I first met with OPEN in the spring of 2011when my office of Global Women’s Issues, with support from Goldman Sachs and the Thunderbird School of Global Management, developed the Propelling Women’s Entrepreneurship in Pakistan (PWEP) program, a public-private partnership within the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
The program identified high-potential women entrepreneurs from Pakistan who attended intensive business training at Thunderbird. It was tailored to the specific needs of the participating women entrepreneurs in areas such as leadership and financial management, and also addressed such challenges as access to credit and international markets. OPEN was an integral partner as well.
After the training program at Thunderbird, the women came to Washington, DC for additional training and mentorship opportunities. OPEN’s role was especially critical, for you provided the Pakistani women entrepreneurs with mentors in their fields of business.
I was so impressed with OPEN's commitment to this partnership. As we all know, women entrepreneurs are the engine of economic growth. A converging number of studies in recent years—from the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation to reputable sources like the World Economic Forum, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young and Boston Consulting—have shown that investing in women is smart economics. These data illustrate how women’s economic participation promotes enterprise development at the micro and small and medium enterprise—SME-- levels, as well as better business management and greater returns on investment.
However, serious barriers stand in the way of women’s full economic participation. According to a recent report by a UN Commission, this lack of participation has been calculated to cost the Asia Pacific region alone between 42-46 billion U.S. dollars a year in GDP growth because the potential of women goes untapped.
All over the world, women still face obstacles when trying to establish new businesses or to expand existing ones beyond a certain revenue mark. Among the biggest hurdles are training, technology, markets, mentors and networks, access to credit and financing, as well as discriminatory laws, regulations, or entrenched cultural practices.
This is why initiatives like the U.S.-Pakistan Women's Council which Secretary Clinton launched at an event on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York last fall, can make such a difference. OPEN was also at the launch and is a founding member of the Council. The fact that both Foreign Minister Khar and Ambassador Rehman participated in this event proves that this initiative has the highest-level attention and support from both governments.
The Council’s mission is to promote economic opportunities for women in Pakistan – by connecting businesses, universities, foundations, and individual donors with organizations and initiatives in Pakistan devoted to women’s economic advancement.
Many international businesses are already taking steps to expand economic opportunities for women around the world. For example, Goldman Sachs is training the next generation of women business leaders in developing economies with its Ten Thousand Women campaign. Coca Cola’s “Five by Twenty” campaign aims to support five million women entrepreneurs worldwide by 2020. Other businesses are also leading by example.
Indeed, many companies operating in Pakistan, like Procter & Gamble, know the value of having women in their workforce and serve as role models for other companies. These companies know that hiring women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing, to do.
The mission of the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council will be to reach out to companies like these in the United States and Pakistan to contribute to the economic advancement of women in Pakistan.
These contributions can take many forms. Companies can offer qualified women internships, scholarships, or jobs. Or they could provide trainings in areas like financial management, business planning, and product development and more. As Pakistani-American entrepreneurs and leaders in the private sector, you are uniquely positioned to contribute to the Council’s work. You can help fund scholarships; urge your colleagues in the business community to recruit, train, and mentor qualified women; or serve as citizen-ambassadors by participating in a Council Speakers Bureau program where you share best practices for entrepreneurs, leadership training, and career advice.
No country can prosper if half of its population is left behind. Closing the gender gap is the best prescription for economic growth. I commend your efforts to support women's entrepreneurship by your involvement in the U.S-Pakistan Women's Council and I hope we can make this a long-lasting, sustainable partnership that leads to economic growth and development—one that will truly help advance women’s programs in Pakistan. And when women thrive, all of society thrives—men and women, boys and girls.