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Business Schools and the Double X Economy

Today, Bloomberg Businessweek has a column I wrote explaining the business schools’ inattention to the authoritative call–from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank,  OECD, the World Economic Forum, and many others–for the business community to better include women in the world economy.  Current business school programs and materials treat women as a “niche” area; their faculties have not turned to the task of understanding the interaction between the global exchange system and the economic constraints on half the species. I argue that an explanation is needed because, in comparable circumstances such as the push to engage with environmental effects, the B-schools hopped on the bandwagon early, as they normally want to appear ahead of the curve in the eyes of the business world.  In this case, however, they are standing by, apparently unaware of a movement that many of the world’s largest corporations are already supporting.

The article explains why I believe this is happening, but it also refers to an Oxford case study taught at Harvard last year–Mary Johnstone-Louis’ illuminating case on the International Women’s Coffee Alliance–and I thought readers would probably appreciate being pointed to our other materials, events, and courses.


Our Dean, Peter Tufano, teaching the coffee case at Power Shift 2013. Professor John Deighton, who was visiting from Harvard, taught IWCA that same day and later took it back to HBS, where the case had an enthusiastic response. If you look carefully, you can see Mary, who wrote the case, just over Peter's left shoulder.


We have a suite of case studies already available and three new ones in development.  Please understand that the intention is to eventually cover the full range of women’s touchpoints with the economy, not just “how to market to women” (which, along with “women and leadership” or “women in organizations” usually represents the limits of B-school attention to women). So, that is why the following cases look at several aspects of women’s engagement, rather than focusing on one.

International Women’s Coffee Alliance – This case is perhaps the best avenue to start working with the issues in the classroom.  The coffee industry is a worldwide system, with most of its sourcing in a belt of poor countries around the equator.  The case tells the story of the IWCA’s journey in trying to advance women in its ranks, beginning at the farm level–aiming to have an effect, as they say in coffee, “from bean to cup.” There is a real advantage in beginning to teach women’s economics with this case because most women around the world are employed in farming (indeed most of the world’s food is grown by women) and the conditions in coffee are typical of other commodities.  Also, the case addresses common limitations on women’s economic engagement, such as constraints on their communication and mobility.

Pampers/UNICEF – This two-part case demonstrates the potential benefits of a global marketing campaign that harnesses the sympathies of women in wealthy nations to address the needs of women in the poorest and most remote regions.  The Pampers/UNICEF campaign is a highly innovative effort to use the brand trust in Pampers to direct funds toward the elimination of maternal/neonatal tetanus.  This brilliant campaign has been so successful that the partners, Procter & Gamble and UNICEF, expect to eliminate this killer by 2015.  The case not only illustrates the key features of an important cause-marketing campaign, but also shows the way that common constraints on women–their limited mobility, their lack of cash access, their inability to get health care–interact with poverty and policy. There are two parts to the case, Part 1 focusing on Pampers’ marketing campaign and Part 2 on UNICEF’s delivery.  There are also teaching notes for Part 1 and Part 2.

CARE RSP/Jita – The “entrepreneurship network” has been of keen interest as a poverty reduction device among development experts in the past five or six years. One of the most successful of these is “Jita,” an invention of CARE Bangladesh and now its own hybrid profit/not-for-profit entity.  The organizers of Jita wanted to find a way for the extreme poor among women to earn a living.  Recruiting from among the “poorest of the poor,” Jita’s leadership trained even beggars to manage a basket of carefully selected consumer goods that were sold among rural villages not reached by retailers.  The case addresses typical constraints on women, as well as the challenges of rural distribution. There is also a teaching note.

Avon in Africa – This case tells the story of the rise of Avon cosmetics company on two continents in two centuries, showing how the opportunity to act as agents helped women to reach economic autonomy, particularly among the poor black women in today’s South Africa. However, the case also confronts the typical Western prejudice against cosmetics in the context of race and colonial relations in both North America and Africa, in hopes of helping students to question typical prejudices and become more aware of contextual subtleties. There is also a teaching note.

Sanitary Care in Ghana –  This case tells the story of our sanitary pads research in Ghana. It is meant to illustrate how access to certain consumer goods (or lack thereof) affects the economic viability of women.  The intention here is also to challenge attitudes about women, menstruation, and consumption by showing how traditional social practices and inattention to the needs of adolescent girls impedes their educational achievement.


Shown here at Power Shift 2013, Meg Jones (left) is head of gender at the International Trade Centre and an extremely passionate advocate for improving women's participation in global trade. Tim Love had just retired as Vice Chairman of Omnicom, but I have known him for years as a proponent for gender equality.


Two very short cases came out of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women course in China. These are straightforward marketing cases that feature women as the business owners.  There is nothing particularly “women’s economy” about these two–both are typical of B-School cases on women, in that the names could be changed to represent men and the content would not change as a result.  However, both cases were written specifically to be used in the 10,000 Women course in China, so they feature real women and are aimed at being accessible and resonant with female Chinese entrepreneurs.

Ning Du Lemon Science and Technology Company is a basic branding case.  I use it as the first case in my branding class, as it illustrates well the challenge of moving from an agricultural commodity to a more stable value-added line. There is a teaching note.

Bingo Bagel is a positioning case.  The business is a restaurant intended to introduce bagels and coffee to Chinese culture.  The Chinese consume little bread or coffee–and do not keep the kinds of hours nor have the kinds of practices that support the coffee house culture of the West.

A key advantage of the environment at Oxford is that alternative sources of support are available for work that is not considered “mainstream” by business schools.  We have been grateful to our college, Green Templeton, for their continuing moral and financial support of all this work.  The Avon, Pampers/UNICEF, and CARE RSP/Jita cases were