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 produced under a grant from the Pears Foundation.  The Said Foundation has supported the work in Bangladesh.  The Oxford University Press John Fell Fund supported the Avon and sanitary pads work.  The Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Said School’s Entrepreneurship Centre has provided support for our sanitary pads work and the coffee case, respectively. In several instances, we have gratefully received grants from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development.

The cases now being written are being supported by grants from Walmart and from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China.

Finance After Hours – This case is being developed for the 2014 Power Shift meeting.  It focuses on a practice that is typical of the finance sector in most of the world:  the expectation that clients will go out after hours with their bankers for long boozy dinners, followed by drunken Karaoke nights, and . . . lap dances and so forth. It should be obvious that neither female entrepreneurs nor women bankers feel comfortable participating in such evenings–and indeed the men involved would think less of the women if they did participate.  Though the bank in the case insists that it treats women and men equally when they apply for loans, the upshot is that this practice, among other issues, reduces the representation of women in their portfolio to 10%.

The Finance After Hours case will be available about May 1.

We are also developing two cases to show the opposite ends of the spectrum of businesses engaged in Walmart’s Empowering Women Together initiative.  These cases will feature the Women’s Bean Project of Denver and Katchy Kollections of Nairobi. They will illustrate the challenges of interacting with the world’s largest retailer to some degree, but will be mostly focused on showing the measurement and management issues associated with these two very different women’s enterprises.  I hope to have the first one ready in time for Power Shift 2014.

I do want to say that the report I just wrote for Vodafone is a very good introduction to the role of women in the world economy.  It includes statistics, graphs, etc. from the main providers of data and analysis on this issue (including Booz & Co., as well as the World Economic Forum, OECD, and so on). There is frequent reference to another report and model done, in parallel, by Accenture. However, through the illustrations of mobile services designed to deal with challenges facing women, the report shows how a whole technology can be harnessed for a cause that has positive knock-on effects for everyone.

The Said Foundation underwrites Power Shift (otherwise known as The Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy), but we have been fortunate to have corporate support each year from ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Walmart, as well as the personal participation of celebrities like Cherie Blair and Dame Stephanie Shirley.  The 2013 program, case study, photos, videos, and so on are here.  The complete 2014 agenda, which focuses on women and finance, is ready to post, showing representation from institutions including Mastercard, the International Finance Corporation, and the Global Banking Alliance for Women, as well as our consistent corporate supporters (ExxonMobil, Walmart, Goldman Sachs) and our long-time mission partner, CARE International.


A panel on women and technology at Power Shift 2013. The gender gap in access to information technology is as much as 40% in some parts of the world. From left, Kathy Harvey (my colleague who heads up our Executive MBA), Henriette Kolb (Head of the Gender Secretariat at IFC), Lisa Felton (Global Head of Consumer Regulation and Content Standards at Vodafone), and Ruth Merritt (Corporate Affairs, Intel).


The Said Foundation also supports a program called “Inspiring Women in Leadership and Learning” (IWILL) that Amanda Poole and Elizabeth Paris (who also lead Power Shift with me) have produced since 2008.  Far from a one-off program, this series of workshops and lectures is an ongoing attempt to help women forge careers, but also live good lives and create supportive communities.


Herta von Stiegel, founder of Ariya Capital, and Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices, signing their books at Power Shift 2013.


Our executive education program at Said also has a successful open-enrollment program called “Women Transforming Leadership” that women experience as very powerful.

Though some of the cases are occasionally taught in the MBA program here, there is no course focused on women in the economy in that degree program.  However, I have taught “The Women’s Economy” in the doctoral program for three years.  I have to fight for it every time, but the students really appreciate it.  My most senior students have now sat through it three times and there have been MBAs who have slipped in, along with women from other departments around the University.

While it would not be honest to suggest all the faculty at the Said School support our mission, we have benefited greatly from the expert help of some colleagues.  In particular, David Upton helped a lot on the coffee case, Pegram Harrison is involved in our work with ExxonMobil and Walmart, and Tomo Suzuki is giving advice as we tiptoe into the gender lens investing space. My long-time friend and colleague, John Deighton, arranged for the IWCA case to be taught at Harvard, which was also much appreciated.

Recent Posts

For any media inquiries, please e-mail info@doublexeconomy.com

Sign up below to receive occasional updates:

© 2020 by Double X Economy, LLC