On Sunday 8th March, the world celebrated the economic, political and social achievements of women - past, present and future. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day - Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity – could not have been more accurate.
In most parts of the world, the contribution of women to creating social and environmental capital is neither adequately recognised nor compensated. Thankfully, an array of actors have taken this to heart, and initiatives to develop the economic potential of women are slowly becoming intertwined with corporate activity: from backing women entrepreneurs, to educating girls and enhancing digital literacy, companies such as Coca Cola, IKEA, Intel and Google have made commitments to empower women by engaging with women’s NGOs, local governments and microfinance institutions.
Economic empowerment is a key step in making women full participants in their communities. Nonetheless there still remains the need to link such initiatives of economic empowerment to programmes that address the issue of women’s empowerment in a more fundamental way: According to a report issued last year by the World Bank, tackling gender inequality “will not result from specific isolated programs, but from a comprehensive approach that involves multiple sectors and stakeholders.”
The next key question for corporate leaders to reflect upon should be the following: How to efficiently organise the millions of dollars currently being spent on increasing opportunities for women?
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Presently, there exist few solutions that offer full transparency in quantifying results and channeling funds in an accountable way to deserving projects. In the transition towards sustainable economies and societies, South Pole Group and the Group’s partner WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management) recognise the necessity of developing a results-based means to evaluate initiatives for empowering women.
WOCAN has recently developed the W+ Standard, an innovative certification system that is designed to incentivize investment in women’s empowerment: It both measures results and puts money directly into the hands of women. The W+ consists of a set of project design and implementation requirements that can also complement other certification systems and standards - including the likes of the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the Gold Standard and Fair Trade. The W+ tracks women’s empowerment in six areas: time, income, health, leadership, education and food security. Each certified project measures progress in at least one of these areas. The measurement of results in these domains in turn produces quantified W+ units that contributors can purchase to demonstrate the outcomes achieved through their contributions in these areas, and to channel funds to women beneficiaries. For corporates, the W+ label can be used for the W+ certified activities along a supply chain, bringing higher premiums to women suppliers at the sourcing level.
The first W+ pilot project was carried out in 2014 in Nepal in partnership with South Pole Group. The project measured how much time was saved when women had biogas systems and did not have to rely on gathering fuel wood. Historically, the women in the Nepalese communities would toil for several hours each day in order to amass the necessary wood for cooking. Results from this W+ project showed savings of up to 2 hours a day for women who used the biogas technology - savings that can be used to pursue income generation, community leadership in natural resource management and education.
In the move towards results-based financing, W+ is creating a new market for gender capital that is steadily drawing the attention of corporations, impact investors, the CSR community and international development agencies alike. Solutions that integrate results-based financing offer potential to make certified investments in women’s empowerment. These investments will in turn yield measurable outcomes for not only women, but also the investor and the supply chain as a whole. By having quantified results, companies such as Coca Cola, IKEA and Google can count towards internal targets for women’s empowerment.
The annual International Women’s Day serves to reinforce the importance of recognising and supporting the leadership and roles of women across sectors and socioeconomic classes in the management of natural and social resources. Empowering women offers transformative potential in areas such as climate change, poverty, gender inequality and food security.
With the backdrop of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, South Pole Group wants to invite experts and practitioners to engage in exploring the best means of quantifying, monetizing and transferring social capital to empower women – to empower a sustainable society.