GWEE, changing the world – one woman at a time.

Not a small goal – but one I am proud to be working toward in partnership with the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.  The Institute for International Business housed in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University has joined forces with WFDSA to create the Global Solution for Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (GWEE) with the goal of working with women entrepreneurs and business professionals in educating women at the bottom of the pyramid for greater economic impact.

Unemployment, under-employment, lack of education, lack of access all play into the world-wide depressed economic participation of women.  While these challenges impact countries at every level of development, this is especially impactful in developing and emerging economies.  We know through research the benefits of improving the economic plight of women worldwide.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap, “the economic participation of women—their presence in the workforce in quantitative terms—is important not only for lowering the disproportionate levels of poverty among women, but also as an important step toward raising household income and encouraging economic development in countries as a whole.”  The report goes on to outline how “a study in three widely differing countries (Bolivia, Cameroon and Malaysia) showed that, were women to have a greater say in spending priorities, they would be far more likely to spend family and community resources for improving health, education, community infrastructure and the eradication of poverty, as opposed to the military, alcohol or gambling.”

The program provides basic business and entrepreneurial skills training to women who are interested in starting a micro-business within their community.  Recruiting volunteers from the business community including the local Direct Selling Association, government ranks and other organizations, the GWEE program builds a cadre of trainers who work in surrounding communities delivering the 7-week program.  The program presents a simple framework that helps someone further define and implement their business.  Working with local officials and service providers the trainers customize the content to ensure the necessary legal and regulatory requirements are presented.

The GWEE initiative illustrates the very best in private-public sector partnerships.  Formally endorsed and supported by the APEC SME Ministerial in October 2009, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, Direct Selling Associations and IIB are partnering with governments, women’s organizations, academia and other stakeholders and are working closely together to implement the program in various APEC countries. The program began its pilot program in 2010 with the formal launch in 2012; Peru and South Africa are in development with hopeful launches in 2013.

This program combines the need for basic business education with the recognition that it is the individual relationships and networks created through their time together that will make the difference. As we conducted our inaugural “train the trainer” session in Kuala Lumpur in 2011 the volunteer trainers enthusiastically embraced the cascading impact that this program could affect.   It begins with the stories and the fears that are shared each week as hopeful women take on new ideas and pursue unfamiliar territory in order to realize their dreams.  From this grows a new community of support and with each new idea and each broken barrier, a new level of self-confidence emerges within these women as they truly begin to believe they can improve the economic future of their families.  Finally, believing in their individual power to change their circumstances creates a momentum that will be unstoppable.

by LaVonn Schlegel
Managing Director
IU Kelley School of Business
Institute for International Business