Stephen Jordan's Remarks at the International Olympic Committee's Women and Sport Forum

Together Stronger: The Future of Sport
Dialogue Session F: Sport, Peace and Development
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Women and Sport Conference
February 17, 2012

The Role of Business in Empowering Women

Prepared Remarks, Stephen Jordan, Founder and Executive Director

Thank you very much Nicole (Hoevertsz) for that introduction.  It is so inspiring to be in a room with so many accomplished athletes and leaders. Your example, and that of our fellow panelists, Beatrice Allen and Barbara Kendall, has been amazing, and of course, HRH, Prince Faisal Al Hussein, IOC Member, has been a seminal figure in advancing sports in Jordan.

The subject of our conversation today is sports, peace, and development, and I have been asked to talk about the role that business is playing in contributing to advancing all of these objectives. The short answer is that we have a good story to tell, but one that is incomplete, and there is still a lot of progress to be made.

But first, I want to take a step back and look at the state of women around the world. To paraphrase the French political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville, “It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits people to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable.”

I believe that many women are experiencing just this feeling. In the United States, more women are doing more things than any time in history. Since 1970, the number of women participating in the workforce has almost doubled from 40% to 75%. In 1970, there were 50% more men in college than women. Today there are slightly more women in college than men. 

You see this change in the fields of sport. What was the statistic this morning? That the number of girl athletes in the U.S. has tripled in a generation from 1 million to 3 million participating on organized sports teams.

Women are earning more money, they are filling more executive positions, they are leading more than ever before.  They have never been more empowered. 

And yet, as Geena Davis and other speakers have pointed out, they do not yet hold their proportional share of those leadership positions yet.

The same thing has happened internationally. Countries like India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Liberia have all seen women break through to the highest echelons of power. Here on this stage, Beatrice Allen and Nicole Hoevertsz were pathbreakers for their respective countries.

The roles of women are changing around the world, not just in terms of outliers and innovators and exceptions like so many of the people in this room, but at the mass level. Women are changing their minds about what they think they can do, and they are doing things that are having a profound effect on their societies. They are starting to take advantage of more opportunities and increasing their capacities and capabilities in a historically significant way.

But just as de Tocqueville said, this time of improvement for women in aggregate is precisely the time when the challenges appear more frustrating and tougher to bear. Even here at this conference, speakers have dwelt on the menaces, such as exposure to sexual violence, human trafficking, humiliation, exclusion, and barriers to entry. I would argue that you don’t unwind social and cultural customs overnight. It takes years to create habits, mores, prejudices, and stereotypes. Not only do you have to stop the forward momentum of these habits, but then you have to build a base and an alternative sense of direction.

This is precisely where the business community has started to play some key roles. I only have time to give you a few anecdotal examples, but trust me when I say that they are not isolated cases.

Two good examples of companies that support women and economic development are Intel and Tupperware:

Intel has done a good deal of research to help shape its investment in women and girls. Approximately 25% of girls in developing countries are not in school (Cynthia Lloyd, Growing Up Global: the Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries). When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases, on average, 3% (Council on Foreign Relations, What works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World).  When girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% into their families (Phil Borges in Women Empowered:  Inspiring Change in the Emerging World).

Intel believes that when women receive training in digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and business skills, they are able to break through barriers to economic growth. So Intel launched the “She Will Campaign” to empower girls and women around the world by fostering economic and educational opportunities. Through Intel’s Computer Clubhouse Network and Learn Network, girls receive training in digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and business skills.

Through these programs, the women and girls who are involved are able to access and generate new sources of prosperity and invest it in the health, education, and well-being of their families and communities, and help others move forward by initiating escalating cycles of empowerment.

And because of the influence of girls equipped with the skills to succeed, their communities experience success.  Employment and entrepreneurship increase significantly, poverty decreases, GDP increases, and they make a global impact.

Tupperware also has an interesting story to tell. Tupperware’s global sales force of 2.7 million is 98% women located in almost 100 countries around the world. Tupperware’s low barriers to entry (low financing and educational requirements) have allowed these women to achieve financial flexibility so that their children, especially their daughters, can remain in school and be educated rather than have to get a job at an early age. 

Additionally, two years ago, Tupperware’s partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs expanded to South Africa. This partnership is all about giving youth – sons and daughters – a chance to go to school to be educated and have a better chance at a future. Sport and games are a critical component of the Boys and Girls Club’s curriculum, giving kids a place to go after school to do their homework and play safely rather than in the middle of streets. 

These are just 2 of the MANY examples of initiatives individual companies are championing around the world to increase economic opportunity for women.

One of the best qualities about business is that when the facts change, it adapts, and it also is a force for global adaptation.

Let me conclude by telling you about one way the BCLC network of companies is accelerating progress in this area. It is through technical assistance, also known as pro bono service.

Last year, BCLC, Dow Chemical Company, and a number of other companies launched the International Business Corps, a business-led consortium dedicated to enhancing the capabilities of entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations in emerging markets by mobilizing volunteer business experts and by leveraging core business functions in the delivery of social good.

The International Business Corps builds on the inspiration of the Peace Corps and helps Chamber members and their employees leverage the power of volunteerism to advance global development.

The Business Corps has three specific areas of focus that will help advance economic opportunity. Those areas are:

  • Increasing access to education
  • Stimulating entrepreneurism
  • Providing vocational training and creating conditions for employment opportunities

The Business Corps selected Rio as its pilot city, in part because it will be the site of the 2016 Olympic Games.   Now, it is focusing its first capacity building partnerships with three NGOs in Rio:

  • Bola Pra Frente: Bola Pra Frente uses the fascination of soccer and the image of its renowned athletes to inspire children of all ages to succeed in the classroom and in life.  Students are trained in sports, education, art and culture and professional qualification to teach them life skills and promote an interest in learning.  Through their programs Bola Pra Frente is dramatically reducing the school drop-out rates among the students that participate in their programs, and their Citizenship Champion program is equipping high school students with job skill and entrepreneurship training to ready these students for the job market.
  • Saude Criancia:  The mission of Saúde Criança is to help sick children’s families through its Family Action Planning process, which encompasses five core areas: health, vocational training, housing, education and citizenship
  • CDI:  CDI uses knowledge to stimulate local economic development and job creation.  For 14 years, CDI has empowered disadvantaged groups to use Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) as tools to tackle the issues that affect their communities

The Olympic spirit has always prided itself in drawing the finest athletes from around the world as ambassadors for their countries. In these modern Olympics the athletes literally serve as ambassadors from their countries to the world! The Business Corps shows how BCLC and the business community are buying into this same spirit.

This may not be the best of times for women’s empowerment yet, but clearly, there are forces at work that are driving change, not just at the leadership level, but at the grassroots level around the world. One thing I can guarantee, the next 40 years will see a different stage of development than we’ve seen in the last 40 years, and many of us have vested interests to work together to make sure that we build on the positive contributions that have been made already.

Thank you.