Hiring the 'Third Billion'

Article excerpt

Byline: Melanne Verveer & Kim Azzarelli

The global economy needs the other 51%.

Businesses are starting to understand what development experts have long known: investing in women pays dividends. Women are more likely than men to put their income back into their communities, driving illiteracy and mortality rates down and GDP up.

Now a corporate revolution is at hand, one that is moving beyond philanthropy, making women partners in business at all levels. This was an important theme at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, which hosted a plenary session entitled "Women as the Way Forward" on the potential impact of women on the global economy. On Feb. 1, some of the most powerful companies in the United States (Accenture, Coca-Cola, Ernst and Young, Goldman Sachs, and others) are signing on to a worldwide campaign to bring women into the economic mainstream. The Third Billion Campaign is being launched by La Pietra Coalition--an alliance including corporations, governments, and nonprofits--to enable 1 billion women to become members of the global economy by 2025. The campaign's title comes from the notion that over the next decade, the impact of women will be at least as significant as that of China's and India's respective 1-billion-plus populations.

Bringing women into businesses creates what Michael Porter and Mark Kramer of Harvard Business School call "shared value"--it helps companies while helping communities too. Consumer-product businesses have quickly understood the benefits--for instance, bypassing retail and hiring women to build person-to-person distribution channels for everything from cosmetics to beverages. More recently, companies have found it especially effective when the purchaser needs to be educated on the product being sold, be it a mobile sonogram machine, an energy lantern, or a cookstove. …