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Beyond Dialogue: Integrating and Empowering Women in Partnership with Social Enterprises

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The opportunity to invest in women – as leaders, change agents, and key business stakeholders  – has never been clearer. Acumen, with support from Unilever, Fossil Foundation, and Danone, is hosting its third Beyond Dialogue workshop today, as part of the Skoll World Forum, to explore precisely this opportunity. Beyond Dialogue: Integrating and Empowering Women in Partnership with Social Enterprises brings together leading corporations, social enterprises, and thought leaders to find new ways to work together to expand the role of women across the business value chain.

Gender inequity and poverty are intertwined, and over the last three years, Acumen has been strengthening its gender focus. This workshop builds on Acumen’s 2015 report Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration Can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty, which explored how social enterprises are engaging with and improving the lives of women and where additional opportunities for gender integration exist.

Each of the sponsoring organizations has committed to partnering with social enterprises, and see business as a force for good and a means to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems, including gender inequity. Katja Freiwald, Director Global Advocacy and Partnerships for Women´s Empowerment & Livelihoods at Unilever, believes that, “Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do. It is essential to drive social and economic progress, and sustainable business growth for corporations and social enterprises alike. Unilever has long recognized the importance of women to our business as producers, distributors, consumers, employees and societal changemakers. We are a proud signatory to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which we aim to implement throughout our operations.”

Today, Unilever is launching its innovative ASPIRE framework in partnership with the Netherlands-based BoP Innovation Center (BOP Inc.), which lays out a model for making last mile distribution a pathway to build more inclusive markets that support local communities, engage women, and help expand access to critical products and services. More details on the ASPIRE framework and how it can be applied are available here.

Fossil Foundation has joined forces with Acumen on this event based on its commitment to improving the lives of young women and girls around the world. Janiece Evans-Page, Vice President of Global Philanthropy and Sustainability “We are partnering with social entrepreneurs to empower young women with training and education opportunities that build a sustainable livelihood for them and their families.”

Similarly, Danone is working to engage female entrepreneurs in its value chain. Jean-Christophe Laugée, the Vice President of Nature and Cycles Sustainability  at Danone says “We cannot build an inclusive economy without women especially given their unique connection to their communities and contribution to the common good. Danone champions gender diversity and women’s empowerment together with entrepreneurship. We created the Danone Ecosystem Fund to support long term locally-led initiatives with positive social, environmental and economic impacts. This fund has led to the creation of 71 projects in 30 countries, many of which specifically address the issue of increasing women’s skills and independence. In total, we have helped empower professionally over 33,000 women to date.”

According to Yasmina Zaidman, Chief Partnerships Officer at Acumen, “This event celebrates the creative ways that business large and small are amplifying opportunities for women, but today we also want to push ourselves to go further.” Acumen has actively sought to build a bridge between corporations and social enterprises that achieve measurable social impact, and lead to more inclusive and sustainable business models.

The Beyond Dialogue Workshop is designed to yield new collaborations, and aims to discuss the role of women as agricultural producers, as agents in last mile distribution models, and as recipients of investment capital through gender lens investing, amongst other topics all rooted in empowering women through inclusive business. Acumen will publish a blog series from the workshop to accelerate learning among corporations and social enterprises seeking to partner.

Since its founding in 2001, Acumen has invested $113 million in 108 innovative enterprises addressing the problems of poverty in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Acumen’s approach includes not only provision of long-term private equity for early stage social enterprises, but also management support, technical assistance, insights into consumer preferences, and links to business opportunities and partnerships.