Journey talks to Professor Linda Scott, one of the world’s leading experts on women’s economic empowerment, about her ground-breaking new report, launched this week.

Professor Linda Scott

Back in 2013, Linda Scott, Emeritus DP World Professor for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Said Business School, University of Oxford, had an idea. She wanted to bring together a group of multinational corporations that, despite being from very different sectors, shared a common goal: to improve the economic inclusion and empowerment of women.

As a world expert on the women’s economy, Prof. Scott had long experience of working with international agencies, governments, global NGOs and corporations to empower and engage women in economic activity, particularly in developing countries. In the process, she became convinced that although governments, agencies and charities were doing important work, the potential for the private sector to make a sustainable difference was underestimated.

This is how she began to form a coalition of like-minded corporations, all of which had experience of trail-blazing work in women’s economic empowerment. Together these pioneers would become the founding members of the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment and today, at Chatham House in London, Prof. Scott’s ground-breaking report into their work is published.

These companies are: The Coca-Cola Company, Goldman Sachs, Marks & Spencer, Walmart ExxonMobil Foundation, Mondelēz International, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, PwC and Qualcomm Wireless Reach. Through their inspiring examples, Prof. Scott hopes many more businesses will follow, working and learning together to accelerate the economic empowerment of women all over the world, in developing and developed nations.

Sustainable change

In an exclusive interview with Journey, Prof. Scott says: “Gender inequality in the economy is a world-wide issue. If you’re going to make a world-wide change, you can’t rely on one-off charity projects. You need a more sustainable approach. The most efficient way to get started is to engage with global companies that have the reach and capability to go all around the world.”

Prof. Scott says the global project to empower more women will be more successful, and grow faster, if companies investing in women’s economic empowerment share their learning. “I knew that many of these companies had been engaged in this effort for a long time and had much to teach. They had more to offer than just their money”, she says.

The new report explores these learnings, with insights from programmes that have collectively reached 132 countries and 18.5 million women. As Prof. Scott says, the scale already achieved means that if more businesses can be encouraged to follow, and work together, as well as with governments and NGOs, then “worldwide change could be within reach.”

Diverse experience

From The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 programme – that aims to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs across its value chain by 2020 – to  Goldman Sachs ’10,000 Women’ (providing women entrepreneurs in 56 countries with business education), the report showcases a wide variety of successful programmes. As Prof Scott explains: “Each example is very different and I think that is what makes them successful. Each is focused on what works for that business, so it is rooted in reality.”

Coca-Cola, which launched 5by20 in 2010, was one of the first companies to join Prof. Scott’s coalition. “They were one of the first companies I contacted,” she says. “They weren’t just one of the first to do a programme like this, but they showed the way to do it. One of the things that most impressed me is that 5by20 goes right through the company’s supply chain, from fruit farmers to local shop owners. It’s pioneering work and they continue to be at the forefront.”

Key to the success of all programmes highlighted in the report, according to Prof. Scott, is they view each company’s business through a “gender lens”. She says: “It may sound like jargon, but it really makes sense. You need to think, where are the women in my system, what are their barriers and what can I do to remove those barriers?”

Create an ‘ecosystem’

Although the expertise of corporations is essential in the global effort to improve women’s economic empowerment, Prof. Scott stresses that true success depends on the collaboration of many different parties, primarily between business, government and NGOs, also known as the ‘golden triangle’.

“One of the most important things we learned these past four or five years is that this is difficult work and it can’t be done by one organisation. You need an ‘ecosystem’ – that means collaboration, not only within the private sector, but also with NGOs, governments and foundations. It’s exciting if we can encourage more parties to come out of their silos and work together. In the past, governments used to view companies as a black box – they wanted to engage with them, but didn’t know how. I hope initiatives like this report will help to make partnerships a little smoother and more frequent.”

So what happens next? Prof. Scott says that having brought the founders of the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment together, she now wants to use these big names and inspiring examples to encourage others to follow: “As well as building the international community’s understanding of how the private sector can empower women economically, we also have the potential to persuade others to join this historic cause. This is a really big problem, and progress is really slow, but I think we can begin to make a real difference. Business working for women and women working for business is just a better and more positive way to be in the world.”

Charlotte Oades

The Coca-Cola view – Charlotte Oades, VP Global Director, Women’s Economic Empowerment

Q: Why do you think it is so important for business to collaborate in the global effort to build women’s economic empowerment?

A: No one actor can do it alone. It takes a collaborative approach, and there is a critical role that business can play. The time is now: more than ever, economies and communities need the private and public sectors to work together. As well as our experience with 5by20, we have insights and learnings to share with the broader GBC4WEE community which can help other companies  accelerate their women’s economic empowerment programmes.

Q: 5by20  launched with an ambitious goal. How are you progressing?

A: 5by20 aims to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020. This is a very real goal that goes to the heart of our business, from fruit farmers, to shopkeepers and recyclers. In some markets, over 86% of small neighbourhood stores are owned or operated by women, so they are critical to us at every level. We can’t have a thriving business in a local community without a thriving community. Women are absolutely key to that. By the end of 2016, 5by20  had already enabled 1.75 million women entrepreneurs across 64 countries.

Q: As well as 5by20 , what else does Coca-Cola do to empower women?

A: Our Global Women’s Initiative is focused on women’s empowerment both internally and externally. Our work started with making sure we supported and empowered our own female employees. This included the creation of our Women’s Leadership Council in 2007, comprising influential female executives to advise and counsel senior leaders on initiatives to accelerate the development of female talent into roles of increasing responsibility and influence. We then began to focus more broadly on the importance of women to our business and society and then, with the launch of 5by20 in 2010, extended our efforts into the communities where we operate. For us, women’s economic empowerment is embedded in the business, as opposed to an ad hoc programme with a start and finish. It takes longer to build that way, and can be difficult, but it is what makes it sustainable.  We are proud to have been honoured with a Catalyst Award in 2013 for our Global Women’s Initiative, and in 2016, 5by20 was ranked in the Fortune ‘Change the World’ list.

About Professor Linda Scott

Professor Scott is best known for her creation of the concept of the Double X Economy – a perspective that describes the global economy of women in both the developed and developing world, and the roles of women not only as consumers, but as investors, donors and workers. Professor Scott has been selected as one of the Top 25 Global Thinkers by Prospect magazine in both 2014 and 2015. The Double X Economy concept was featured by a special Financial Times video series called, “Thinking Big” in January 2014. Linda is also founder of Power Shift, the Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy. This select forum brings together 200 leaders from across sectors to think and build partnerships around empowering women economically.