Yesterday ExxonMobil joined the world in celebrating International Women’s Day and the incredible contributions women bring to social and economic progress all over the planet. As we mark this annual observance, however, it is important to reflect on the challenge before us to help women around the world achieve their full potential.
As part of my work with the ExxonMobil Foundation it has become clear to all of us working in this area that increasing the economic participation of women can yield significant positive impacts for subsequent generations. This is especially true in developing countries where we see first-hand the positive impacts to children’s health and education when women are afforded further economic opportunity. The challenge often boils down to figuring out how to go about expanding opportunities for women.
According to the World Bank, women are key drivers of economic and social development. In places where women’s paid work has increased, these gains are making substantial contributions to overall poverty reduction. Research also indicates that investments that increase economic opportunities for women create benefits that touch all of society, because women reinvest in their children and communities.
Recognizing the multiplier effect of investing in women, ExxonMobil was one of the first corporate foundations to develop a program focused on helping women fulfill their economic potential. Over the past decade, through the efforts of our partners, we have helped to economically empower tens of thousands of women in more than 90 countries.
In 2012, we commissioned research to identify specific interventions to promote women’s economic opportunities, helping to close the knowledge gap about what efforts are most effective. Critically, the researchers looked at a variety of scenarios and considered differences among women in terms of their age and economic profiles. They also took into account the complex differences among different developing nations.
A key area of the research focused on the impact that access to financial services can have for women farmers and entrepreneurs. We learned that savings programs, in particular, were found to have many benefits, including being broadly applicable across geographies and contexts and proven to be reinvested back into businesses.
Despite the promising returns, women entrepreneurs worldwide still face significant barriers to accessing financial services. Research shows that women-owned entities represent more than 30 percent of registered businesses globally, but only 10 percent of women entrepreneurs have access to the capital needed to grow their businesses.
To address this challenge, we have partnered with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to design the Road to Women’s Business Growth program. This program seeks to inspire women small business owners in Nigeria by building their management and financial literacy skills.
To date, 500 women small business owners have received training through a custom-built curriculum, which combines in-class instruction and online learning. Over the next six months, the women entrepreneurs will continue to receive support to build their businesses, with 100 of them receiving more intensive business support, including workshops, mentoring, and linkages to financial services, investment, and markets.
Whether on International Women’s Day or any other day of the year, ExxonMobil is proud to collaborate with our partners on innovative programs that can create meaningful and sustainable change for women.
Working alongside organizations like the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, we will continue to create economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Nigeria and all over the globe.