this kind of ecosystem approach that tackles all of these barriers and then, you know, shows that impact and scale.

We have an operating model where right now we’re operating through multilateral development banks. So it’s a collaborative partnership amongst the 14 governments. And I have to say that that itself is—you know, is quite an interesting process, because we’re able to get 14 governments around the table to contribute to We-Fi that have never really come together around the issue of women’s economic empowerment. So that kind of happened. We were able to value that support. And then we had these multilateral development banks, including the World Bank and IFC, that will serve as implementing partners of the We-Fi. So that was the first round where, you know, we issued a call for proposals and MDBs were eligible to submit proposals. Then we went through sort of reviewing their proposals and then, you know, the winning proposals were awarded grants a couple of weeks ago.

But we’re also looking into now, in the next phase of the We-Fi, to engage directly with the private sector. So, now, the private sector is really the heart of the overall initiative. For every dollar of We-Fi funding that we’ve mobilized from governments, our ambition was initiative to leverage least $5 from the private sector through kind of additional financing. I should say that I’m kind of happy to share that the first round of We-Fi has actually overshot that target. The 120 million (dollars) that we’ve allocated is mobilizing 1.6 billion (dollars) from the private sector. So that just goes to show there’s a lot of interest amongst private corporations and private financiers to sort of get engaged in this. And it’s really very heartening. And I think this event is kind of a great example of that.

So private sector engagement, one dimension of that is leveraging money from the private sector. But delivery—I mean, the entire delivery model of We-Fi is also sort of predicated on active partnerships with the private sector because the way these projects are constructed—I’m kind of—I’d be happy to share a little bit more about the particular projects that the We-Fi is financing—but every project that we’ve received, every proposal that we’ve received for financing has kind of the private sector as an integral element. Even though MDBs are sort of the developers of this projects and sort of the overseers of them.

So for example, there’s kind of one set of projects that deal with partnering with the private sector to set up dedicated financial institutions that will support women entrepreneurs, venture capital funds, banks that are able to focus more on women-owned, women-led businesses in developing countries, ways to address credit risk, ways to deal with bankers to sort of help them address their unconscious bias when it comes to dealing with women entrepreneurs, and so on.

Then there’s another set of projects that helped to bring in more women into the supply chains of large corporations by precisely kind of tackling the sort of barriers that Linda was mentioning. Then there are projects that are looking at women as participants in the shared economy, how they can sort of, you know, play a more active role—what kind of capacity support, what kind of networking support, mentoring and so on they need in order to not just enter but also sustain themselves. There are very exciting projects around women and technology.

And that kind of ties back to the question of, you know, certain environments where women face cultural biases, for example. They kind of—other kinds of problems that prevent them from, say, you know, going out of the house to work. So, you know, technology really brings opportunities to women at their doorsteps, to sort of get engaged both through providing them with access to finance, but also, you know, access to all kinds of ways in which they can market their products and so on. So, you know, maybe I’ll stop here and happy to kind of elaborate.

VOGELSTEIN: A really helpful overview about where the money’s going. And I think, not without note, that in an era where multilateral pledging campaigns all too often fall short, that you’ve actually managed to overshoot the goal that you set with respect to financing. That’s quite significant.

Some have questioned whether We-Fi will actually reach women at the bottom of the economic ladder who, you know, arguably need the most help, some of whom, let’s say, live in fragile states. You have talked about We-Fi as an initiative that will specifically target the so-called missing middle. Not just women at the top, but how will We-Fi reach women at the bottom?

BASU: So maybe now it’s time to kind of go into a little bit of the specifics around the proposals that the We-Fi is supporting under the first round. So we have projects from the Asian Development bank that focus on Sri Lanka. And not just—in fact, not really Columbo, outside of Columbo. And the bulk of the money that’s going to go through this project is going to go to what they call lagging regions and lagging parts of Sri Lanka. The proposal from the Islamic Development Bank that’s been approved focuses on Yemen, Mali, and northern Nigeria. Again, the target audience for this, the target beneficiaries are women entrepreneurs working outside of sort of major cities and really in kind of fragile and conflict sort of regions. And then there’s the proposal from the World Bank and the IFC, which has been supported, over 50 percent of which is going to go to the poorest, most fragile, conflict-affected countries.

