Future She Deserves Panel at the World Trade Organization
July 2, 2022
Thank you, Arancha, for that gracious introduction. I’m excited to participate in this plenary on a topic that is very timely, very relevant, and clearly very important.
I know that, like me, you started your career in the private sector — advising companies on trade, competition, and state-aid matters, and I can’t think of a better moderator for today’s session.
Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen –
When the Fifth Global Review of Aid for Trade was first mentioned, my immediate thought was that women’s economic empowerment really must be a central theme. And this is in fact the case. The Fifth Global Review’s overall focus is on reducing trade costs, which is particularly advantageous for small and medium sized enterprises, or SMEs, which find it especially difficult to bear these costs. And since the majority of women-owned businesses are SMEs, reducing trade costs will disproportionately benefit and economically empower women business owners. We need to continue to shine a spotlight on the challenges women business owners and entrepreneurs face, in order to facilitate their playing an even greater role in the global economy. Robust implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement will greatly reduce trade costs, especially for SMEs.
Women currently represent 40 percent of the global labor force, and approximately one third of SMEs are owned by women, but on virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men. Women farmers tend to farm smaller plots and less profitable crops. Women entrepreneurs tend to operate in smaller firms and less profitable sectors. Gallup estimates that globally, men are nearly twice as likely as women to have full-time jobs, and women in every country generally earn less than men.
Like me, at times you may feel that these challenges are overwhelming. But I look at this incredible panel and I can’t help but feel hopeful. The global community, the public and private sectors are coming together like never before to tackle the problems in front of us – to get it right – and I am excited to be here to help champion collaborative and innovative solutions.
Much is already being done at all levels to better integrate women into supply chains.
- Legal frameworks that constrain female entrepreneurial activity are being reformed.
- Promising work is being done to harness technological innovation and facilitate e-commerce as drivers of growth for women-owned businesses.
- Public Private Partnerships are being created to support women entrepreneurs.
- Work is being done
- to improve women’s rights of ownership,
- to increase women’s control over land and assets,
- to enhance women’s access to credit and valuable market data,
- to formulate better trade policies, and
- to empower women broadly through more inclusive supply chains.
However, we all know that much more needs to be done. For example, it is vitally important for women-owned businesses to be able to export their products. Why? Because simply put, studies have found that women-owned firms that export their goods and services are much more successful. In the United States, they are not only more profitable, they also employ five times more people and offer jobs that pay 1.6 times more than women-owned firms that do not export. Women-owned businesses that export report average sales of $16.3 million, compared to approximately $800,000 for women-owned businesses that do not export. So clearly, exporting has very real advantages, and since currently less than 2% of women-owned businesses export, we must take steps to provide women greater access to new markets.
But what other steps can we take to empower women to further integrate into supply chains? How can we effectively design support programs that help women entrepreneurs move into growth sectors, with the potential for job creation and productivity gains. How do we move beyond narratives that confine women to specific business categories, particularly micro enterprises with little room for growth?
Recently, the World Bank Group reviewed the empirical literature to begin to answer these very questions. The evidence shows that including mentoring and networking support as part of comprehensive programs on business practices significantly increases their effectiveness.
So today, I would like to focus for just a minute on mentoring and networking programs, which have earned recognition as lower-cost interventions that have yielded dramatic results in many regions of the world.
The United States Government’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program — an outreach, education and engagement initiative launched in July 2010 — has many success stories. One of its alumni, Comfort Adjahoe from Ghana, has grown her company from a small shea butter business in 1995 to currently employing 5,000 small-holder farmers in northern Ghana and 300 employees in Accra. This business transformation was assisted in part by Comfort’s participation in networking programs and in several AGOA trade shows in the United States.
In South Africa, a rigorous impact evaluation found that participants in programs that provided mentoring services in addition to training in business skills were able to generate significant increases in annual sales, number of employees, and number of customers.
In another part of the world, a great example of creative collaboration can be found in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. In September 2011, the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy was created through the collaboration of APEC government officials and private sector leaders. After a 2013 study identified the lack of women entrepreneurial networks as one of the key obstacles for women-owned businesses in the region, APEC began developing a regional partnership network among women-owned enterprises and is working to strengthen private sector access to goods and services produced by women entrepreneurs. So far, the results are very encouraging.
And we must remember that this is not just a women’s issue. Men and women must work together in order to achieve real progress. In Uganda, a 2013 study found that women who had access to male role models were between 55 and 74% more likely to cross over into higher-productivity business sectors than women who had no such access.
Although the needs are great, I believe the resources we have at our disposal – governments, the private sector and civil society – are sufficient to unleash the significant economic potential of women entrepreneurs, if we commit to working together to develop comprehensive solutions with tangible results.
As some of you may know, I recently launched an initiative called The Future She Deserves – with the over-arching goal of leveraging Geneva-based institutions to better protect and empower women and girls. Of course, one of our four key pillars has at its core the economic empowerment of women. Over the past few months, we have focused on bringing this unique multilateral community together in new ways to drive innovative solutions. Just yesterday, we launched the Geneva Gender Champions Initiative in partnership with UNOG Director General Michael Møller, to create a leadership network personally committed gender equality and women’s leadership. We believe that through our collective efforts, we can raise women’s voices and help them realize their full potential.
We are living in a time of both enormous global challenges and enormous global opportunities. Business and the private sector, including women-owned businesses, need to play a central role in how we define our future and tackle these challenges. Women are not just beneficiaries of programs, and this is not just about women’s participation in supply chains. Gender equality and economic growth go hand in hand! This is about empowering women in a way that leads to successful businesses and, through a positive feedback loop, to even further improvements in gender roles and relations. This is about women as agents for change, and women as full contributors to the prosperity of their families, communities, countries and regions, and to the sustainable development of our world.
This impressive panel brings together a diverse set of perspectives that Arancha will describe next. I’m sure they will have many thoughtful and creative suggestions on how to address these themes of women’s access to opportunity, resources, and agency.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to the presentations and the discussion that will follow.