GES 2017: Why Women First, Prosperity for All Matters

The U.S.-India relationship is more crucial now than ever before. The opportunities that a strategic partnership will bring in terms of driving economic growth, job creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship are immense, and have the potential to be a major win for both countries and their citizens. I have said many times over the past several years that the relationship with India is the most important one for the U.S., and could serve as a model for the rest of the world, and I strongly stand by this statement today.

The U.S.-India partnership is truly unique. Not only do we share common values – both countries have democratic governments, diverse populations, and a passion for innovation, technology, and trade – but we also share a commitment to creating inclusive economic opportunities for citizens. As the world’s second most populous country with one of the fastest growing economies, India is an essential partner for the U.S. in achieving our goals, and vice-versa.

However, India will be the most effective when the entire workforce is engaged, which is not the case today. While approximately half of India’s population is female, over the last decade, female labor force participation has declined dramatically.[1] This gender gap has serious implications, both from a societal as well as an economic perspective. If we want India’s economy to continue to grow and flourish, we need to engage this population and create opportunities for women to learn skills and secure jobs in the areas of entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation. If we do this right, the results will be astounding: McKinsey predicts that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.[2]

The topic of creating inclusive opportunities for all citizens is top of mind as we approach The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad, India later this month. At the event, I’ll be moderating a panel called the “Be the Change” and connecting with various policymakers, business leaders and entrepreneurs from the U.S. and India in attendance to discuss the important theme of “Women First, Prosperity for All.” I truly believe that gender inclusion in the workforce has the power to enable an entire country to perform better on the global economic stage, and I’m looking forward to participating in this critical conversation.

As Chairman of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), I’m challenging the private sectors in the U.S. and India to play a more prominent role regarding today’s most pressing issues. This includes gender diversity in the workforce, but certainly does not end there. At USISPF, our goal is to bring together companies and governments in both countries to enrich the next generation, and this starts with making India a great place to do business.

Prime Minister Modi has introduced courageous changes to reduce bureaucratic red tape and regulations that have long deterred foreign investors from doing business in India. His efforts are already paying off in a big way – India leaped 30 spots in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking this year, and I predict that this momentum will continue to accelerate at a rapid pace. In fact, some of the more optimistic forecasts show that India will be the fastest growing of the major countries around the world in the coming decade, and able to realize their goal of 10 percent growth.[3] If this growth is achievable with the current workforce participation rates, just think about what could be possible if we aggressively work to support women entrepreneurs. When translating these numbers into average household income growth, things really get exciting for the future of India and its citizens!

As businesses move beyond the realm of transactions, creating a long-term view on development goals and bridging the gap between corporate initiatives and government priorities has never been more important for both the U.S. and India. GES 2017 represents a strong opportunity to forge ties in innovation, entrepreneurship, and empowerment that will serve generations to come. I’m proud to be participating in this historic event!

John Chambers is the Executive Chairman of Cisco and Chairman of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). He will participate in the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India.