A summit meeting on U.S.-Africa business opportunities drew government, private sector, and civil society leaders from around the world last week to discuss ways to improve women’s economic opportunities.
At the event, ExxonMobil Executive Sara Ortwein praised The Corporate Council on Africa for its focus on women and led a roundtable discussion on strategies to promote women’s economic development.
“One clear takeaway from our discussion is that when you give women economic opportunities, they, in turn, tend to reach out to others, with the shared objective of improving the quality of life for many,” said Ortwein, vice president, ExxonMobil Development Company and member of ExxonMobil’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative2 Advisory Council. “This makes the return on investing in women multi-dimensional, providing widespread societal benefits including increased economic growth and reduced poverty.”
ExxonMobil hosted the “Women as an Economic Force” roundtable at the closing day of The Corporate Council on Africa’s (CCA) 7th Biennial U.S.-Africa Business Summit: Realizing the Investment Power of Africa. The panelists highlighted opportunities to help drive economic growth in Africa by unleashing the economic potential of women. It was the first-ever session focused on the economic role of women at the summit, a gathering of over 1,500 participants including heads of state, government officials, and corporate leaders from around the world.
The roundtable featured Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Eunice Kazembe, Malawi Minister of Trade and Private Sector Development; Dr. Jennifer Riria, CEO of the Kenya Women Finance Trust and Vice Chair of Women’s World Banking; Dr. Emeka Nwankwo, CEO of Vertical Optimization, LLC; and Kah Walla, Director of Strategies!, a top woman-owned consulting firm in Cameroon that competes in markets across Africa.
“Gender inequality acts as a powerful constraint to growth in Africa,” said Ambassador Verveer. “Women drive GDP. Removing gender-based barriers – like the lack of property rights – would go a long way to enabling Africa to realize its growth potential. Governments, the corporate sector and civil society need to join together in public-private partnerships that will advance economic opportunity, alleviate poverty and enable women to fulfill their potential as an economic force.”
Each of the panelists offered examples of how greater access to finance, investments in infrastructure and technological innovation all improve women’s ability to generate more income. For example, Minister Kazembe talked about how her government is focusing on agriculture and infrastructure investments in Malawi that directly impact women and help them become more economically productive. “Investments in basic infrastructure and technology can help free women’s time to pursue income-generating activities and become even more empowered,” said Minister Kazembe.
ExxonMobil has committed more than $150 million to Africa community outreach programs since 2000. ExxonMobil’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative (previously the Educating Women and Girls Initiative) was launched in 2005 and has invested more than $20 million in programs that have involved women from 64 developing countries.
ExxonMobil reaffirmed its commitment to improving women’s economic opportunities at the Clinton Global Initiative’s Annual Meeting last week with the launch of a new program, Technologies to Improve Women’s Economic Livelihoods. Through partnerships with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and Ashoka’s Changemakers, ExxonMobil will bring new research into the field of women’s economic development and help identify and deploy promising new technologies for women.