Since their inception, I have said that the SDGs should be known as the “BDGs” the “Business Development Goals”. And that’s because their implementation represents a clear economic imperative.
Their achievement would mean greater productivity, increased employment, and stronger economic growth.
In short, they could pull the global economy out of its current malaise of “secular stagnation”.
Achieving gender equality is very much at the heart of this agenda.
From my previous role as CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, I’ve seen first-hand the vital role that women’s economic empowerment can play in driving sustainable development from a series of projects to secure women’s rights to property in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia each of which had a transformational impact on the growth of local communities and economies.
As the world business organization, ICC fully endorses the High Level Panel’s conclusion that: “Empowering women economically is not only the ‘right thing’ to do to honour the world’s commitments to human rights. It is also the ‘smart thing’ to do for development, economic growth and business”.
The evidence is crystal clear.
A recent report from McKinsey found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Another study by Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women board members attain significantly higher financial performance than those with the lowest representation
Specifically, a 53% higher Return on Equity; a 42% higher Return on Sales; and a 66% higher Return on Invested Capital.
The High Level Panel has outlined a clear action agenda to accelerate progress towards women’s economic empowerment, and we believe that the private sector has a vital role to play in achieving this vision.
The good news is that many businesses are already implementing powerful initiatives to encourage gender equality in the work place and to support women’s career development.
Businesses are also providing capacity building and training to young women to equip them with the skills to participate in the workforce and create their own businesses.
But, the private sector must move further and faster to advance this agenda. I want to focus one potentially transformational element in this regard: the impact of technology and ICTs.
Recent years have witnessed remarkable developments in the digital economy, creating unprecedented opportunities for small businesses to enter global markets for the first time.
E-commerce has become a powerful engine for SME growth and this is having an important impact on women owned businesses, which are more likely to be micro or small in size and informal in nature.
For example, in China half of registered online businesses are run by women.
I mentioned earlier my experience developing land title projects with the MCC.
One of the lessons I learned from that work, is that to actively participate in the economy women need to be equipped with the right tools.
Today, the digital economy is a central driving force of economic growth, so women need digital tools.
That means ensuring that women entrepreneurs have access to digital technologies and that they have the skills and capacity to employ them. This is why the High Level Panel’s recommendation on building “digital assets” is particularly important.
Fewer women than men have Internet access in all developing regions. Worldwide, some 2.3 billion women do not have any Internet access. Women are currently less likely than men to use or own digital technologies and gaps are larger among youth and those over 45 years old.
So, bridging the gender divide when it comes to Internet access must be a key priority if we are to achieve SDG5.
Partnerships have a key role to play in this regard. Many ICC member companies are working to enhance women’s Internet access through major capacity-building and education initiatives, public-private research and development partnerships in conjunction with governments and other stakeholders.
Businesses are also investing in extensive community-oriented training to enhance womens’ use of enabling technology.
By partnering with local non-profits, these programmes equip women with digital devices and provide training so that they can teach their communities how to find relevant content, and how to make the most of Internet connectivity.
Other ICC member companies are collaborating with local communities, governments, as well as global organizations, to provide important knowledge and expertise in addressing women’s digital inclusion.
And we encourage governments and agencies to support the development of these important partnerships, and identify ways to identify best practices and achieve greater scale and reach.
Alongside partnerships, we also need to focus on driving enhanced private-sector investment in ICT infrastructure. Achieving this will require policy coherence, nationally and globally, to establish an enabling environment to facilitate investment to bridge digital divides.
To fully leverage ICT for sustainable development, policy approaches must be consistent with the mutually supporting layers of the ICT ecosystem, spanning economic, technical, social, cultural, and governance issues.
Just a few weeks ago, the International Chamber of Commerce published a new roadmap, based on extensive consultations with businesses large and small, to support governments in developing an interoperable, open, seamless and secure ICT ecosystem underpinned by private sector investment and robust multi-stakeholder dialogue.
We encourage all governments to consider these recommendations in the development of enhanced policy frameworks to harness the power of ICTs to secure women’s economic empowerment.
The global business community is ready to support all governments, in every possible way, to support the development of policies and partnerships to empower women across the world.
The business case for action is clear. Working together we can succeed. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me today.
And our thanks to the High Level Panel for their ground-breaking work over the past year.
We hope you will join us to continue this dialogue with the private sector tomorrow at the SDG Business Forum in the General Assembly hall, an event which has seen an unprecedented mobilization of the global business community, with around 1,500 business leaders joining us from around the world.