So kind of in terms of the overall focus of We-Fi, we had put poverty and fragility as, you know, kind of important goals to tackle. And more than—so our overall goal for We-Fi over the life of it is that more than 50 percent of money should go to poorest and fragile countries. And in this first round, 58 percent is going to those countries. Now, you can argue within those countries, well, there are, you know, women who are at the bottom of the pyramid. And then there are women who don’t really need support. And on that, again—and maybe I can just share some data—but the majority of the proposals are really for women entrepreneurs who are just starting off. You know, they’re not women entrepreneurs who’ve already succeeded and just need a little bit of extra money to kind of grow. They’re about really helping to address the barriers that these entrepreneurs face.

So just to give you an example of the—kind of the scale here, so the Islamic Bank proposal, the loan size that will go to these women through the We-Fi grant is between $10(,000) and $30,000. So we’re not talking of, like, huge amounts here. And then, you know, the grant ceilings for another part of that project that focuses on Yemen and northern Nigeria is $15,000 per grant. So these are not, you know, women who are the elite in these countries. These are women who really need help. Similarly, maybe on the—on the ADB proposal in Sri Lanka, the support will go to women entrepreneurs who have a borrowing capacity of no more than $333,000. And the average loan size is estimated at about $92,000. So again, you know, these are kind of, you know, not massive amounts of support. But, you know, the overall—the aggregate impact of all of this is sort of likely to be very strong, so.

VOGELSTEIN: Quite targeted.

BASU: Quite targeted, yeah.

VOGELSTEIN: Would like to ask both of you about legal and cultural barriers, which our research here at the Council suggests is a significant impediment to women’s economic participation, including in the areas that we’re talking about. So first, Priya, how is We-Fi addressing these barriers? You touched on it a little bit with respect to one of the grants you mentioned. And given the regressive policies of at least some of the partners that helped to found We-Fi—I’m thinking of Saudi Arabia, for example—should we expect to see this be a priority for We-Fi going forward?

And then, Linda, I’d love for you to chime in and tell us, you know, what is the role of the private sector in addressing some of those legal and cultural barriers that impede women’s ability to move forward in the areas we talked about?

Priya, why don’t you begin?

BASU: No, that’s an excellent question. And it’s a question that we thought hard about and really it was central of the desire of the We-Fi as we were working on it over the summer. I mean, cultural barriers are not here to go away, but in terms of legal and regulatory barriers that is an important focus of We-Fi. And every proposal that—you know, when we set up the criteria for evaluating the proposals, we really put a very strong emphasis on proposals that were—that had an ambition to address legal and regulatory barriers. And in fact, if you look at the results indicator of the We-Fi—it’s all there up on our website—but we have a specific result that we’re targeting, which is how many regulatory and legal barriers are going to be addressed in how many countries through We-Fi.

And so a number of the proposals we have are aiming to do that. And I have to say that, you know, the governing committee, yes, comprises of countries with diverse views on these topics. But everyone around the table—and it’s represented by people from, you know, each of these 14 countries. Everyone’s being very supportive of this particular target. And, you know, we’re going to measure it. We’ve set it up. It’s out there in the public. We have to demonstrate that, you know, we achieve that.

And then, you know, but there are some innovative ideas in the proposals on how to deal with cultural barriers. So like I was saying, you know, the use of technology to—as an enabler for women entrepreneurs in these developing countries is something that has come out in many of the proposals. And I am very optimistic that, you know, we’re going to be able to achieve some breakthrough in this, through these kinds of projects—what’s called disruptive technology. And I think that’s kind of one of the most exciting part of the proposals that have come in through We-Fi. But, you know, hold us to it. And, you know, keep asking us this question.

VOGELSTEIN: Right. You can count on us. We’ll hold you to it. (Laughter.) And look forward to seeing the data, and really glad to hear you’re keeping metrics on this critical element.

Linda, what about the role of the private sector? And through the work of the coalition, how have you contended with some of these legal, social, cultural barriers?

SCOTT: Yeah. First, I want to parse a little bit because what I might say here is that I brought this group together, but I am not the leader of this group. They lead themselves now. And I am also not—well, they sort of do. (Laughter.) And I’m not a spokesperson that represents them, right? I represent myself. And it’s very important for me to do that, because I have strong opinions and they may not want to be, you know, behind that. So—(laughs)—I think that in terms of legal stuff—so, major corporations have to be very careful about following the laws in any particular place, right? So they’re going to be doing that. At the same time, they have relationships with local governments because they need to have relationships with local governments in order to be able to do business.

