Using CSR to Boost Women’s Rights

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Organizations working to build the business case for corporate social responsibility (CSR) around women’s rights globally said recently that scalability and sustainability are key to maximizing effectiveness.

Two programs designed to help foster women’s advancement were highlighted on March 8, 2013—International Women’s Day—during a webinar presented by Diversity Best Practices.

They included ChangeCorp programs that deliver financial literacy news via mobile devices to help educate and advance girls and women in emerging markets, and GE Healthymagination, a program designed to tackle health disparities by focusing on cost, access and quality of care.

“We create programs that have both a social impact and a commercial benefit,” said Louise Guido, CEO of ChangeCorp. “We want to do better for people. It’s not good enough to do one program here, you feel pretty good about it, and you go back to your day job. You want to do things that … have sustainability and scalability.”

Added speaker Pat Pearman, executive director of oncology and disease solutions for GE Healthymagination: “To be able to address access to affordable health care, does it make good business sense? Yes. Is it also a corporate responsibility? Absolutely. And I think it’s through those partnerships that you’re able to achieve something that’s not able to be achieved by one entity on its own.”

Andrés Tapia, president of Diversity Best Practices, said education around financial and health literacy is key to girls and women’s rights and advancement.

United Nations research has shown that educating girls and providing more economic opportunities for women to earn their own incomes is not only good for the growth of women, but, also, “the more educated girls are and the more economic opportunities women have, the gross national product rises in a significant way,” he said.

Financial Literacy and More

ChangeCorp provides content covering life and communication skills, financial literacy, health, parenting, business and empowerment.

Globally each day, an estimated 600 million girls don’t go to school, which, not surprisingly, lessens their chances to advance later in the life, Guido said. In some countries, parents think it’s better for girls to work until they reach a certain age, while religious and cultural issues elsewhere often keep girls from going to school.

“This is happening in countries as diverse as Colombia, which is an emerging market country, to Pakistan and to places like Indonesia,” Guido explained.

ChangeCorp has teamed up with pop artist Shakira and her Pies Descalzos Foundation to offer the tablet app eLife—Economic Opportunity for Women and Girls, which provides life and business skills to girls in Colombia. It also partnered with Nokia for its SmartWoman and SmartHealth program, which provides text messages to women who run small to mid-size businesses.

Addressing Health Disparities

GE’s Healthymagination program addresses a range of health issues, but Pearman focused on two that have a profound effect on women—breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Major gaps in access to both affordable and quality health care continue to be an issue for women and girls around the world, she said.

“When we talk about their opportunities to become economically independent and to pursue educational opportunities, an unhealthy individual is not able to do that,” Pearman added.

In the next decade, more than 17.5 million women will develop breast cancer and more than 5 million will die—many of them in low- and middle-income countries, Pearman said. Of the 17.5 million, fewer than 10 percent will have access to life-saving therapies and screening, Pearman said.

Globally, 60 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women, but, in the U.S., that figure rises to nearly 90 percent, Pearman said. Two-thirds of those diagnosed with the disease will be women, she added. Those and other challenges are addressed in Women and Alzheimer's Disease: The Caregiver's Crisis, a June 2012 Working Mother Research Institute report sponsored by GE that provides insight into the disease’s effect on women, including their work lives.

Want to Make the Most of CSR Programs?

Speakers offered these recommendations:

Avoid the disconnect. Some corporations rely on volunteers for the on-the-ground work, particularly in underdeveloped countries or emerging markets. Senior management often doesn’t want to volunteer and the job is left to administrators. “There’s a bit of a disconnect,” Guido observed.

Widen the focus. Companies often link CSR budgets to sales. So if one area of the world is doing better, that’s where they focus. “What corporations have failed to see is that when you invest in women, you get a much higher return back,” Guido said. “You have to invest in women, period, whether they’re living in New York City … or they’re living in Nairobi.”

Include men in the discussion, and highlight broad implications. When tackling health disparities in a foreign country, many important players may be men. The minister of health might seem key, but don’t overlook the minister of finance, who may ultimately decide where investments are made.

“Really talk to them about the cost of having an unhealthy population and the impact it has on their ability to be competitive as a country,” Pearman said. “It’s easy to bring men into the dialogue, but I think we have to give some thought to how we do that.”

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area. To read the original article on shrm.org, please click here

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