Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability

Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability Conference. © Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Washington, DC January 2020. Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability were topics discussed during the first international women’s economic empowerment conference held in November in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Hosted at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Gogarburn Business School, the conference was presented by Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI), the global collaborative initiative, in partnership with Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), the community interest company which focuses on the contribution women’s enterprise makes to the Scottish economy.

The conference gathered international speakers, thought leaders and change makers representing civil society, academia as well as private and public sectors from across the globe. It focussed on sharing knowledge, engaging participants in active dialog, and catalysing concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment. Driving the agenda were the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the work of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and the outcomes of the T-20 Task Force on Gender Economic Equity.

Participants heard from women who have broken cultural and industry barriers as they progressed careers in sectors such as technology, medicine, aviation, and finance. Speakers included technology evangelist Professor Sue Black; Kenyan Airways Captain and first female African Dreamliner pilot, Captain Irene Koki Mutungi, and the Hon. Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera, Former President of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Prominent Scottish and global industry leaders such as Malcolm Buchanan, RBS Chair of Scotland Board; Keith Skeoch, CEO Standard Life Aberdeen, the Rt Hon. Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chairman, Mastercard were joined by leading global academics, businessmen and women, and international diplomats to share findings and discuss best practices.

The two-day conference broke new ground in advancing the discussion on gender at the intersection of economics, politics, geography and health. It culminated in a commitment for action from several sectors including health, technology, finance, enterprise and education, as it focused on the importance of concrete actions across societies, industry and governments. Hon Luis Guillermo Sallis Rivera emphasized in his keynote speech that the seven key drivers of economic empowerment are relevant across all sectors and geographies, whether it is industry or health; at home or in the workplace. From tackling adverse norms and promoting positive role models; ensuring the right legal protection; recognising unpaid work and care; building and owning financial and digital assets to empower economically, to changing mind-sets and behaviours, and eliminating barriers in cultures, the work place and markets.

Dr. Margo Thomas, Founder and President of WEI explained, “We all know the key issues and drivers of women’s economic empowerment. We must focus now on actions. As a global organization, WEI, with the support of our WEI Board and Advisory Council, is leveraging its global networks, affiliations, and partnerships to share knowledge, craft solutions, and catalyse concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the benefit of all.”

In welcoming the conference attendees to Edinburgh during the opening reception at City Chambers, the Right Honourable Lord Provost of Edinburgh noted that Scotland is making strides in creating an environment where more women and girls can start up in business and thrive

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland explained that “As a catalyst for economic growth and inclusion, WES works to create an environment where women can start up in business and thrive. The simple fact is that more women-owned businesses in Scotland means more money for the economy. Research shows that women-owned businesses already contribute a staggering GBP 8.8 bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs in local communities across Scotland.”

Women’s equality and empowerment is one of the United Nations’ 17 SDGs and is central to all aspects of inclusive and sustainable development. The G20, leaders of the most powerful 20 countries in the world, made this commitment at their summit in Osaka in June 2019: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We reconfirm their importance in all aspects of our policies and as a cross-cutting issue at upcoming Summits.” However, according to the SDG Index research, no country is currently on track to achieve all SDG’s by 2030[1].

WEI has released the following post conference statement:

Eliminating gender inequities, fully accounting for women’s economic contribution in the care economy and informal work, and facilitating women’s participation in the economic space will not only contribute to faster economic growth, but is essential for improving social, health, and political outcomes globally.

Conference participants recognized that:

Female entrepreneurship represents a vast, but under-valued source of innovation, job creation and economic growth globally.

Women’s entrepreneurship is not homogeneous. It is manifested in different ways, in different contexts and geographies. Moreover, women entrepreneurs face unique challenges in terms of their access to opportunities, markets, and resources.

Women-owned and women-led businesses create jobs, support communities, and achieve higher productivity, innovation, and exports.

We must take a disruptive approach to tackling the systemic barriers to women’s economic participation and to reducing the widening gaps in incomes, access to resources, health and resilience. When women are better off, societies are better off.

Access to education, digital and financial resources must be more inclusive to help unleash the potential of girls and women entrepreneurs. Women and girls must be included in the transformation to a digital society to facilitate leapfrogging productivity and social development.

Women’s health is a critical economic and social value. The health and prosperity of women are inexorably bound up with the social determinants of health and wellbeing of a population.

Participants made commitments to action in several key areas. WEI is committed to catalyzing action and supporting the implementation of key commitments wherever feasible.

The platinum sponsors of the conference were The Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life Aberdeen and Mastercard. Additional sponsors included AllAfrica, the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Newcastle University Business School, Durham University Business School, Portsmouth University and Business Gateway Edinburgh, among others.

Photos from the event may be viewed here.  Reproduction of any of these photos is only for personal use. Consent for release of any of the images on a commercial basis must be sought in writing by email to contact@wayforward.org.

[1] Berteslmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (2018) viii