And sometimes what happens is that their expertise in this particular area, actually, the women’s empowerment, is helpful to that government. And that’s part of what they’re, you know, kind of trying to do as partners with the governments. It’s quite a different mode than it might have been in the past, where they try to work together on things that are going to benefit everybody, and that this is something that they can offer. And I think also it is the case that in the—in this space, that a private sector player, particularly a multinational company—and this is one of the reasons why I think it’s very important to be using them wisely to bring about systemic change, as we’re trying to do here, is that they occupy a little bit different space, such that they’re maybe not as implicated in some political issues that might be going on, because they’re a cross-national kind of an entity.

They’re a secular entity. They do work across borders all the time. And it’s just a little bit—they’re a bit more agile than the public sector, I would say a great deal more agile than the public sector. But they’re—but sometimes they have strengths, OK, that can be drawn on in that kind of a situation. So I think, you know, with an important emphasis that they have to be mindful of the law, all right. And sometimes people do kind of want them to, you know, deal with informal workers or something, that they just can’t do, right? But, yeah, they’re going to do that.

Now, as far as the social and cultural—and this is the Linda Scott part here, OK, has a very strong opinion of this—is that they’re all very careful about culture. You know, they’re all very careful. Most of them, though, have worked around the world for really as long as any of us have been on it, OK? I mean, they’ve had Coca-Cola way out there for a long time. So it’s not like they just, you know, fell off the turnip truck. But at the same time, going into Linda Scott here, I think it’s really important to be recognizing that this phenomenon of gender inequality is a global phenomenon. It actually doesn’t vary that much around the world. It has a very strong pattern, one you can see from space it’s so patterned, OK? (Laughter.) And so to keep acting like this is a local, cultural idiosyncrasy is not realistic, OK?

And the other thing is I think it’s important, even if you don’t say it, to remember that if you’re in there engaging with changing gender norms, you are by definition kind of going against the local culture, right? You’re trying to change. And let’s face it, people push after—even in this country—trying to change gender norms, right? Everywhere you go, people push back. So I think it’s important when we consider questions like how are you going to honor the culture or something, to remember and be realistic about what you’re trying to accomplish for all of us.

VOGELSTEIN: Fair enough. And truly global, as you noted.


VOGELSTEIN: Right here as well.

SCOTT: Yes, terrible. Yes.

VOGELSTEIN: I wonder if I could ask each of you to reflect on how the different sectors, governments, certainly the multilateral space, NGOs, foundations—how can we expect better engagement with the private sector on a shared agenda to advance women’s economic participation? Linda, I’d love it if you could answer that. And then, Priya, perhaps you could reflect on what you would like to see from the private sector to achieve some of the goals that you’ve outlined through We-Fi. So, Linda, why don’t you begin?

SCOTT: Yeah. I think that they—I think they have—they’ve learned a lot, the private sector has. They’ve been quite active. We were—and we actually were meeting with some people from the World Bank yesterday and talking about some of the touchpoints that there might be, some of the expertise that might be shared. We had one conversation about how they—not with World Bank but later—about how there’s enough knowledge about financial inclusion in this group that they really feel like they have a lot to offer in terms of expertise about how such things have to be executed.

I think, if I may—I hope this analogy will work—but I read something a couple of days ago, an article that said 80 percent of world trade goes through multinational corporations. OK, that’s a lot. OK? And you’re not going to do a women’s economic empowerment program unless you’re engaged with the private sector, which doesn’t necessarily mean the multinationals because obviously on the ground you’re local businesses. But it’s important to realize that you have your policy part of this and you have your practical part of this. And it’s one thing to talk about trade regulations and agreements and whatever, but when you’re starting to talk about goods and services moving around the world, when you’re talking about where the rubber meets the road, you’re talking about that part of the economy. And I think a lot of what they’ve been doing is figuring out in real time how do you accomplish some of these things. So that’s, I think, a lot of what they have to offer.

VOGELSTEIN: Priya, what do you want to see from the private sector?

BASU: So there’s a 1.5 trillion (dollar) estimated credit deficit facing women entrepreneurs around the developing world. So one kind of big part of all of this is working with the private sector to—and I’ve said this before, to mobilize and leverage more money for women entrepreneurs. So here, I’m talking about the private financial sector. And, you know, around the world there are sort of biases against lending to women entrepreneurs. And I’ve seen it in my own country where, you know, if you give—way back in 2005, I did a project in India on SNE financing where this SNE development bank was sort of given applications. And when you took the name out from the top of the application, you know, many more women would have gotten credit. But as soon as they saw the name of a woman, you know.

