When society invests in women and girls, everybody wins. That’s the mantra of Katja Iversen’s organization, Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for girls’ and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing. In the following interview, Iversen explores the power that corporates have to significantly impact the lives of women – and why their success is really good for business.
The following interview is part of the series Leading Shared Value, spotlighting the presenters at the 2015 Shared Value Leadership Summit: Business at its Best.
Why is shared value one of your priorities as a CEO in the global women’s advocacy space?
Women Deliver works to improve the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women around the world, with a particular focus on maternal and reproductive health and the social determinants. We work strategically with the private sector, which is a powerful actor in international development. Businesses have the capital, technology, logistics, and reach to significantly impact the lives of the most vulnerable girls and women. And many are eager to work with NGOs and the public sector. These businesses increasingly recognize that investing in girls and women is good for society AND good for business.
Girls and women make up more than half the world’s population. They are consumers, producers, reproducers and they constitute the largest emerging market—bigger than India and China combined. In today’s complex global economy, development AND business success hinges, in part, on the status of the world’s girls and women. Women Deliver – and not only babies. Securing a more just and equitable future for girls and women has become tantamount to ensuring a healthy global economy. When girls and women survive and thrive, it creates a positive ripple effect throughout society: communities and economies are stronger, environments are more resilient, and overall – everybody wins
What are some of the most pressing social issues that disproportionately impact women today? How can these be addressed through shared value solutions?
Many of the big challenges women and their newborns face today have to do with healthcare: 225 million women in the world lack access to modern contraceptives; the health center in their communities experiences stock outs and often don’t have the needed personnel, equipment or supplies to treat complications in pregnancy or childbirth; women do not receive proper prenatal care – and the ante natal care that could save millions of newborn lives is not there or not up to par. These are issues that lend themselves well to the shared values model and that can best be solved if there is collaboration between the private, public, and non-for-profit sectors.
However, if we really want to spur economic growth and improve health, we also have to take into consideration gender equality, girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment. Evidence shows that if we try to solve health problems with health interventions alone, we are missing not only the point, but also the target.
How do the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present an opportunity for organizations to innovate for shared value, alone or in partnership? Share your favorite example(s) from the field.
Implementing the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals and improving the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women will be everybody’s business – and it can’t be business as usual. Multi-sector partnership and understanding are key, as is strategic investments.
Based on the draft of the SDGs, Women Deliver is identifying the strongest ‘impact investments’ for girls and women, spanning health, gender equality, education and economic empowerment.
And at the Women Deliver 2016 Conference in May 2016 in Copenhagen – the largest global conference on girls and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing in the last decade – we are gathering 30-40 high level corporate leaders for an invitation-only pre-conference to discuss the role of the private sector in implementing the SDGs so they matter most to girls and women, and how investing in girls and women can drive growth in a business’s reach, influence, impact, and bottom line.
Women Deliver’s corporate forum – the C Exchange – will play a crucial part in the pre-conference. The C Exchange is a great example of successful collaboration between advocates and the private sector. It is a group of private sector players with an established track record in improving the world for girls and women, with members from diverse industries and backgrounds. What binds C Exchange members is their demonstrated track-record and shared belief that investing in girls and women benefits individuals, societies, and businesses alike.
What are you learning about measuring the link between social and business value?
Girls and women are at the heart of development and if given the opportunity they can reduce global poverty and strengthen national economies. Investing in women and girls is one of the best investments we can make and there is plenty of data that reflects this. For example, women spend 90 percent of their earned income on their families, while men only spend 30-40 percent. When 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3 percent and eliminating barriers to employment for women could raise productivity by 25 percent in some countries. When investments are made in the health, education, and equality of girls and women, there is a ripple effect that goes way beyond the individual.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in implementing shared value? What opportunities do you see on the horizon to overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge we have faced in implementing shared value is developing a meaningful relationship with the private sector. For years, the non-profit sector has viewed the private sector with a hands-off approach. NGOs wanted the private sector’s money, but did not want much else. We did not speak the same ‘language’, and there were very few examples of what could be accomplished in partnership.
Every Woman Every Child, the Clinton Global Initiative, BSR, and the Shared Value Initiative have done a tremendous job of promoting the potential of private/public relationships and given us examples of how progress can be accelerated when we all come together. Our own corporate forum has planned and implemented a youth leadership initiative. Not only have they supported it, corporations have provided us with mentors and training in monitoring and evaluation. We are just beginning to explore the possibilities of shared value, but it hold great promise to increase our impact as an organization.