UN Foundation Seeks Private Sector Involvement on Development Goals


Learn how the UN Foundation is working with the private sector to implement Sustainable Development Goals.

CCC works with the UN Foundation on initiatives to promote economic development in the poorest countries. Recently we have stepped up our engagement with the UN Foundation to address the issue of women and girls’ economic empowerment. The UN Foundation was a participant in the Path to Empowerment series, which brought together private sector leaders to discuss the various points of entry in empowering women and girls, and to explore opportunities for collaboration. In mid-April, CCC and the Harvard Kennedy School released A Path to Empowerment: The role of corporations in supporting women's economic progress. Recently, we spoke with Dr. Daniela Ligiero, Vice President of Women and Girls Strategy at the UN Foundation, about the organization’s work and her thoughts on how the private sector can meaningfully engage on this issue.

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to join us for a webinar on August 4 from 9:30—11:00AM. The webinar will feature Dr. Ligiero and Sarah Thorn, Senior Director of Federal Government Relations at Walmart and address how companies can engage in the design and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.

Question: Daniela, the UN Foundation recognizes that partnering with the private sector is a key component of a larger development strategy and works through a myriad of cross-sector partnerships to connect global constituencies to the United Nations. What impact did our ongoing Path to Empowerment series have on how the UN Foundation approaches these partnerships, and how do you envision the report’s Agenda for Action could provide a framework UN Foundation’s work to engage the private sector in initiatives to support women and girls?

Daniela Ligiero: As you point out in your Agenda for Action, and as was clear at your meeting in April 2015, there is a growing recognition that the private sector, from multinational corporations to microenterprises, will be central in helping to achieve the agenda of women’s economic empowerment.  A group of companies is already playing a leadership role—and the Path to Empowerment Series so far has been critical in highlighting the great work of these companies, as well as bringing like-minded businesses together to think strategically about their interventions and impact.

The obstacles to the empowerment of girls and women are complex and challenging, but they are not insurmountable. Governments, inter-governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations clearly have a key responsibility in overcoming them. But what can multinational companies do to advance women’s economic empowerment - especially in developing countries where the positive impacts are likely to be substantial? Your Agenda for Action is relevant for almost any company or industry sector, and the three areas you outline are an excellent framework: “companies should engage more strategically with women in core business operations, governance structures and corporate value chains; enable women and girls to build human capital, economic assets and leadership capacity through community investment and philanthropy programs; and advocate for women’s rights and opportunities through evidence-based corporate communications and policy platforms”.

Businesses, investors, human rights advocates and government leaders have a shared interest in promoting and prioritizing full access to and expression of the rights of their female citizens, employees, and stakeholders.   As we enter the final year of deliberations on the Post-2015 agenda, and look toward the implementation of the SDGs, we have an opportunity to bring private sector actors together to engage, enable and advocate for girls and women’s economic empowerment—and the UN Foundation wants to work with strategic partners to support this process.

Question: The framework in the report suggests advocating for women’s economic empowerment through corporate platforms. What are some of the main areas where UN Foundation would like to see more engagement from the private sector in the area of advocacy?

Daniela Ligiero: This year is critical. The SDGs will provide us with a “to do” list for the next 15 years, and how we implement them will determine what the world looks like in 2030 and for generations to come. Achieving progress on the SDGs will take work from all stakeholders, and in particular, we need smart partnerships across sectors if we are to achieve gender equality by 2030. As the world community rallies to spur progress for girls and women globally, the private sector should – and must – be vocal on these issues. The private sector, from multinational corporations to microenterprises, is uniquely positioned to help achieve gender equality.  As you point out in the report: “A host of leading companies is already playing a critical role. From corporate boardrooms to mines, fields, factories, offices, markets, communities and policy dialogues, more companies are making public commitments and starting to set targets to improve gender diversity and support women leaders in their areas of activity. Industry coalitions and NGOs with specific remits to support women’s economic empowerment are scaling up existing programs and establishing new ones.” The UN Foundation looks forward to continuing to work with these companies this year, and for years to come.

Question: The UN Foundation has a strong focus on the economic empowerment of women and girls globally; can you walk us through the Foundation’s remit and strategies?

Daniela Ligiero: Since the United Nations Foundation’s founding, girls and women have been at the core of everything that we do. That’s because we believe that working with and empowering girls and women is the smartest and most effective way to create healthy families, strong communities and a better world. More than ever before, the global community is recognizing this, and gender issues are at last taking center stage, from the post-2015 development agenda to the unprecedented number of companies now focusing on women’s economic empowerment. But increases in investments only get us so far: to support smart policies, good data is essential. Data helps us understand problems and solutions, as well as effectiveness of programs. For example, research has demonstrated that expanding women’s economic opportunities benefits families, communities, and nations. However, until recently, there was a crucial knowledge gap around how to most effectively empower women economically.

