When women are free to own, create and build, societies flourish and economies grow. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study found that advancing women’s role in the workplace could add $12 trillion to global GDP — an amount equivalent in size to the current GDP of Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom combined.
To enhance our national security, as well as global stability and growth, the United States must catalyze the full and free participation of women in the global economy. This is the foundation for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) launched by the White House last month, which aims to reach 50 million women across the developing world by 2025.
As outlined in its National Security Strategy (NSS), the Trump administration is a strong advocate of the idea that the United States can be a catalyst, by creating conditions for bottom-up positive transformations in other societies rather than by imposing top-down change.
While this administration rightly recognizes the need to restore America’s military power — badly eroded under budget sequestration — it also recognizes that American influence can be advanced by more than military means. A key to successful leadership is to align ourselves with, and to enable, the aspirations of citizens in other societies that wish to join the arena of developed democracies.
Women in many developing countries are potential allies. In fact, the McKinsey study found that the more women are economically empowered and participating in the workforce, the less likely it is that a country will be involved in violent conflict.
Unfortunately, women around the world are often denied the opportunity to reach their economic potential, and thereby denied a path to improve their own lives and those of their families. W-GDP recognizes this and is designed to realize their potential and advance the full and free participation of women in the global economy.
The initiative has three focus areas: support workforce development and skills training; provide women entrepreneurs with access to capital, markets and networks; and encourage the creation of an ecosystem of laws, regulations, policies and practices so that women reach their full economic potential.
W-GDP is built on key lessons from our own success and premised on the idea that other societies aspire to this. American women contribute to every facet of America’s success, in business, government, and civil society. But the only way for all countries to achieve this is by harnessing the capabilities of the half of their populations that too often have been marginalized.
The W-GDP builds on what we have learned in the last two decades about development and economic growth and, specifically, about catalyzing women’s economic empowerment. For example, it advances an “ecosystem approach,” which understands the intertwined nature of skills, access to capital and regulatory reform. It moves beyond merely micro-finance, which has been a traditional approach to funding for women, to one that seeks to provide women with access to capital and markets and encourages laws that support their economic participation.
A new World Bank study found that women in countries throughout the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa have less than half the legal rights of men and must navigate discriminatory laws and regulations as they seek to build businesses.
The W-GDP also recognizes the importance of technology in helping spread small-scale successes. Technology is an equalizer, encourages transparency and can give women access to global markets, customers and capitol.
It also appreciates the importance of locally driven change and solutions. By empowering women in their own communities first, it strives to create fixes at the local level rather than imposed from above. Aid economists have known for some time that top-down assistance often does more to harm countries than help them by reducing the accountability between governments and their people. Locally-focused assistance can help to create strong communities and provides a revenue base for needed state institutions.
And W-GDP also recognizes that real, sustained development must be driven by the growth of the private sector. While governments provide rule of law and services, jobs must come from the private sector. Private companies can be both consistent profit generators and achieve good outcomes in a society — better conditions in a society create more opportunities for the private sector and generate more economic success. Economists Michael Porter and Mark Kramer call this shared value.
As the NSS notes, the United States cannot do everything, but we can take strategic actions and make smart investments like W-GDP to enable other societies to flourish.
As we observe International Women’s Day, Americans should make a bipartisan commitment to supporting W-GDP, which represents an enormous opportunity to spur growth and create stability by empowering women to use their untapped entrepreneurial talent and invest in their families, communities, and their countries. We know what is at the foundation of successful societies because America is one.