So working with the private sector, with private financial institutions to address this kind of financing gap, and it’s not just, you know, access to loans. It’s really access to equity and access to insurance and, you know, just to kind of come back to Linda’s point, that problem is not just a developing country problem. I understand even here, you know, what 3 percent—less than 3 percent of venture capital goes to women. So, you know, so one kind of aspiration we have is to be able to partner, you know, with the private sector to sort of get more financing to these women entrepreneurs. You know, multilateral aid is going to sort of—you know, can help, you know, steer this in the right direction, and then sort of provide some amount of financing to address risk and so on. But the solution is going to have to come from private financing.

And then, I’m very hopeful. You know, when I hear and I see all this interest amongst, you know, private corporations to partner with us, to address exactly the kind of things we’re talking about. You know, we can’t do it alone at the World Bank or the eight MDBs that are working around the We-Fi or on other women’s issues. If we really are to make an impact in terms of, you know, creating more jobs for women through entrepreneurship around the developing world, and that has to come from the private sector.

So not to put pressure on the private sector’s that’s siting here, but really, you know, you’re the solution to all of this. You know, we can work with you and we can—you know, we can certainly kind of come and help on the policy framework and the legal/regulatory framework and so on. But the jobs are going to be—going to have to be created, you know, by the private sector for the private sector, so.

VOGELSTEIN: Fair enough. Fair enough.

SCOTT: Can I jump in on that?


SCOTT: Because I think it’s important to make, you know, discernment among sectors, right? So there is—the people who are in this room right now, of our coalition, there’s no financial sector people here today. Now, we do have some financial sector members. And one of them, for example, is Goldman Sachs, who has actually worked very closely with the IFC on, for example, training bankers around the world to deal with women better, which is just, like, a really nice way to say it, OK? (Laughter.) Because there’s a lot of bias in the banks. I mean, you know, there is. And that’s a job that will—you know, the World Bank can help on too. I mean, there’s—you know.

And I think that some of our members that have gotten out in the field and tried to help women build businesses and stuff have discovered this problem for themselves. And they have tried to work around, you know, some of the issues. Like, for example, MasterCard is one of our members. And they’ve worked a lot with the whole problem of identification, which we were talking about just earlier today, is that in a lot of cases you can’t even get a woman a bank account, never mind a loan, because they don’t have an ID. So that is the first step. And so they’ve worked a lot on that.

Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola both, I believe, have had big credit facilities that were available through the IFC on a global level. There’s a lot of actually activity that is not financial sector, but it’s aimed at the financial sector. And so that’s what I’m saying, is just that you need to be, you know, looking at who needs to be moved.

VOGELSTEIN: Expand this coalition, yes indeed.

Well, there are many experts in the room, so I’d love to open the discussion now to your questions. Please raise your placards, state your name and affiliation, and we’ll get to as many as we can. Why don’t we start here in the back?

Q: Hi. I’m Macani Toungara, TechnoServe.

VOGELSTEIN: I think we actually have some microphones. So wait till it comes around, we can all hear what you have to say.

Q: Macani Toungara. I’m with TechnoServe.

My question is around the citizenship of these global partners. So I see a lot of these are American companies. How are you seeing the trends with European companies, Indian, Chinese, from other sectors? How does—how do corporations that are incorporated in those regions, how do they measure up? Are they keeping up with where the American corporate sector is? What are the differences?


SCOTT: Yeah, that’s a good question. As I said earlier in the beginning, I’m someone who chose them. And I—for this particular group. And I, at the time, looked at other—we have a mix, actually, of American and British, because some of these that are—although they’re familiar names to us, actually the Women’s Empowerment Program is in England. So I did not feel at the time that there was anybody really that stood out that I could be confident was of the same stature myself, with the knowledge I had, OK? So what I decided to do at the time was to keep it to the U.K. and the U.S. members because I felt like I had a solid idea of what they were doing, and I could make an informed judgement.

All along, we’ve realized that at some point we were going to need to reach out and do that. And really, the main thing is being able to make sure you have a solid partner and you’re not asking somebody who isn’t what you want, right? So I would say, yes, we want to do it. And we’re just not quite there yet. We’re still kind of getting ourselves situated.

VOGELSTEIN: Thanks for that, Linda.

Other questions? Lyric, here in the front.

