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Helen McEachern is the CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Sanda Ojiambo is the Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact. The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate social responsibility initiative that calls for the alignment of business operations strategies with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On the back of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day they ask: How can businesses work to close the gender gap in Women’s Entrepreneurship?

Helen McEachern (HM): The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women was founded by Cherie Blair CBE QC back in 2011 to support woman entrepreneurs all over the world. Since then, we’ve reached over 175,000 women in low and middle income countries. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is a key opportunity for us to raise awareness of the untapped potential and power of women entrepreneurs and to highlight the importance of businesses working with us to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

Sanda Ojiambo (SO): The UN Global Compact focuses on private business around the world, encouraging them to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and given this year’s context of a global pandemic disproportionately affecting women’s work and women-owned businesses, we believe that supporting women’s entrepreneurship is more important than ever.

HM: We know through our work and research with women entrepreneurs that the coronavirus outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere – jobs and labour, health, prosperity, security, social protection – and risks bringing progress toward gender equality across the world to a standstill unless we have a gendered social and economic response to this crisis.
Women Entrepreneurs must be central to efforts to ‘build back better’.

SO: Women-led small and medium businesses are the engines of economic growth around the world – they can and need to be an essential part of economic recovery in every sector, every community, and in every country. In this context, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are more critical than ever. They are designed to help create a better future for everyone. And in this framework, gender equality is actually presented as a necessary milestone to achieve all other goals.

HM: We are proud to contribute to SDG 5, on gender equality, and SDG 8, on decent work for all, by giving women entrepreneurs support to sustainably grow their businesses. Our research with Boston Consulting Group last year showed that if women had equal opportunities to be entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by 5 trillion dollars. Recently McKinsey found that a gendered response to the pandemic could add up to $13 Trillion to GDP by 2030. Yet a survey we carried out in April found 93% of the women entrepreneurs we work with were already negatively impacted by COVID-19, with many having already ceased their businesses.

SO: I also want to point to SDG 17, which is for businesses and to form strong global partnerships at the global, regional, national and local levels. Gender inequality was already a huge missed opportunity for business, and the pandemic has really amplified that. We need to make sure that our responses to COVID-19 focus not only on economic growth but grasp the opportunity for business to ‘build back better’ through strategic partnerships and by promoting gender equality and harnessing the potential of women entrepreneurs.

 

The role of businesses

 

SO: For businesses to be part of the solution to the current global crisis, they must ensure that women and girls are supported both during the pandemic and through the economic recovery. The SDGs provide a space for these actors to come together and collaborate to find solutions, channel investment and explore better, more sustainable ways forward.

HM: We also want businesses to think about the way they support women both within their organisations, by promoting them as leaders for example, but also in their supply chains, and how the products and services they create are inclusive of women, women-founded businesses and women customers.

SO: We operate on the principle that, wherever possible, companies should seek to support women across the value chain and in the communities where they operate. The Women’s Empowerment Principles (the “WEPs”), our joint initiative with UN Women, has been guiding companies on how to advance gender equality for over 10 years and clearly set out that a company’s responsibility to respect and support women’s rights does not end at the company’s walls.

HM: There are also incredible benefits for corporations partnering with organisations focussing on women’s economic empowerment. By working with organisations like ours to develop projects that enable women to fulfil their potential, you can also grow your business and client base in a sustainable and ethical way.

SO: It’s also important to recognise that small businesses too have their part to play to. Around 90% of the world’s businesses are SMEs, yet according to our 2020 Global Trends Report, based on the results from the WEPs Gender Gap Analysis tool, only 8% of the companies, large and small, have a robust due diligence or assessment process for suppliers and vendors – so we don’t know the extent to which women are represented in supply chains. Our Target Gender Equality COVID-19 Quiz data show that only 31% of surveyed companies, of all sizes, have taken steps to help mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on women-owned businesses and support their recovery. Small businesses galvanising around the SDGs to collectively promote gender equality could be a huge catalyst for social, cultural and economic advancement and I encourage SMEs (and companies of all sizes) to sign up to the WEPs and take action.

 

What we’re hoping for following this Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

 

SO: Following this Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, I would ask that businesses large and small put women and girls at the centre of their plans for 2021 – both internally but also with a broader world-view. Strong international cooperation is needed now more than ever to ensure that countries have the means to recover from the pandemic, build back better and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. At the UN Global Compact, we are also calling on companies to strive for gender balance. Through our Target Gender Equality programme, we are supporting companies to set and meet ambitious targets for women’s representation in leadership. In growing the programme, I am hopeful that we can challenge companies to set targets for women’s representation across all areas of business, including targets for procurement spend on women-owned businesses. The time to push for gender inclusivity in business is now.

HM: This Women’s Entrepreneurship Day week our message to businesses worldwide, of any size, echoes your own: to join Paypal, Salesforce, Qualcomm, Bank of America and many other visionary companies on our mission, in placing advancing women’s entrepreneurship in low and middle income countries at the heart of your commitment to the UN SDGs. You can do this by partnering with the Foundation to empower women business owners and enabling more equal, resilient and prosperous communities, economies and futures around the world.

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What can I do this Women’s Entrepreneurship Day?

As we enter the most uncertain holiday period of recent times, the Foundation will continue to empower the resilient and innovative women entrepreneurs we support. Women entrepreneurs we support continue to develop their skills, empower themselves and others, achieve great things with their businesses and most of all persist through the pandemic.

If you would like to support women entrepreneurs this Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, make a transformational donation today or find out how you or your company can get involved in our 100,000 Women Campaign!

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