Engaging with Corporations to Further Women’s Empowerment


Jenny Peachey


(Panel: Oak Foundation, Mama Cash Foundation and Association for Women’s Rights in Development)

Women and girls are increasingly visible in the development discourse and billions of dollars are being committed to their cause. Yet the annual average budget of the 740 women’s organisations across the globe is $20,000. Taking this discrepancy as an opportunity to explore creative solutions to further enable women’s organisations, the panel asked: what are the barriers that prevent collaboration between corporations and women’s organisations – and where might the unexpected spaces for collaboration between these two groups lie?

A mismatch in communication style was highlighted as a key inhibitor of productive collaboration between women’s organisations and corporations: women’s organisations take a systemic approach to issues, focus on problems and speak of ‘rights’, whilst corporations place emphasis on individuals, are solutions-focused and speak of ‘empowerment’. The two also differ in their perceptions of the status of women – corporations typically emphasising improvement and potential, women’s organisations describing the flux and troubled status of women.

The role of corporations in itself also proves to be a bone of contention. Many corporations are reluctant to act as a traditional funder. Where they are not, many women’s organisations are reluctant to accept corporations as a funding partner.

Even though ‘giving’ in the traditional sense of the word may be out the window for many corporations, there is still room for them to make an impact on women’s empowerment. What is more, they have more business assets than their profits with which to do so. To list just three: purchasing power (to ensure they source inputs from businesses that empower women as suppliers, contractors, and distributors); a strong brand and relationships with customers and peers (to mobilise to influence policy in the communities where corporations operate); and employees (who can volunteer or provide expertise to women’ organisations). Where corporations want to give grants but women’s organisations are reluctant to receive them, women’s organisations can provide expert advice to private companies to ensure that any grant-making scheme would work to the best possible effect in a given socio-cultural and local context.

The need to move beyond “traditional grant giving” to bring about change reflects themes from the opening plenary, where foundations were asked to put their money where their mouth is. That is, to ensure their investments and processes support causes aligned to their more publicly visible grant-making schemes. Though there is still much to be done, it is heartening to think there are so many ways in which we can all work to bring about much needed change.

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