Q: Thank you so much for this rich discussion. I’m Lyric Thompson. I direct the policy advocacy program at the International Center for Research on Women. And I also co-chair an advocacy coalition on women’s economic empowerment. So I’m very interested in both of your remarks.

My question is for Priya, which is sort of a one part process question and one part substance question on the We-Fi. On process, we were one of a number of groups who had called for a formal civil society role in the governance structure of the We-Fi, particularly given some of the dynamics that Rachel alluded to in terms of the rich diversity of countries who are contributing to the fund. So any comment you could make on where that stands. And then, the substance question, we were delighted to see the focus on dismantling barriers. Has there been any focus or discussion on the barrier of unpaid care work which, of course, is one of the major things that is keeping women out of economic participation or underemployed? Thanks.

BASU: Great. So on the governance, the We-Fi governing committee does include representation from civil society. And thanks, I mean, you and others raised that, and that gave us the—sort of the wherewithal to make that happen. The way it’s structured is on top of the 14 decision-making members that are the founding donors of the We-Fi, there are I believe 3 CSO representatives on a rotating basis. I think they’re—if I recall correctly, it changes every two years. And then we also have on top of that—and amongst those CSO representatives, were saying that at least one of them at any point in time has to be from a recipient country of the We-Fi.

And then on top of that, we have representation from U.N. Women and the W-20, and One Campaign. So that’s kind of the structure. And then we have all of these MDB implementing partners as observers as well. So that’s—I hope that answers your question on the CSO representation. And we see—you know, we see these representatives, they have been playing a very effective role because they really do bring different insights to the table, and the—you know, they complement the sort of knowledge and kind of experience that the government representatives have on We-Fi’s governing committee.

On your other question, that’s kind of—that is covered in the World Bank Group’s proposal. There’s kind of a strong sort of acknowledgment of the fact that, you know, better care for—you know, kind of child care and so on for women is something that really does act as a barrier for women to go out and work. And I don’t want to keep coming back to this again, but the proposal that deals—or the couple of proposals that deal with using technology, giving women better access to sort of online platforms, ways in which they could sort of work from home also take into account this barrier. That’s not a solution to the barrier, but it’s kind of, you know, a way to tackle it.

But, Linda, I don’t know if you wanted to add something about care?

SCOTT: I’m sitting here trying to think if anybody who’s on the—if I know about any of the programs that they have that are dealing directly with the care question. I’m thinking not right now. There are programs that deal with violence and some other things, but not particularly that. I think everybody is very much aware of it, however, and are very concerned with doing things like measuring time use and that kind of stuff. So it’s not like they don’t know.

I do feel like—and I did want to kind of plug my report here—

VOGELSTEIN: Go ahead. (Laughter.)

SCOTT: OK. So I’ve got this report. And I’ve got some copies sitting out there. It would be great if everybody took one. If, among other reasons, I don’t have to put them in my suitcase. But they’re really nice, and full color. But it talks a lot in here—this is kind of my distillation of the conversations we’ve had over the last three or four years—talks a lot about this whole question of an ecosystem, that there’s no one thing you can go in and do in a community without taking into account all of these kinds of issues. But it’s often not necessarily the private sector to be the one to, you know, deal with it, right? And I know some of them, for example, have even had some, like, gender—family gender training stuff, and whatever, because you just—there’s a lot of stuff that goes on. I know a lot of them have gotten involved in things like water access and girls education and things like that, because when they got into a community that was a problem that they couldn’t execute. A lot of them are testing technologies that try to get around some of these issues.

And so I think—but I think what happens is, at least my observation is, that we’re doing something here where the governments are going a little bit of some of the things they didn’t always do, and the private sector is doing some things they didn’t always do. You know, you didn’t used to have governments teaching entrepreneurship, you know what I’m saying? So everybody is, I think, still trying to feel their way towards what is their role. So.

VOGELSTEIN: Fair enough. We have another question here.

Q: Thank you. Erika Veberyte, international development consultant.

Many of us probably have at least participated in one discussion focusing on economic versus political empowerment. And at the end we usually come together, saying the mutual support of these two spheres is the most important for the sort of progress of the country, and the development. What is the private sector? What is the role of the private sector in that? Has the private sector been engaged in that? And by political empowerment, I obviously don’t necessarily mean running for office. I mean leadership, the community leadership, the leadership in their, you know, business associations, et cetera. Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: So what about this question of leadership?

