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U.S. Officials Support Businesswomen Worldwide
October 31, 2011

Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues

By Susan Milligan
IIP Special Correspondent
28 October 2011

Ambassador Melanne Verveer takes her mission for global women’s rights to Paris, where an international team will discuss how empowering female business owners can improve economies around the world.

The October 31 session will precede the upcoming G20 Summit in Cannes and will focus on identifying and overcoming barriers women face in developing small and medium-sized enterprises. At the “Growing Economies Through Women’s Entrepreneurship’’ meeting in Paris, attendees will hear results of a study exploring those barriers, most of which are rooted in poor access to finance.

At the same Paris event, the U.S. Agency for International Development is set to announce a $10 million grant to launch and evaluate pilot programs to foster female-run businesses.

“By investing in women’s economic participation, we believe that all of us engaged in this are investing for the future,’’ said Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. “Gender equality is smart economics.’’

USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg added, “Providing women the financial and legal tools and training to succeed economically and supporting programs that enhance their political and civil leadership is the surest way to unlock the power of women to build secure societies and create sustainable growth.’’

Advancing women’s rights is a laudable goal on its own, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech in September at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco, a run-up event to November’s APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Honolulu. But studies show that increasing women’s participation in business improves economies as a whole, she added, a goal that is critical during the worldwide economic downturn.

“To make it real, to achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women,’’ Clinton said at the San Francisco conference, where she chaired the first high-level policy dialogue on women and the economy. “With economic models straining in every corner of the world, none of us can afford to perpetuate the barriers facing women in the workforce.’’

Verveer said on October 28 that in the Asia-Pacific region, for example, upward of $40-plus billion a year is “shortchanged in the region because the potential of women isn’t tapped.’’ Verveer cited a United Nations study. While women are a key part of the agricultural sector, constituting a majority of small farmers in some countries, they are not given the same access to financing as men, she said.

If women’s access to such resources as seed, fertilizer, extension training programs and decisionmaking seats could be equalized, “it would enhance productivity, agricultural productivity, by a significant percentage,’’ Verveer said.

The ambassador has been on a world tour to promote women’s entrepreneurship, recently returning from a meeting in Zagreb to hear the struggles of businesswomen in Southeast Europe. November 1, Verveer will be in New York, where the World Economic Forum will release its annual Gender Gap Report.

At the upcoming APEC summit in Hawaii, chief executive officers from large corporations around the world will discuss their role in empowering women, either by training female entrepreneurs or contracting with women-run businesses, Verveer said.

“Now, why is this important? Because women are better than men, or men are better than women? Hardly. It has to do with tapping the talents that are available,’’ Verveer said, noting that businesses with female designers and marketing executives, for example, are well-poised to reach female consumers.

“I think there is a misunderstanding that when one gains, the other loses, when this is a case of win-win,’’ Verveer said. “And if we looked at it as win-win and looked at those areas where greater growth could and should be taking place, I think we’d see beneficial outcomes.’’