How can business most effectively support women’s economic empowerment, through their value chains and beyond?

The issue of women’s access to economic opportunities has attracted renewed international attention this year with the launch in January of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.


The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening is a Panel member and has initiated an extensive UK-based consultation to gather views from across civil society, business and other sectors on how best to promote and support women’s economic empowerment.


As part of this consultation process, Business Fights Poverty and CARE International UK are bringing together businesses and their NGO partners to focus on how business can most effectively support women’s economic empowerment through their value chains and beyond. The online discussions on 19 May 2016 are the first of a series of events organised as part of this Challenge.


Questions for discussion


This online discussion will address the Challenge question: How can business most effectively support women’s economic empowerment, through their value chains and beyond?


Specifically, we would like to explore the following questions:


1. How can business best support women’s economic empowerment working through their value chains?


2. How can companies’ internal policies and practices contribute to greater economic empowerment for women?


3. How can business use external marketing and customer engagement to support women’s economic empowerment?


4. Which actions should companies take  (possibly in partnership with governments/donors/civil society) to tackle wider systemic constraints to women’s empowerment, such as access to finance?

We would like to hear from you about the most effective ways in which business can help empower women: is it action in one of the four areas listed here, or perhaps another kind of intervention altogether? Share your experience and examples, tell us what work and where further action is needed.  


Editor's Note:

Welcome to this online written discussion.  This discussion will run twice to facilitate engagement from different time zones.  To post comments you will need to sign in / sign up to Business Fights Poverty. A list of recent comments is shown in the right-hand side bar and will refresh every 5 minutes. To refresh more often, please click on the refresh icon in your browser or on the link below.

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Hello everyone. I’m Jonathan Horrell, director of sustainability at Mondelez International - the company behind many of the world’s best known snacks, like Cadbury, Milka and Toblerone chocolate and Oreo and Lu biscuits. Working with CARE, VSO and other partners, we include a focus on women’s empowerment in our Cocoa Life program to create thriving cocoa farming communities.

Hester le Roux said:

Welcome to this live chat about How business can support Women’s Economic Empowerment through value chains and beyond. I’m Hester le Roux, Challenge Director at Business Fights Poverty and I’ll be moderating the session.

We're joined by a great panel today to help us understand what business is already doing to support women’s empowerment, and what more can be done to achieve scale and impact.

In terms of the format for this one hour live session, we will work our way through the four questions set out in the introduction above.   Click 'Reply' under a question or comment to add your thoughts.  And please do feel free to put your own questions to our panel by typing in the comments box above. (You'll need to sign in or sign up to do this).

You'll see a feed of comments in the right hand column of this page, with a notification of new messages appearing regularly at the top.  Click refresh in your browser to display all the new comments, in time order, below.

Before we begin, I'd like to ask each our our panellists to introduce themselves.

Women play a key role in value chains, although this has only recently begun to be recognised by many companies, as traditionally farming in many crops was seen as being a “male” activity.  Work in cocoa for instance, although it was traditionally seen as a “male” crop” shows that a high proportion of the key steps in cocoa processing are actually done by women.  Therefore it is key to the future of many commodities to overcome the shocking underrepresentation of women in those who have access to extension services, inputs and finance.  This lack of access weakens the entire value chain.

We believe that gender equality benefits everyone and is essential if cocoa communities are to thrive. In 2014, we published third-party assessments by Harvard University and CARE International that revealed striking gaps in income and opportunities for female cocoa farmers. For example, in Ghana, female cocoa farmers earn 25-30 percent less than their male counterparts. And in Côte d’Ivoire, women in cocoa communities earn up to 70 percent less than men. In both countries, women struggle with lower farm productivity, smaller farms and less access to financing and farm inputs.

Supporting gender equality and women’s empowerment not only helps women to better support their families and contribute to the development of their communities, but ultimately secures the future supply of cocoa by improving its productivity and quality.

Hester le Roux said:

SESSION 1, Q1: How can business best support women’s economic empowerment working through their value chains?

Hello, This is Margaux Yost from Business for Social Responsibility's HERproject - a global public-private partnership to empower low income women working in global supply chains. I manage our East Africa programs.

I look forward to hearing from everyone!

From CARE’s many years of experience working in agricultural value chains, we think that some of the key issues on women are – identifying where women are working in the value chain, taking a systems approach, looking at where risk lies, innovation and getting to scale. (See our report:   “Adding Value to Value Chains”, )

I think plugging the data and knowledge gap in this area is critical and business can play a key role in doing this.  Through their supply chains business can have access to information on the types of work that women do and their economic contribution.  Setting up systems to collect information on how women participate at various stages of production in supply chains would make an invaluable contribution to our understanding. As long as women’s work remains invisible and uncounted we cannot design effective strategies to improve their economic outcomes. 

Good morning everyone. I’m representing Dalberg Global Development Advisors,  a strategic advisory firm focused exclusively on global development ( I’m a Project Manager in Dalberg's Dakar office and work across the public, private and non-profit sectors in the areas of gender, inclusive growth, agriculture, access to finance, and education. I co-lead Dalberg’s global Gender Expertise Area.

One key thing we have learned in strengthening value chains is the importance of developing small and micro enterprises to provide aggregation and distribution points where a value chain integrates smallholders.  So for instance in Bangladesh, in our work in the dairy value chain there,  we have developed milk collection points (often run by women) to gather supplies from the women dairy farmers for onward delivery to the large milk processors, and achieved fairer prices and higher quality by introducing digital fat testing equipment which means that milk quality and price are no longer a subjective topic to be argued about, but a scientifically measured fact. 

Good morning everyone. I’m the skills and empowerment manager in sustainable development at Diageo, a global leader in beverage alcohol brands including Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, vodka, Baileys and Guinness. Based in Singapore, I lead women’s empowerment programme Plan W, I also partner with HR to support Diageo’s diversity and inclusion ambitions. I’m by no means a gender expert, but I’m keen to share some of our experiences as we continually strengthen the work we’re doing to address women’s economic empowerment and learn more from you.

What we've found from our work advising global FMCG and agribusiness is that there is a small but growing trend of private sector who are incorporating gender equality into their value chains. Usually it’s led by companies or organizations that realize women are their target customer. Some understand that women make 70% of household purchasing decisions, others that smallholder supply chains can be enhanced if women are integrated and supported to increase productivity.

When CDC made an investment in online fashion retailer Jabong in India, we saw an opportunity to drive higher standards into a part of the Indian textile sector that hadn't been exposed to Western buyers. So far, 1,500 suppliers have signed up to its new code of conduct aligned to the Ethical Trading Initiative. That's 2,000 factories; 200,000 workers - 57% women. 

Companies need to have deliberate strategies for engaging and supporting women throughout their value chains.  Integrating women into their supply chains at one end and clearly addressing women customers at the end.  Organizations like WEConnect are there to help women understand how to access corporate supply chains.  We believe that having a diverse supply chain is of business value in terms of innovation and product/service offerings.  It is about far more than being the right thing to do.

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