SCOTT: There’s actually a good bit that goes on about leadership. For example, I think some—for example, Mondelez and Marks and Spencer both, you know, out in areas where they’re getting cocoa and this kind of stuff, start—in fact, and I know this also has been happening in some of the factory programs—they actually start with trying to cultivate self-esteem, encourage leadership, encourage engagement. It doesn’t—it’s no enough just to do—you know, they have to—they have to be able to engage, just as you’re saying. And so, for example, one of the issues that you run into in access to markets, all right, is that you’ve got to be able to get them in there on a cooperative board. And they’ve got to hold their own, OK? So that there are those kinds of leadership issues, even within a private sector environment. And, yeah. I mean, it’s, for sure, have to do it.

VOGELSTEIN: Why don’t we come to the other side of the room. Myra, you have a question, and then we’ll come over here. Thank you.

Q: Hi. Mayra Buvinic from CDD and Data2x.

A comment for Linda and a question for Priya. (Laughs.) If you don’t mind. The comment is, you know, responding to TechnoServe’s question, I would venture that there are very few other countries in the world where multinationals are doing this. And that this is, you know, very much sort of the first, or whatever. And I would suggest that at some point you really need to give this much more visibility and PR-ing, just to act as a demonstration effect, because I really think it’s incredibly valuable what you’re doing. But nobody knows about it, or very few people know about it. And probably you have—you haven’t wanted to make it more public. (Laughter.) But I think that it’s a great idea and it should be fostered.

SCOTT: Thank you. Yeah, I’d like that actually. If I could just answer, and you’re absolutely right that in other areas of the world this is—the whole economic empowerment thing is kind of not known about among the corporations. In some countries, in fact, some of these multinationals have had trouble selling in some of the programs because the local office is like, what? You know, I mean, in England, for example, they can kind of take offense at the idea that you’re going to intervene for women, so.

VOGELSTEIN: Just saying. Mayra you had another question for Priya.

Q: For Priya, yeah. Two questions, very short, brief. But, you know, on measuring results, I mean, if the financial sector is going to be a big sort of target for you, are you going to be asking the banks to sex-disaggregate their supply-side data? That’s, you know, sort of—you know, three-fourths of the banks in the world don’t do that. And if they don’t do it, they’re never going to realize the biases they have. The second question is just have you been able to sidestep some of the regular procedures of the World Bank to give away the money? Because otherwise, it’s going to take a very long time. (Laughter.) And we need results quickly.

VOGELSTEIN: There’s the wisdom of inside experience there with that question. (Laughter.) Priya, please.

BASU: I’m so glad you raised both of those points. So on the first one, I should have mentioned that, so sex-disaggregation of data, we have two results—we have 12 results indicators in our results framework. My team’s sitting there. They can correct me if I’m wrong. I think I have—yeah. So two out of 12. And two of them are about sex-disaggregation of data. And just yesterday we were talking to the ADB team that’s going to do this big project in Sri Lanka on banking for women. And the eight banks that they’re going to work through, each of them has been—set a target of doing this. And in previous projects—and this is not the first time, you know, those eight commercial banks have received multilateral support, but this is the first time under We-Fi that they’ve been asked to do that.

And any bank that doesn’t—the way we’re tracking it is that if they don’t show their ability to sex-disaggregate data within the first two years, then they’re going to be disqualified for future support. So we’re really kind of putting a lot of emphasis, because, frankly speaking, you know, there’s been so many projects that have kind of dealt with—well, that have set out to help women get better access to finance. But at the end of the day, nobody knows whether men receive money or women receive money. So, Mayra, thank you for pointing it out.

And we also have seven impact evaluations as part of the We-Fi proposals, which we’re going to—kind of which also are going to focus on this. On top of that, there’s also a focus on sex-disaggregated data for nonfinancial institutions under We-Fi as well, the ones that are providing sort of capacity building and business advisory support, and so on. So we want to be able to track how many women, you know, were supported through We-Fi. Two headline indicators for the We-Fi at the top are how many women-owned SME got financed through We-Fi, how many of them got other kinds of support through We-Fi.

And then on your other question, so, yes. You know, I think we’ve already shown that we can move very fast. You know, I have, over the past 20 years at the World Bank—in my—in my most recent job I set up about 20 or more partnerships. And none of them were set up with the kind of record-speed that We-Fi was set up. But that’s not—I mean, I setting up is not just—I mean, that’s a good start, but then the approval procedures and so on. So we are—we have our own kind of governance structure. We’re called a financial intermediary fund, and we’re governed by this external governing body. We’re housed at the World Bank. But our procedures are very nimble and agile. And the whole bank is moving that way.

