This report, which synthesizes all the known research on the effectiveness of economic interventions on behalf of women, is the first of its kind.
Last night, ExxonMobil hosted a dinner for a core group of people involved in the economic empowerment of women, worldwide. This dinner was one of several satellite events that tend to spring up around the Clinton Global Initiative, which draws folks from a variety of organizations and countries to make commitments and report on innovative efforts to answer the most pressing challenges of our time. A significant subsegment of this activity is dedicated to improving the lot of women and girls.
Many people are surprised to learn that ExxonMobil is a significant player in this space, one of the first corporations to engage in women’s economic empowerment issues in any serious way. However, those of us who work consistently on the topic know this company occupies a leadership position in the area. This leadership was evident last night as Exxon put forward a massive report on “what works” among the many interventions on behalf of women that have been tried, around the world, for the past decade.
The report, called Road Map for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, was done in partnership with the United Nations Foundation (a full report as well as a summary of highlights can be downloaded here). The partners began by pulling together nearly 50 scholars from multiple universities and other institutions to review all the existing studies that attempted measure the impact of interventions on behalf of women as economic actors. Each team of experts summarized the available data in their area and then the entire field of activity was synthesized and written up by Mayra Buvinic, senior fellow of the UN Foundation. Here is a very good, short interview in which Mayra explains the reasoning behind the project:
I cannot emphasize enough that this report is the first of its kind and will provide a framework for all of us to work from, as well as a useful synthesis of what is known to work and a set of suggestive guidelines for future activity. In addition to the downloads for the report, there is a link to the database of 139 published studies here.
The importance of the report, as well as the convening power of Exxon within this community, was evident at the dinner last night. Held in the penthouse of the Hearst Tower, the event brought together maybe 80-100 people from all sectors–government, NGO, and corporate. I saw many long term partners there, as well as many new friends from the Power Shift and Emerging Markets Symposium last year: Jenny Klugman from the World Bank, Elizabeth Vazquez from WEConnect, Henriette Kolb who has just moved from the Cherie Blair Foundation to the International Finance Corporation, and Melanne Verveer, former Global Ambassador for Women.
Hillary Clinton made a surprise speech at the ExxonMobil dinner.
My heart stopped for a moment when, just as we began our salad, Hillary Clinton suddenly looked in at the doorway. It was a surprise appearance–she had not been on the program. But she came in and gave a rousing speech. I apologize for the poor quality of the photograph here, which I took with my Blackberry, like a total groupie (but I was not the only one with their phone camera in the air, even in this distinguished company).
After Hillary’s speech came the main event, which was a panel led by Cherie Blair. (Again, I think many folks are not aware that Cherie Blair, as a person but also as the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, has become a major force in this area.) She was joined on the stage by the new Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department, Cathy Russell, as well as Phumizele Mlambo-Ngcuke, who is both the Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and the new Executive Director of UN Women.
I must say that the architecture of the Hearst Tower was almost as interesting as anything else last night. Such a cool building. You can barely see the 1930s style sculptures over the doorway in this picture, but I wanted to capture the modern glass tower rising behind. Just inside, there is a fountain and an abstract mural that will take your breath away.
The panel discussion was a good one, both enlightening and entertaining, but one comment stood out more than others, at least for me. Cathy Russell reported that the US government was undertaking to identify all the efforts and programs across all operations that were intended to empower women economically. Obviously, this is an important first step, to take inventory of what is already being done and to assess how it is all working, perhaps consolidate some of it. But it points to the same phenomenon to which the Roadmap Report itself gestures: the absence of collected data on efforts to benefit women. The very need to put together such reports shows us how scattered the international community’s previous efforts on behalf of women have been, whether we are looking at development economists’ research or US government programs. The needs of women have never before constituted enough of a focus–because there has never before been such a concerted effort, such a concentration of powers and funds behind the women’s cause. So, again this week, I am feeling a strong sense of history being made, of a watershed moment in the evolution of world civilization.