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Investing in Women: The Key to Unlocking Economic Growth

September 16, 2015 by Mrs. Cherie Blair

On September 21-22, the George W. Bush Institute will host the 2015 Global Women’s Network. The summit will bring together First Ladies, private and public sector leaders, and the next generation of innovators to showcase effective solutions that are improving the lives of women and girls globally. 

Mrs. Cherie Blair will moderate a discussion during the summit focused on innovative methods that support women to thrive in the global marketplace. She elaborates on that subject and the work of the Cherie Blair Foundation in this guest blog.

Next week I will be speaking at the George W. Bush Institute’s Global Women’s Network summit, a gathering of public and private sector leaders, innovators and experts committed to spurring progress on women’s rights. This year’s summit comes at a pivotal moment for gender equality. Twenty years on from the historic Beijing Conference on Women, 2015 is the year the Millennium Development Goals expire and the new Sustainable Development Goals are launched. As members of the United Nations meet in New York later this month, the topic on everyone’s mind is sustainability. How can we cement the gains we have made for the empowerment of women and girls, and harness innovation and technology to reach even greater heights?

At the summit, I will be discussing an issue that sits close to my heart: investing in women. When it comes to sustainable development, I firmly believe that there is no stronger investment than investment in women. Research shows that this is the smart choice: spending $1 on improving women’s economic opportunities creates around $7 in health, poverty-alleviation and education benefits. Women who earn a wage invest up to 90% of their earnings in their families, compared to the 30-40% invested by men.

This is the basis on which I founded my own charity, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Our aim is to support women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies, helping to increase their confidence, capability and access to capital. Our vision is a world where women in villages, towns and cities across the globe are able to take up their rightful places in our societies and economies.

Achieving this vision will involve building up women’s confidence and breaking down those barriers which hold them back from entering the labour market. Many of these barriers are rooted in deeply entrenched social norms and laws. Just last week, for example, the World Bank released a report analysing the legal restrictions to women’s employment in 173 countries. It found that 155 of these countries have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities, and, more shockingly, that in 18 of these countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

Women all over the world are held back from establishing and growing businesses by a lack of access to skills, networks, technology and capital. These are the issues we must focus on. Indeed, the discussion I will be participating in next week will put a spotlight on those initiatives which are making a real difference to the lives of women and girls.

In my view, technology is a game-changer: it can help reach women on a much greater scale. Through a partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation, for example, my Foundation developed an award-winning service called Business Women, which delivered business training tips to over 100,000 women in Indonesia, Nigeria and Tanzania via SMS. Over 90% of subscribers felt the service offered ‘practical guidance’ to help them become better businesswomen. We would never have been able to reach so many women without the power of mobile technology.

Public-private partnerships are also a powerful catalyst for change. The focus on this issue at the Global Women’s Network is exciting; I know that bringing together diverse sectors provides real hope for achieving gender equality. These partnerships are an integral part of the work of my Foundation, and the reason we have been able to reach over 125,000 women in more than 80 countries over the past six years.

I recently visited one our projects in Rwanda, for example, where we are collaborating with Accenture and CARE International to support 15,000 women through a combination of mentoring, business training and access to financial services via mobile phones. We are also working with Qualcomm Wireless Reach to provide mentors to 200 women in Malaysia, whilst support from Visa is enabling us to train 2,500 women to become mobile banking agents in Nigeria. The private sector has become an integral partner in the business of sustainable development.

Gender inequality is a global issue: we all have a part to play in ending it. Whether you’re a business leader, policy-maker or philanthropist, investing in women is the key to unlocking economic growth. And for those wondering how they can get involved in more day-to-day activities, my Foundation is currently recruiting men and women to act as mentors to women entrepreneurs in developing countries! By giving just two hours of your time each month, you too could play your part in creating a world where women can flourish.

Cherie Blair is the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leading lawyer, and a committed campaigner for women’s rights. To tune in, and for more on the Bush Institute’s Global Women’s Network summit, visit www.bushcenter.org/GWN2015.

This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post’s website.