You know, we have this big, agile bank project right now. So, yes, we were able to get the funding approvals very quickly. And we hope to be able to sustain that. And, again, another thing to watch out for—and shout-out if you see that, you know, we’re not moving fast enough, so.

VOGELSTEIN: Well, that’s refreshing to hear. And it sounds like we’ll have a treasure trove of data to dig through. So grateful for that.

SCOTT: I just want to, you know, underscore what Mayra was saying about this business about sex-disaggregated data is a really big deal. It’s a big deal in everything, but particularly with the banks. And it actually is a problem in this country that needs to be turned around, because the banks are restricted by some old regulations of the 1970s that probably need to be looked again. But just from some of my personal experience, working on some of these banking programs, it is amazing to me how you’ll go into a bank and they’ll tell you, well, you know, women won’t be good, you know, for the bank, because, you know, they—you know, they’re not profitable, and they’re going to do this, and their businesses don’t grow.

And they’re—and they’ll just go on and on and on. And you’re just like, OK. So how many women have you got as customers? Oh, we don’t have any, right? Or, well, you know, we had to turn them all down. Well, so how many apply? Oh, they never apply, right? And they have all these very fully formed ideas about what a typical women customer is. And they either have never had one, or their sex—their data is not sex-disaggregated, so they actually don’t know. They are talking about of a complete absence of information. And so that is just pure stereotyping. Decision-making on nothing. And so I think that’s something that really needs to be held to the fire.

VOGELSTEIN: It is amazing how illuminating facts and numbers can be, fair enough.

SCOTT: Yeah, can be. Yeah.

VOGELSTEIN: We have a question over here and here.

Q: (Off mic)—CNN International.

My question is actually very much about data and, Rachel, your point about having a treasure trove of data. But I’m curious for our speakers, you know, for, say, you know, governments, heads of state, and also for CEOs, what—if there was one data, one metric, one indicator that you would really encourage them to look at, what would it be?

VOGELSTEIN: I don’t want to limit it to one, but is there something that rises to the top?

SCOTT: Governments or businesses? OK. OK, I think it needs to be equal pay. I think that’s the number-one thing. And it needs to be measured consistently. And it needs to be published. And it needs to be comparable across national borders. And it needs to be tracked over time. And that is the one thing. Everybody needs that one. That’s what I would say.

VOGELSTEIN: Priya, any thoughts?

BASU: Well, I think—I mean, I would—I would agree with that. I would also look at, you know, how many women are in leadership roles in kind of the private sector. And I think that’s a really important one, on the boards of these—

SCOTT: Yeah, and those two, of course, are connected, right?

BASU: Yeah, they’re connected. (Laughter.) And I should say that, you know, we are walking our talk within the World Bank Group as well. We are just one short of having 50 percent of our senior leadership at the bank female. You know, we’re looking at how many, you know, women we have at all different levels, and trying to sort of, you know, make sure that there’s a, you know, an equal balance. We have also actually recently—it might be interesting, not quite connected with you—but we’re sort of saying how we’ve looked at our own procurement, our own corporate procurement, and looking at what proportion of our procurement is from women-owned businesses. And we’ve held ourselves to a new target. So, yeah, we’re—

VOGELSTEIN: The lens is internal not just external. That’s great to hear.

We had a question over here, and then we’ll come over to this side.

Q: Hi. Thank you. I’m Arbor Johnson (sp). I work for Itochu.

So the whole Japan-based multinational corporations is a whole separate issue. But separate from my day job, I’m involved in some impact-investing that’s focused on women, venture capitalists investing in women at the angel, and a little bit later stage. So that’s what I wanted to ask you about. How do we get—how do we leverage women in finance, women in leadership, but mostly women’s—women investing in women?

SCOTT: Is that for me?

VOGELSTEIN: Either one of you. I mean, this is an issue Priya mentioned before.

SCOTT: OK. I mean, I think it’s really important. I think over the last 10 years or so, there’s been just really a lot of focus on credit. And credit is very—I mean, that’s still—in fact, we were talking about problems with credit here a few minutes ago. And I just wanted to share a fun fact that I had in a recent report where in the United States, women own 33 percent of the businesses and they get less than 5 percent of the small—conventional small-business loans. And I was doing a report on Lebanon, and exactly the same. Thirty-three percent of the businesses, 5 percent of the conventional business—exactly the same numbers. And, you know, the legal and regulatory environments are quite different. So there’s other stuff that drives all of this, you know?

