There is a lot of mythology about Davos and the meeting of the great, good, and well-resourced that takes place in this idyllic town in the Swiss Alps. I was not sure what to expect upon arrival, but I found myself enveloped in a remarkable community of men and women (lots of fabulous women!) committed to working toward gender equality. This may seem dissonant with the “global elite” branding of the WEF annual forum, but I can attest that there was widespread recognition that women’s economic empowerment was essential for economic growth, and numerous concrete discussions about how to accelerate progress through commitments, collaboration, and measurement.
The hub of this activity was the Equality Lounge, a dynamic and inviting space established by the remarkable Shelley Zalis and her organization The Female Quotient. What started as “The Girls Lounge” in prior years was rebranded the Equality Lounge for 2018, and while it had a definite feminine flair with its comfy white couches, and soft colors (not to mention the powerful feminist messages in bold script on the wall), there were many men who came to the events over the three days I was there. I didn’t see any of the other WEF pop-up lounges (largely sponsored by corporations or countries) as consistently full and energized as the Equality Lounge. It was definitely the place to be.
Next to the lounge was a space for panels on women’s economic empowerment and featured speakers such as Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase; UNHLP members Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of Ikea Switzerland and Tina Fordham, Global Political Analyst at Citi; World Economic Forum 2018 Co-Chair Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder/Chair of the Mann Deshi Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation; and Suzanne Biegel, Founder of Catalyst at large. I was thrilled to be pulled into a panel on “Women for Economic Growth – All Eyes on W20/W7” led by the brilliant Julie Teigland, Regional Managing Director of EY, who has been a driving force behind the #womenfastforward movement to accelerate women’s economic inclusion. The W20 and W7 are the two lobbying bodies to the G20 and G7 that advocate for commitments that bring more women into the economy by presenting recommendations directly to the people who have the power to decide how economies are structured. Ensuring that these two groups are working in concert to promote solutions, inspire action, and hold the G20/G7 leadership accountable is essential to the creation of the enabling environment that we are all working to achieve.
There was much discussion of BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink’s recent letter to corporate CEOs asserting that “a company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth,” and it is now an investment criteria for his fund. With their $6T (yes really) in assets under management, he has a very loud voice in the corporate world. It remains to be seen what this means in practice, but it is indicative of how much the dialogue is shifting from quick profits and shareholder returns to social impact as a highly valued intangible asset. This ties into a question Simona asked in her panel asking why consumers would “trust a company that discriminates or does not treat people equally?” When we use the power of our wallets (or in Fink’s case, his Uncle Scrooge like vaults of gold), we have the ability to shift public and private corporate behavior in a positive way.
Suzanne Biegel launched the Global Gender Lens Investing Summit, which will take place in the UK November 1-2, 2018. We know that access to capital is absolutely critical for women, and the global credit gap is enormous (at least $250B). Suzanne is making fantastic progress in getting fund managers, high net worth individuals and others who control huge assets to understand and deploy a gender lens as a smart investment tool. Women entrepreneurs are an incredible market opportunity, and the summit will help bring together stakeholders that have the capacity to shift transformative amounts of capital into that space. More to follow.
Chetna Gala Sinha announced a new 1B Rupee fund ($15M US) to help women go from microcredit to microenterprise in India. Women moving up the financial food chain is something I feel extremely passionate about – microcredit is excellent, but limited in its potential to help women transition from poverty to prosperity. We need to provide opportunities for women to grow their businesses beyond micro and subsistence activities, and there is not currently an efficient/widespread credit offering to do this. It would be wonderful if Chetna’s fund provides a model that could be replicated and expanded to do this.
The Real Work
While the panels, events, and parties are all interesting, the things that really pulled me to Davos were several closed-door meetings with high level stakeholders to discuss commitments and progress on women’s economic empowerment. Equal Measures 2030 convened a small, but powerful round table of business and NGO leaders to talk about measuring progress on SDG 5. Taking place under Chatham House Rule allowed for a candid conversation about the complexities of measurement, the need for better data, and the challenges of setting a standard measurement across all SDG 5 commitments. This was just the first of what we all hope to be an ongoing discussion that produces real results and a nuanced evaluation of actions and outcomes achieved under the banner of the SDGs in 2030.
I went from there to a conversation with several of Canada’s ministers to discuss the country’s commitments to women ahead of their hosting the G7 this summer. Malala joined us at the beginning of the meeting, and advocated for increased investment in girls’ education as a precursor to women’s economic empowerment. Her comments were powerful and direct, and set a tone for the entire discussion. Prime Minister Trudeau has taken leadership on women’s empowerment in his rhetoric, and “advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment” is one of the five themes Canada has chosen for the summit.
At the end of the day, Davos is just a huge conference that takes over a beautiful, tiny town in Switzerland. What makes it significant is that all the people there are the real decision makers. They control the money, power, and influence to achieve whatever economic agenda they set their minds to. This year, with an all-female board of co-chairs for the WEF and an impressive slate of panels on WEE, women’s economic engagement was more central than it ever has been before. Not everyone was on board of course, and the arrival of Donald Trump was a distraction (he was the #1 trending topic on the gender track, and I don’t think that was because of his unwavering support of the rights and dignity of women), and certainly WEF can do better than 21% female delegates, but I believe we are seeing a critical mass of momentum that will be hard to diminish so long as we keep the pressure on. Complacency is the enemy of good intentions. Let us draw energy from our successes, so visible in the agenda at Davos this year, and use that to fuel the tough, gritty work ahead of us.
New Insights from Davos
Read the Latest Reports:
- The East West Center recently published a report on Women 20 for the G20 from a dialogue led by Ambassador Amanda Ellis, Special Advisor for International Programs and Partnerships at the Center.
- Vivian Hunt DBE, Managing Partner UK and Ireland of McKinsey launched the updated Women in the Workplace 2017 report in partnership with leanin.org.
- Elsevier’s RELX group promoted their SDG resource center, with lots of content normally only available behind a paywall. This is an effort to bring together information and insights to help all organizations that have made SDG commitments achieve them by the 2030 deadline.