The Third Billion Campaign: Empowering Women Through Economic Equality

Now is the time for companies and governments to break down the barriers that prevent women from achieving economic equality.

The Third Billion Campaign: Empowering Women Through Economic Equality

Now is the time for companies and governments to break down the barriers that prevent women from achieving economic equality.

-Diana Denza

Third Billion

When Dr. Victoria Kisyombe took the stage at the Third Billion Campaign unveiling, she explained to an audience of executives and reporters what we’ve all been failing to realize in the struggle for women’s rights. The self-made veterinarian from Tanzania spoke plainly and clearly at the February 1 launch in New York City: If women do not have the resources they need, economic and social inequality is impossible.

Even if women have the same legal rights as men on paper, they must have basic tools to compete in the global market—and these tools aren’t the advanced computer systems or high speed devices we’re so accustomed to.

Kisyombe argued that if you provide a village woman with a pipe leading to flowing fresh water, she will save countless hours of time walking to and from a stream or well. She will be able to own cattle or water a garden. She might even allow her neighbors access to the water, which might in turn lead to a partnership and the creation of a laundry service or bakery. Lives could change for the better because of one simple pipe.

Unfortunately, incidents like this rarely occur. Booz & Company’s analysis of data from the International Labor Organization showed that there are approximately 869 million women who are either unprepared or disempowered by their communities to exert influence over economic markets. About 94.5% of these women reside in emerging economies. Over the next decade, that number will surpass the one billion mark, equivalent to the billion-plus workforces of China and India.

Panelist Pierella Paci, manager of the World Bank’s Gender and Development Group, described the issue as fourfold. The first barrier preventing women from achieving economic parity is legal impairments like gender inequality. Only a fraction of women enjoy the same rights as men under the law, and even then, customs and traditions can bar them from fully participating in society. The second is a lack of access to credit. According to Paci, women are highly discriminated against when it comes to obtaining the funds they need to thrive in business.

The third is a lack of access to basic technology like mobile phones and internet access. Picture it like this: Imagine that you opened a boutique store, but didn’t have a website to promote your goods and services or a phone number where potential customers and employees could reach you. How long do you believe this business would last? You’re right: Not long at all. And yet this is a situation in which many women find themselves. Finally, the last issue is that women across the world are still largely expected to tend to household duties and care for family members.

While women are struggling to rise above these daunting barriers, they remain invisible to investors who are handing over funds to markets like China and India. Panelist Deanne Aguirre, the senior vice president of Booz & Company, poignantly stated, “Investors would never dream of not investing in India. They would never dream of not investing in China. So why not invest in women the same way?”

“If you want to grow the economy, the other half of society has to participate,” added Dina Powell, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

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Third Billion panel

That’s where the Third Billion Campaign comes in. An initiative of the La Pietra Coalition, the Third Billion Campaign has partnered with powerhouse global corporations like The Coca-Cola Company, Ernst and Young, and the World Bank to rouse corporations and NGO’s into action. “We have a number of goals, namely to raise awareness amongst society, the public at large,” Sandra Taylor, the senior director of the La Pietra Coalition, told us. “It is so important for women to be engaged economically and advance economically. I want to gage global companies in advocacy with governments –not aggressive lobbying– but just to make a point of how important it is to businesses if they invest in South Africa or if they invest in Tanzania. Women must be engaged as suppliers and workers and we must encourage governments to invest in their women through training and education. We need programs to keep girls in school and have them graduate from secondary school. We need to promote girls and expand opportunities for women.”

Vital Voices started the La Pietra Coalition because we believe we are at a tipping point,” Alyse Nelson, the president and CEO of the nonprofit explained to us. “We have supported and worked with women in 144 countries. Women can lead change in their countries. They have vision and passion and smarts to one day get there but they need investments and role models who they can look up to. They are really blazing that new trail, so we provide them with training and connect them to one another. We are in a moment of history where we can make some real change but we have to more effectively partner and get more people working in this space. Collaboration is the only way we’re going to make change.”

Companies across the globe must realize that women are the emerging market. Women are our future. And for these major companies to survive and thrive, women must be prepared and empowered to reach their potential. “This issue isn’t just a women’s issue,” Claudia Parsons, the deputy top news editor at Reuters, pointed out. “It affects everybody.”

Just by helping one woman, Nelson has discovered that the impact can extend throughout an entire community: “We worked with a woman in Africa to support her launch of a project to provide women working in the Sandaga Market, the largest produce market in all of Africa, a better understanding of their legal rights,” Nelson explained. “Many of those women were being double taxed because their businesses weren’t formal businesses and she informed them of their rights. Thousands of women work in this marketplace. She realized that she could make change by working directly with the people. So, she decided to run for president of her country. She was the first woman ever to run for president there. She didn’t win the election but she changed the game. She opened people’s minds and as an effect of her stepping up, three other women stepped forward and ran, too. I imagine that one day she will be president of her country and we believe we had a part in that.”

But you don’t have to be a part of a large corporation or government organization to create change. There are steps we can take right now to increase our awareness of the obstacles facing women today and simple yet vital ways in which we can aid the movement for change.

“Stay involved, get engaged, and get educated,” said panelist David Browning, senior vice president of Technoserve. “Make a core commitment and conscious decision to make a collective impact.”

“I’m a part of Girls Write Now, and work with girls who want to become novelists and journalists,” Parsons added. “On a small level, we can all serve as role models for girls and women.”

For more information about the Third Billion Campaign and how you can get involved, visit

Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.

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