But the problem is that when you rely on credit so much, I mean, from a—just a purely business perspective, right, that’s not—you can’t be doing that. So it puts people at risk, especially start-ups, right? So definitely equity is where we need to be going in my opinion. But then, I mean, that’s where, you know, you go up the financial food chain, it gets worse, not better. And so I don’t see any other solution for it but angel—for the time being—women-led venture capital and women-led investment funds, yeah. Personally, yes.

BASU: I would—I would just add to that that, yes, I mean, you know, we need to set targets for these, you know, venture capital firms, and so on, you know, in terms of number of women partners they have, for example. And you know, you will get more women investing in women when you have more women in powerful positions, in decision-making positions.

If you talk to venture capitalists, you know, in this country and elsewhere, and I’ve done a little bit of that, you know, you say—they’ll tell you there just aren’t enough women applying for venture capital. So they say it’s kind of a demand issue. And there might be some truth to that. I mean, in this country, for example, venture capital is in tech, right? And how many women tech firms do you have? And then you go back and there’s, like, the answer to that question—or, the solution to that problem requires going many steps back, right, getting more women to study computers, getting more women to sort of, you know, set up technology firms. And then go to tech companies seeking venture capital.

But in other countries, you know, venture capital is not necessarily tech-based. And even there, you find that, you know, there’s not that many women applicants. Maybe they’re not going because they don’t think they have a chance, right? So building confidence and getting them to sort of go apply for that money could be one part of it. Another part is they have gone and they’ve been turned down so many times that, you know, they just don’t want to go again. And that part of the equation, I think, is solved by getting more women into decision-making roles in these companies. So—

SCOTT: Yeah. Two things, if I may. One is on, yeah, getting into decision-making roles in leadership. OK, this is one of the reasons why women’s economic empowerment is important. And I know that it starts to get a little bit uncomfortable for some people about women need many, or should get many, even at big amounts, OK? But money is power, all right, we have said, for men. And why should it be any different for women, OK? And so we need for women to have some money so that women have some power. That’s my feeling. OK. So that’s one.

The other thing, though, is this business about confidence. I’ve gotten to the point where I just automatically in my head I go, OK, is it because she’s not confident or is because she has a really pretty rational expectation of what’s going to happen when she walks in there and just says: I don’t need it. I just don’t want to deal with those guys. I think that is a lot of what happens, is that—well, you say, oh, well they don’t apply. And, oh, they must not be confident. Is what they are is realistic.

I also think that it’s important to start looking at why they feel that way. I think that, for example, I’ve just done some reports on women in tech and I think there’s a lot of just bad statistics being put out there about this. But if it doesn’t take any time at all on Google for a young girl who’s trying to choose her major in college to find out that the average tenure of a woman in tech is 12 years or 7 years. It’s really short. OK, so you’re going to put all your eggs into that basket, knowing that you’re not going to make it the rest of your career because they’re going to push you out?

And then it doesn’t take any more—you know, maybe another 10 minutes googling around. And what you find are lots of surveys that say: And the reason they’re leaving is because it’s a hostile environment, there’s sexual harassment, and they’re really awful to mothers. So my feeling is, let’s not—let’s not just beat up on these girls too much and, again, assume it’s because they don’t have confidence. Let’s deal with the source of the problem. Source of the problem is a toxic work environment. Sorry. This is why they don’t want me to be their spokesperson. (Laughter, applause.)

VOGELSTEIN: We’re grateful for your candor.

MS.     : (Off mic.) (Laughter.)

VOGELSTEIN: There we are. Well, I regret that we are out of time. But I will venture to say that while there’s clearly still a lot of work to be done, that the conversation today really illuminates the path forward. So please join me in thanking our speakers for being with us today. (Applause.) Thank you all. This was so great.


This is an uncorrected transcript.


Top Stories on CFR

Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

The race to find a vaccine for the new coronavirus is well underway. Governments and researchers are aiming to provide billions of people with immunity in eighteen months or less, which would be unprecedented.


As China’s power continues to grow, some fear that the considerable autonomy Hong Kong has enjoyed in recent decades could slip away.

South Korea

Tensions rocketed on June 16 when North Korea demolished a liaison office that had stood as a symbol of hope for improved communications.