That’s why the UN Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation partnered on a multi-year agenda to build the evidence base on women’s economic empowerment programs and how to measure their impact. As a first step, we created a Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, a report, published in September 2013 which compiles evidence on what works best to increase women’s productivity and earnings. The Roadmap identifies proven, promising, and high potential interventions based on a review of 136 rigorous program evaluations.

The Roadmap tells us more about the “how” but one of the challenges in getting to the “how” was due to a lack of rigorous and consistent evidence on the effectiveness of women’s economic empowerment programs, and so we have done further work on the ideal ways to measure women’s economic empowerment program outcomes. On June 16, the Women’s Economic Empowerment team will published two new reports: the first, "Measuring Women's Economic Empowerment,” which identifies “what to measure” when evaluating programs for urban and rural women entrepreneurs. And the second is focused on “how to measure” – a Guidelines document intended for program practitioners and funders. It is our hope that not only can practitioners increase quality program evaluation, but also that funders of these programs (of all types – bilateral, corporate, foundation - prioritize and invest in measurement of program outcomes.

Question: As we dive into the Post-2015 development agenda, can you walk us through the UN Foundation’s approach to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, the SDGs, especially Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and the various gender-related sub-goals?

Daniela Ligiero: It’s exciting to see so much momentum around the new global goals, and the adoption of the goals in September. But it’s important to remember that the work doesn’t stop in September: the focus now needs to turn to implementation, and in particular, how we can work towards making gender equality a reality by 2030. The UN Foundation and our partners are working to ensure that we have measurable, ambitious, but realistic targets so that we can properly map progress, and identify gaps, for girls and women.  As such, we work to support the work of the UN, including agencies like UN Women, UNFPA, and UNICEF in implementing programs on the ground that will make a difference in the lives of girls and women. We are also focused on bringing other critical stakeholders to the support the implementation of the Global Goals, like the private sector, working closely with the UN Global Compact and the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP). The WEP serve as a key entry point for the private sector to contribute to the goal of reaching gender equality.

Question: We were thrilled to have Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation, as a Leadership speaker at our December A Path to Empowerment roundtable, which focused on women acting as "individual contributors" in the global value chain and supporting them through interventions such as job skills training, personal financial literacy, and health and wellness. Can you tell us a little bit about why empowering women artisans, farmers, and factory workers should be a priority?

Daniela Ligiero: Women’s economic empowerment is a major priority of the UN Foundation because we know it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. When women are economically empowered, entire communities benefit – we see greater investment in children’s schooling and health, and reduced poverty for all. And when women can fully participate in society, economies flourish. In fact, raising female empowerment levels to those of males could increase GDP by five percent in the United States, nine percent in Japan, 12 percent in the United Arab Emirates and 34 percent in Egypt.

I spoke earlier about the Roadmap – this is a very practical document that lays out the “how” for increasing women’s productivity and earnings (which is how we defined economic empowerment)- and it is intended for use by the entire community – we are hopeful that private sector audiences and other investors in women’s economic empowerment will take this and use it.

We organized the Roadmap report and recommendations on proven, promising, high potential interventions into categories based on four types of women’s employment profiles: entrepreneurship, farming, wage employment, and young women’s employment.  We also applied an additional filter of demographic scenarios. There is no “one size fits all” intervention – what works depends on the economic situation of the woman and the context in which she lives. The Roadmap takes all of that into account and provides practical recommendations.

Question: In the Path to Empowerment report, one critical action step is to "fund or co-fund public research to improve data collection and analysis on women and girls." The UN Foundation's Data2X exemplifies this goal in its aims to "create a gender data revolution." Tell us a little bit about Data2X, especially how the Foundation hopes it will impact the global push to reach the SDGs.

Daniela Ligiero: We know that more and better data is needed to drive progress for girls and women globally. To address women’s empowerment, we need a full snapshot of their lives. Good data is essential to good policy, and it is clear that a lack of gender data has hindered the course of gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

That’s why the work of Data2X, which is housed at the UN Foundation, is so critical. Data2X was named after the power that women have to multiply progress in their societies – works to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment by building partnerships to improve data collection and use to guide policy, better leverage investments, and spur global economic and social progress. Building off of our extensive research since our launch in 2012, we serve as a platform to bring together unique partnerships to fill crucial gender data gaps.

Data2X works to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment by building partnerships to improve data collection and use and address gender data gaps. At a progress event in December 2014 with Hillary Clinton, partnerships around six key issue areas were announced, including around civil registration and vital statistics, women’s work and employment, and big data.

As we approach the new SDGs, there could not be a more important time for the gender data revolution. Not only is data essential to measuring progress on these goals, but it can also inspire progress by identifying areas of need. We’re off to a great start, but to create a true gender data revolution, we need to bring together partners from the private, public and social sectors to fuel these partnerships and reach the largest number of girls and women possible.