The Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the world’s largest conference on gender equality in the 21st century, took place earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada. Over 8,000 attendees from more than 160 countries came together to advocate, share new knowledge and brainstorm solutions for the health, rights and well-being of girls and women. Of the attendees, more than 1,000 were private sector representatives from various industries. The week’s activities featured exciting discussions and examples of the power of cross-sector partnerships to accelerate progress for girls and women.
Women Deliver’s Deliver for Good Campaign, lists the rationale for the importance of engaging the private sector in order to advance gender equality across the SDGs on their website. Their analysis is so insightful that it would be a disservice to paraphrase it:
- Cross-sector partnerships can drive progress forward by bringing people with diverse skill sets, experiences, and resources together to addresses common challenges.
- The private sector is a powerful partner in advancing gender inequality, with the ability to leverage a variety of strengths, including corporate expertise, products, voice, financing, ability to innovate, and share and scale solutions.
- Gender equality is everyone’s business, and it can’t be business as usual.
- When equality increases – businesses perform better, economies thrive, communities are healthier – and the world is a better place for all. It benefits all of us – and it will take all of us – to deliver for girls and women.
- The private sector has a vested interest and a significant role to play in advancing women — who represent their employees, producers, suppliers, partners, and community members. Businesses must be creative in their approaches to partnerships to amplify the impact of their efforts toward gender equality.
- To fuel change and unlock the economic gains of development and growth, policies and pledges to invest in girls and women must be backed by sustained resourcing and programming that become practice.
Numerous initiatives and discussions relating to the role of the private sector in advancing the health, rights and well-being of girls and women took place or were announced at Women Deliver 2019, and brief discussions of some of the best examples are included below.
Financing for MOMs Alliance
The newly announced Financing for MOMs (Maternal Outcomes Matters) Alliance is a paradigm of cross-sector innovation that came out of the conference. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID, Merck (through its Merck for Mothers Initiative) and Credit Suisse announced the collaboration with the goal of mobilizing up to $50 million to improve and expand infrastructure, services and access to care in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, the collaboration will focus on ensuring proper care for women during pregnancy and childbirth.
The Alliance announcement detailed how multisector collaborations allow various parties to do what they do best while creating an initiative where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts:
OPIC will bring a strong understanding of blending public and private funding to sustain disruptive solutions; USAID will provide technical assistance and maternal and child health expertise; Merck for Mothers will drive investment toward promising interventions to improve maternal health; and Credit Suisse will provide financial structuring expertise.
By tapping into the capabilities of groups from the public and private sectors, the Alliance will be able to make a positive difference in the wellbeing of families and “ultimately the economies in developing markets,” according to Marisa Drew, CEO of the Impact Advisory and Finance Department at Credit Suisse.
Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, Lead and Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, highlighted the value of innovative financing, stating that “Financing for MOMs – a model of multisectoral collaboration – will bring together the best of the public and private sectors to spur sustainable solutions that make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women. We are excited to mobilize creative financing solutions that can scale innovation and improve maternal health where women are most in need.”
Examples & Discussions of the Role of the Private Sector
There were numerous other instances from the event that demonstrated the potential of the private sector to advance the goals of gender equity.
Joy Marini, Global Director of Insights, Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), shared some examples of what J&J is doing. J&J, along with partners IntraHealth International and Nursing Now Global, launched the “Investing in Nurse Leadership” report at this year’s conference. The private sector has resources and capabilities that can be useful, through both grants and technical support, for initiatives like this report, which provide the business case to invest in progress on various issues, including those important for women and girls. J&J also “help[s] youth channel their energy and ideas through partnerships with Women Deliver, International Confederation of Midwives, One Young World, Devex and more,” some of which were on display at the event. The company’s WiSTEM2D program was also featured during the event. WiSTEM2D aims to cultivate and empower women’s interest in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, manufacturing and design.
Women Deliver’s Deliver for Good Campaign has grown to more than 400 supporting organizations and during this year’s Conference, the Campaign’s Business Ally Network was launched, featuring founding members Merck and P&G. The Campaign is “a global campaign… that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promotes critical investments in girls and women to power progress for all.” It does so by identifying, advocating for and investing in 12 areas, such as “Ensure Health for All” and “Improve Maternal and Newborn Health and Nutrition,” that support the SDGs through investment in girls and women, while also leading to social and economic benefits.
The Atlantic Council published an article featuring additional private sector involvement from the conference. From a broader perspective, the article states that discourse at the event “demonstrated how the dialogue on the role of the private sector is shifting: from corporate responsibility to corporate interest and from social impact to bottom line impact.” Discussions throughout the event focused on the variety of ways in which the private sector is contributing to opportunities for women and girls. For example:
- “[t]hrough their procurement practices, companies are opening up their value chains, [which] is especially important in supporting women in low- and middle-income communities”
- “financing and investment practices that extend credit or share equity in female-owned companies are increasingly becoming an asset in the private sector’s inclusive growth toolbox”
- “the private sector can contribute to women’s economic empowerment by leveraging its branding, communications, advocacy, and social community practices to shift social norms and consumer awareness and attitudes toward women’s economic participation”
The article concludes by highlighting a vital takeaway from all these discussions, which is that increased economic empowerment and opportunity for women can lead to significant economic growth; reports from leading consulting firms have shown that improving female labor force participation rates and reducing the gender gap could increase global GDP by trillions of dollars (US) in the next decade.
These initiatives and discussions are great examples of what can be achieved through the integration of the private sector in innovative collaborations for improving health.