Inclusive Business: Companies are Leading the Way

February 26, 2014

Co-Author: Karen Newman, Senior Communications Consultant, Business Call to Action

As we reflect on this past year of women’s leadership leaning in and leaning out, and learning from young brave leaders like Malala Yousafzai, we recognize that 2013 brought progress. The world has seen women’s economic empowerment leaders emerge from diverse backgrounds with a common goal: achieving equal opportunity for every woman. Looking into 2014, we also recognize that large challenges of gender and economic empowerment still exist, and as leaders we need to continue facing the challenges with strong leadership and innovative solutions. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) and Business Call to Action (BCtA) believe that the private sector can lead the way for women’s economic empowerment. We also believe that all businesses have the power to be more inclusive and maximize positive social impact through their business operations. For us the ongoing question is how do inclusive businesses continue to advance their empowerment of women as entrepreneurs, producers, and consumers. From another angle we ask -- how does the private sector continue to respond to the business case for building inclusive businesses?  To further explore this issue, USCCF and BCtA will host a special forum in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships to ask these important questions to the leaders in this field. Coinciding with International Women's Day, on March 4, 2014 leaders from the private sector, government, and NGOs will gather to discuss the most pressing challenges and the most effective solutions to empower women around the world. Learn more here.

We define an inclusive business as a commercially viable business that economically empowers and benefits low-income communities (defined as those who live on less than $8 per day). Inclusive businesses leverage their own value chains to include low-income communities from a supply side as producers, entrepreneurs, and employees and from a demand side as clients and consumers.

The private sector is critical in helping women. Whether through their value chains by increasing access to jobs and access to markets or by improving women’s access to education, job skills training, finance, and networking. By focusing on women, the private sector can continue to create a growing base of skilled female workers and suppliers that can and do play a role in their communities.

A number of companies are taking the lead in supporting female employees and entrepreneurs, and we’re excited to share their work at our upcoming Forum. Companies like: Intel, Walmart, Qualcomm, ANN Inc., Envirofit , H&M, Clickmedix, L’OCCITANE and more. These companies will be sharing their efforts to train women-owned businesses, improve access to finance for female workers, increase women farmers supplying to global companies, and much more.

For example, ANN Inc.’s involvement in HERproject and HERfinance are great examples of how a company can leverage their value chains to empower women beyond their direct employees. HERproject provides female garment workers working in their suppliers’ companies in developing countries with health education. The training includes topics such as hygiene, nutrition, and disease prevention for thousands of workers. HERfinance provides financial literacy training using a peer-to-peer training model for workers in Bangalore and Delhi in India. Their aim is to continue to grow these projects globally.

Additionally, L’OCCITANE is developing a more sustainable value chain for shea nut butter production in Burkina Faso. They seek to encourage female workers to join the industry as pickers and processors while professionalizing the industry to reduce the need for difficult manual labor. In addition to their focus on women, the company seeks to ameliorate the environmental impact in the region.

We are pleased to work with our supporteres to help promote their work and highlight how companies and their partners are working to build a supportive ecosystem for women and girls all over the world.  We invite you to visit www.businesscalltoaction.org and uschamberfoundation.org/ccc to learn more about our ongoing work.