Written by Heather Burke Tuesday, February 21 2012The verdict is in. Investing in women maximizes potential for social and economic gains. Numerous studies from leading institutions like the World Bank reveal that poverty decreases as women’s economic opportunity and independence increase. Still, many women are living on the margins in vulnerable conditions and unable to realize their full potential in society and the economy. The hard reality is that in almost every sector of society the face of poverty remains female. For many, it is hard to shake the feeling that we are not at a point of perpetual crossroads - that we are waiting for some kind of breakthrough.
Enter Third Billion Campaign - a new global initiative launched by La Pietra Coalition that aims to make good on the promise of women’s full economic participation around the world. This alliance of corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations, academics, foundations and individuals strives to remove the hurdles to the full economic participation of women whose economic lives have previously been stunted, underleveraged or suppressed by 2025.
“The Third Billion Campaign’s mission provides a much-needed focus on the importance of the empowerment of women as key to the future development of communities,” said Charlotte Oades, global director of Women’s Economic Empowerment for The Coca-Cola Company.
The term the “third billion” was coined by DeAnne Aguirre and Karim Sabbagh in a 2010 Booz & Company report analyzing workforce data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and trends in women’s participation in the global economy. In the report, the “third billion” is described as the one billion emerging women economic actors that are poised to join the global economy alongside the two billion economic participants of India and China combined.
In other words, the third billion - emerging predominantly from Latin America, Asia, the Pacific Rim, the Middle East, Eastern and Central Europe, and Africa –could have as much, if not more, significance on the global economy than the emerging one billion economic actors of India and China each.
“Their presence as economic actors will be widely felt because they have long been overrepresented in the ranks of subsistence agriculture and other resource-based forms of work. As they move into knowledge work, in domains ranging from manufacturing to medicine to education to information technology, their sheer numbers will hasten the integration of the regions where they live into the larger economy,” note Aguirre and Sabbagh.
Some of the biggest names in the public, private and citizen sectors are backing the Third Billion Campaign. Corporate members include Ernst & Young, Accenture, The Coca-Cola Company, Goldman Sachs, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture and Booz & Company. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution” notes in her blog for the Harvard Business Review that Goldman Sachs and Google have taken a lead in building talent-recruitment plans that center on the emergence of the “third billion.”
“By investing in women in emerging markets, companies are betting on a brighter future — for a workforce just waiting to blossom, for economies whose development depends on this new crop of talent and, of course, for themselves,” says Hewlett.
Increased access to education, improved infrastructure, changing cultural norms and increased migration into urban areas are some of the many factors that are beginning to create a more enabling environment for the emergence of this new cadre of women economic actors.
However, despite these gains, the Booz report underscores that a staggering 658.8 million women of the third billion generation are neither prepared nor enabled to successfully enter the global workforce (See Figure 1). There is enormous opportunity, but also an enormous amount of work to do to realize it.
By focusing on four fundamental entry points for women’s economic participation and prosperity – access to legal protection, access to finance, access to education and training, and access to markets – the Third Billion Campaign is able to address the most critical obstacles to women’s financial independence and levers for greater economic participation.
Victoria Kisyombe, pioneer of a successful micro-leasing model in Tanzania and featured panelists at the launch of the campaign, summarizes why this four-pronged approach is vital to women’s economic health:
“The urgency of the situation is clear: Women are expected to help support their families but, particularly in rural areas, have virtually no employment opportunities. Small enterprises – selling produce, groceries or other items – are often the only alternative. But women lack access to productivity-enhancing technology, let alone the basic assets necessary to start these businesses. We are ready - if we receive the tools, the skills and the financing - to grow.”
Given women’s power as multipliers of knowledge, resources and networks, and levers to reduce and abolish inter-generational cycles of poverty, campaigns like the Third Billion have the potential to ripple opportunity across all sectors and levels of society. The Girl Effect, in their brilliant video summarizing research by the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, reminds us what that ripple could look like, starting with adolescent girls, and why action is so urgent.
Whether or not this generation of emerging economic participants or the world at large is prepared, the third billion is on its way.
How can we create the necessary conditions for the 659 million women that lack the education, training and support networks to reach their maximum potential in the workforce?
The Third Billion Campaign will tackle these challenges by building an infrastructure and knowledge-based framework for strategic, far-reaching social and economic solutions. This campaign captures the essence of what drives innovation at a time when the scope and gravity of the issues the world faces begs for smart, bold solutions. In early 2012, Booz & Company will publish The Third Billion Index, an inaugural baseline to assess women's progress in the global economy.
This coalition of public, private and citizen-sector actors breaks down knowledge silos and power hierarchies among diverse actors and creates a coalition of deep expertise, talent and experience. Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Ernst & Young, in a conversation with Bloomberg Television framed The Third Billion as a coalition where each actor can capitalize upon what they do best. You’ve heard the expression that it takes a village to raise a child – the future of the third billion is no different.
“The time has come for us all to unite behind a movement which is needed for long-term economic stability, growth and production, and one which we all recognize millions of women around the world are waiting for,” said CEO of Vital Voices Alyse Nelson.
Heather Burke has more than eight years experience working with partners in the public and private sectors to promote women’s empowerment and develop innovative investment strategies for community development. She has worked in 12 countries on initiatives spanning women's and girls’ leadership, education, income generation, social entrepreneurship, public health, food security, political participation, and environmental conservation. She is a social venture consultant based outside of Washington, D.C.