A Breakthrough Initiative to Advance Women and the World
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Recently, I interviewed Sandra Taylor, Senior Director of the La Pietra Coalition: A Breakthrough Initiative to Advance Women and the World. Taylor was previously president and CEO of Sustainable Business International LLC, a consulting business to assist global companies with CSR strategy, supply chain sustainability and strategic philanthropy. From 2003 to 2008, she was senior vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with Starbucks Coffee Company in Seattle, Washington where she led all CSR programs including community affairs, the Starbucks Foundation, support for disaster relief and reducing the company’s environmental impact.
Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit about the inspiration and motivation behind the founding of La Pietra Coalition.
Sandra Taylor: In 2009 we met at New York University’s Villa La Pietra campus in Florence, Italy that day to recognize the 15-year anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing at which world leaders adopted an agenda for women’s empowerment.
Though women have made strides since the Beijing meeting, we realized how far women still had to travel in the path to equality. We knew that it would take a diverse group of individuals — like those gathered in Florence — working together as a coalition to make the case for women’s economic empowerment worldwide. It is this area – economic opportunity for women – where so much progress still needs to be made.
We met again in 2010 at the NYU campus in Florence (that gave us our name) to solidify the mission, agenda and goals of our coalition. We decided to focus on five policy issue areas based on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index report released that same year: access to finance; education and training; legal and social status; labor policy and practice; and entrepreneurship.
Our mission is drawn from the breadth of research that shows that when women have economic opportunities and succeed, communities flourish and economies grow. Women’s equal economic participation is truly a necessity for the common good.
Rahim Kanani: Fast-forwarding to the present day, how has the Coalition evolved since its founding in terms of resources, reach, and results?
Sandra Taylor: We initially began as just a gathering of individuals and organizations with similar goals — working to pave the way towards gender equality. After partnering with the EIU, to expand the body of research relating to women’s economic opportunity, we were able to establish a framework and become a permanent coalition, with over 135 members from every region around the globe. Our current top priority is to persuade the G20 governments to incorporate women’s financial inclusion on its agenda at its annual November Summit in France this year.
Rahim Kanani: From a leadership perspective, what have been some of the critical challenges you have overcome or key opportunities you have seized, which significantly contributed to the organization’s success thus far?
Sandra Taylor: One of the unique aspects of La Pietra Coalition is the diversity of our members. We are a collection of NGOs, government representatives, academics, corporations, media outlets, international organizations and other individuals all committed to ensuring that women have greater economic opportunities worldwide. Though it is often a challenge to develop one vision out of so many different perspectives, our diverse backgrounds and experiences have allowed us to debate and challenge each other, but still come together to achieve the fundamental goals that drive the Coalition forward.
We have used many opportunities to increase our presence in the global community, from the OECD to the APEC Women leaders Forum, to the Clinton Global Initiative CGI to the upcoming G20 Annual Meeting in France.
We are currently seeking to have the G20 endorse the need for women’s access to finance, and to encourage a policy by governments of increased procurement of goods and services from women-owned businesses – no small tasks given the cultural and systemic differences in these twenty countries and governments. But we know from the examples – the success models really — in the US, Canada and South Africa that this effort is worth the push. These policy changes can provide real money and real business opportunities for women-owned SMEs who can then create real jobs for other women, and men too of course!
Rahim Kanani: Separate from more capital and manpower, or other tangible assets, what are some intangible assets you need in order for the Coalition to be successful?
Sandra Taylor: What we really need is more data and better information. Gender-disaggregated data, as well as regional research can help us direct evidence-based initiatives for changes in policy. Only when we understand where we currently stand can we decide how far we need to go, and how exactly we can get there.
We also need grassroots support from those who, like us, understand the importance of women’s economic advancement and the impact that it can have on local, regional and global economies. We are developing ways for the general public to join our cause and express their support in a recordable way, through social media. We will make it possible for people to view and sign our petition to the G20 and we encourage those who believe in our mission to check our Facebook page for more information in the coming weeks.
Finally, we need support from national governments to create legislation and pass laws that protect women and ensure them better treatment under the law. Violence against women, as well as inadequate property rights or inheritance laws, should not be tolerated. Women cannot fulfill their potential as “economic engines” if they are subject to abuse at home or cannot fully leverage their rights to property. We need the support of domestic governments to ensure these unequal practices no longer occur, and that these equal measures are codified into law.
Rahim Kanani: Lastly, as you continue your efforts, paint for a moment a portrait of the Coalition’s position — as you wish it would be — five years down the road.
Sandra Taylor: Five years down the road, I hope the Coalition will be a major player on the world stage in advancing women economically. We will have a seat at the table in important global forums and gatherings – the G20, the World Economic Forum, APEC and OECD – to speak in support of government policies and corporate strategies that increase women’s economic opportunity. I hope that the new data from the EIU’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index – our primary measurement tool over time — will show that more women have access to markets, capital, education, finance, job training and property rights.
Recently I have become very excited about research done by Booz&Co on women becoming “the third billion” most significant players in the global economy by 2025, following the tremendous impact that the influx of China’s first billion and India’s second billion-plus populations have had on the world’s economy over the past 20 years.
La Pietra Coalition is spearheading a campaign – The Third Billion Campaign — to support women to fulfill their potential as economic engines for the global economy – as producers, entrepreneurs, managers, workers and consumers. Currently, nearly a billion women worldwide are not prepared — lacking sufficient education or training — or not enabled — lacking support from their communities or government — to enter the workforce and economy. Only when we can identify and eliminate these barriers can we truly unleash the full potential these women have to drive economic growth worldwide.
While the economic activity in China and India was very significant for the globe, women can have an even larger impact. The “third billion” of women aren’t limited to one country or one area, but are spread out all over the globe, and these women are more likely to reinvest in their communities than their male counterparts.
La Pietra Coalition will use its diverse membership to work towards eliminating the barriers and challenges for these women, specifically through our five working groups: access to finance; education and training; legal and social status; labor policy and practice; and entrepreneurship. We’re currently seeking partnerships with organizations that share our goals to join in this Third Billion campaign. Together we will create the resources and opportunities needed in the next decade to advance women to new levels of growth, personal achievement and success for their families, their communities and their nations.
That’s my vision for the future of our coalition and the women we serve!