It’s time we move from recovery to resurgence. The global economic crisis made clear the need to reassess, to innovate and ensure that growth is equitable and sustainable. If we want to successfully navigate this new world, we need new thinking, new partners.
I see a solution in women. Women make up half of the global whole and control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending. Our decisions and contributions have a measurable impact on local businesses, regional economies and the transnational marketplace. If we leverage women’s economic power as a force for development, we will further our shared, global endeavor for human progress. When women advance, we all advance.
Investing in women has become a new standard in the public and private sectors. From international development agencies to multinational corporations, those in leadership and policymaking positions are devoting time and resources to women’s advancement — to enhancing women’s skills and leveraging their unique contribution. The World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report finds that increases in women’s decision-making influence accelerate development, and studies from the World Economic Forum further confirm a strong correlation between an increase in gender equality and an increase in gross domestic product per capita.
As the world recovers from the deepest, global economic crisis in the past 80 years, numerous studies show that one of the smartest investments in long-term growth and development is women’s empowerment and increased economic engagement. Research from the World Bank, Ernst & Young and others indicate that the real drivers of the economy are women — as business leaders, employees, consumers and entrepreneurs.
From a global perspective, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) research representing data for 59 economies — or 52 percent of the world’s population and 84 percent of world GDP — shows that 104 million women have started and managed new businesses, adding to the approximately 83 million women who lead businesses launched at least three and a half years earlier. Together, these 187 million women entrepreneurs demonstrate the enormous contribution business women make to economic growth worldwide.
Moreover, numerous studies suggest that because women tend to spend income on those around them, investing in women also produces a significant multiplier effect, bringing not just increased revenue to local economies, but better-educated children, healthier families, and more stable, secure and prosperous communities.
I recently returned from India, increasingly recognized as South Asia’s bright spot for women’s entrepreneurship. Women are well positioned to enter the workforce and create micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, or ascend the corporate ladder as leaders who drive company development. This June, Dell’s 2012 Women Global Entrepreneurship study found that surveyed women entrepreneurs in India expect median business growth of 90 percent, and analysts from the World Bank, World Economic Forum and Global Entrepreneurship Monitor all point to India as a growing reserve for women’s entrepreneurship.
As Indian companies increasingly invest in professional development for women, we met with members of our network in the country to see how we could work together to reinforce and extend this investment by providing essential tools to increase women’s engagement and advancement — access to markets and global supply chains, mentoring, and leadership development opportunities.
Our organization, Vital Voices, was founded more than 15 years ago on a very simple but powerful idea — no country can move forward if half its population is left behind. We pursue our work in recognition of a powerful truth: Women — educated, employed, empowered — make waves as agents of progress.
We have built a global network of 12,000 leaders in 144 countries — they are entrepreneurs, human rights lawyers, civil society organizers — and each invests in others as she has been invested in, creating a multiplier effect in her community and beyond.
What we’ve seen time and again is that women leaders have a remarkable capacity to support one another, to mobilize and sustain networks for change. We’ve seen that women, long excluded from traditional power structures, lead differently. In our changing world, the unique qualities of their leadership have taken on a new significance, a new power. I believe that the strengths they possess, the behaviors that set them apart, are the ones that will lead us forward in the coming years: inclusiveness, conviction, creativity, mentorship, collaboration.
In today’s world we need leaders who leverage power, skills and expertise to inspire collective empowerment. We need to look to women — proven catalysts for growth — as an opportunity, as a solution.
Alyse Nelson is the president and CEO of Vital Voices, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.