Here’s how U.S. companies help women worldwide

By Christopher Connell

(State Dept./Doug Thompson)  

(State Dept./Doug Thompson)
 

After seamstresses at a textile factory in Karur, India, received training to boost their confidence and communication skills, the lives of Dari and her family changed for the better.

The formerly reticent fabric trimmer convinced her husband to find a job and got her children to quit squabbling and study more. The training “built my confidence,” Dari told the Indian nonprofit Swasti, which conducted the classes. “Now peace prevails at home and my family’s finances are improving.”

Swasti got a grant from the Walmart Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the world’s largest retailer, to train thousands of women at factories in India. The foundation also supports other nongovernmental organizations training women working in factories, stores and farms in numerous other countries.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. featured Dari’s story in its Global Responsibility Report. The company, with its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, has spent $139 million over five years on women’s empowerment efforts, says Walmart Foundation Vice President Julie Gehrki.

Economic empowerment of women is a priority for governments, nonprofits and the private sector, and will be the focus of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India, November 28–30. The United States and India will co-host the summit.

Studies conclusively show that when women bring home more money, they invest it in children’s health and education to the betterment of entire communities.

Business-skills classes helped Filipina “sari-sari” proprietors. (© David Dorey, The Philippines Collection/Alamy Stock)

The Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta uses its buying power to bring more women-owned businesses into its supply chain. Its 5by20 initiative aims to help 5 million women entrepreneurs in its supply chain by 2020. So far it has provided business training, access to financing, and mentoring for nearly 2 million women in 64 countries, including “sari-sari” convenience shop owners in the Philippines.

“I was able to let my children finish school, and business is thriving,” Carmencita Aspiras told Coke executives who visited her shop in Taguig near Manila.

Caterpillar Inc., the Peoria, Illinois, construction and mining equipment giant, partners with the U.N. Foundation and several nonprofits on a “Together Stronger” initiative to lift 50 million people out of poverty.

“We’re trying to use our money, brand, people and influence to make the world better,” says Caterpillar Foundation President Michele Sullivan.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs contributed $100 million to its 10,000 Women Initiative to provide advice and help secure capital for female business owners.

“We were thinking, ‘How can we align the work we do as a foundation with the work we do as a global financial institution?’ For us, that’s economic growth and job opportunity,” says Goldman Sachs Vice President Kara Gustafson.

It teamed with the World Bank’s International Financing Corporation to create a global lending facility to expand women’s enterprises. That was a precursor to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative announced at the G20 Summit in July and backed by the United States, Germany, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Companies once backed women’s empowerment projects as the right thing to do. “That conversation has shifted,” says Walmart’s Gehrki. Now they do it because it makes economic sense.