#Newsroom: International Conference Focuses on Women’s Economic Empowerment

Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability

Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability Conference. PIC © Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Washington, DC December 2019. Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability were topics discussed during the first international women’s economic empowerment conference held in November in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Hosted at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Gogarburn Business School, the conference was presented by Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI), the global collaborative initiative, in partnership with Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), the community interest company which focuses on the contribution women’s enterprise makes to the Scottish economy.

The conference gathered international speakers, thought leaders and change makers representing civil society, academia as well as private and public sectors from across the globe. It focussed on sharing knowledge, engaging participants in active dialog, and catalysing concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment. Driving the agenda were the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the work of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and the outcomes of the T-20 Task Force on Gender Economic Equity.

Participants heard from women who have broken cultural and industry barriers as they progressed careers in sectors such as technology, medicine, aviation, and finance. Speakers included technology evangelist Professor Sue Black; Kenyan Airways Captain and first female African Dreamliner pilot, Captain Irene Koki Mutungi, and the Hon. Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera, Former President of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Prominent Scottish and global industry leaders such as Malcolm Buchanan, RBS Chair of Scotland Board; Keith Skeoch, CEO Standard Life Aberdeen, the Rt Hon. Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chairman, Mastercard were joined by leading global academics, businessmen and women, and international diplomats to share findings and discuss best practices.

The two-day conference broke new ground in advancing the discussion on gender at the intersection of economics, politics, geography and health. It culminated in a commitment for action from several sectors including health, technology, finance, enterprise and education, as it focused on the importance of concrete actions across societies, industry and governments. Hon Luis Guillermo Sallis Rivera emphasized in his keynote speech that the seven key drivers of economic empowerment are relevant across all sectors and geographies, whether it is industry or health; at home or in the workplace. From tackling adverse norms and promoting positive role models; ensuring the right legal protection; recognising unpaid work and care; building and owning financial and digital assets to empower economically, to changing mind-sets and behaviours, and eliminating barriers in cultures, the work place and markets.

Dr. Margo Thomas, Founder and President of WEI explained, “We all know the key issues and drivers of women’s economic empowerment. We must focus now on actions. As a global organization, WEI, with the support of our WEI Board and Advisory Council, is leveraging its global networks, affiliations, and partnerships to share knowledge, craft solutions, and catalyse concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the benefit of all.”

In welcoming the conference attendees to Edinburgh during the opening reception at City Chambers, the Right Honourable Lord Provost of Edinburgh noted that Scotland is making strides in creating an environment where more women and girls can start up in business and thrive

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland explained that “As a catalyst for economic growth and inclusion, WES works to create an environment where women can start up in business and thrive. The simple fact is that more women-owned businesses in Scotland means more money for the economy. Research shows that women-owned businesses already contribute a staggering GBP 8.8 bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs in local communities across Scotland.”

WEI was established in 2018 in response to the call to action of the United Nations High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Since its launch, WEI has embarked on several global initiatives focussing on innovation, enterprise and trade, spearheading action to create and grow sustainable economic opportunities for women.

Women’s equality and empowerment is one of the United Nations’ 17 SDGs and is central to all aspects of inclusive and sustainable development. The G20, leaders of the most powerful 20 countries in the world, made this commitment at their summit in Osaka in June 2019: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We reconfirm their importance in all aspects of our policies and as a cross-cutting issue at upcoming Summits.” However, according to the SDG Index research, no country is currently on track to achieve all SDG’s by 2030[1].

The platinum sponsors of the conference were The Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life Aberdeen and Mastercard. Additional sponsors included AllAfrica, the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Newcastle University Business School, Durham University Business School, Portsmouth University and Business Gateway Edinburgh, among others.

[1] Berteslmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (2018) viii


Notes to Editors

  • Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) works to create an entrepreneurial environment where women-led businesses can flourish. WES collaborates with other business support organisations to help close the gender gap in enterprise
  • Research shows that women-owned businesses in Scotland contribute £8.8bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs[1]
  • WES is a member of the T20, the think tank and “ideas bank” of the G20 and participated in the T20 Summit in Tokyo in 2019 and in Buenos Aires in 2018
  • Dr Margo Thomas, founder of WEI, is the co-Chair of the Gender Economic Equity workstream of the T20
  • WEI is a global, collaborative initiative to promote women’s economic empowerment and was founded in January 2018 as a response to the Call to Action of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
  • WEI seeks to catalyze and advance the transformative work of empowering women as economic actors globally through Entrepreneurship, Advocacy and Thought Leadership
  • Full text of the G20 Osaka Leaders’ declaration https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/29/national/full-text-g20-osaka-leaders-declaration/#.XRspdS2ZOb8
  • Details of conference speakers and biographies can be found here https://www.weiforward.org/conference/

Women’s Economic Imperative



[1] ‘Supporting Women’s Enterprise in the UK; the Economic Case’, FSB (2018)

#Newsroom: WEI and OWIT Co-Host the WTO Public Forum 2019 Gender Inclusiveness in Trade in Services Session

Market Accents, through WEI and OWIT, participated in the WTO Public Forum 2019 Gender Inclusiveness in Trade in Services held on October 9, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. Following is the report from the sessions.

WTOPF WEI-OWIT Report October 2019

WTO Public Forum 2019 Gender Inclusiveness in Trade in Services October 9, 2019, Room: S1, 16.30 – 18.00 Organization of Women in International Trade | OWIT Lake Geneva | OWIT Canada | OWIT Nairobi | Women’s Economic Imperative

Session Overview & Recommendations

Ambassador Chad Blackman, Barbados Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva • Ambassador Stephen de Boer, Canadian Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the WTO • Nino Zambakhidze, Chairwoman & Founder, Georgian Farmers Association • Yolanda Gibb, Global Lead, Trade, Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI)

Moderator: Mucha Mlingo, President OWIT Nairobi


Services add value to manufacturing and contribute to competitiveness, employment and trade. Technological innovations and ICT make “traditional“ services easier to deliver internationally. Intangible elements add value to traded products, leveraging AI, big data and technology. Advances in technology revolutionized existing and created new service sectors, and technology has led to new business models that represent game-changers in a range of industries.

Gender equity in Trade in Services is a multi-faceted and complex issue that needs to be addressed by a diverse and multidisciplinary group that understands different sectors and countries; combines theory and practice; and works at macro-, meso- and micro- level.

Following a dynamic discussion and engagement with representatives from NGOs, government representatives, private sector and development partners, we join together in thanking our panelists and the key contributions from Ambassador Blackman and Ambassador De Boer.

We are pleased to share a few key takeaways and recommendations for action:

1. Creating an ecosystem conducive for women-owned businesses to grow and mature. Ecosystem components should include information on

  • Access to technical and trade development information,
  • Access to markets and support mechanisms for women to participate in their respective country’s economic development,
  • Access to financing, knowledge on regulations and trade requirements, and
  • Relatable role models to provide mentorship for women businesses.

2. The ‘Gender’ lens appears to detract from full and equal engagement by men; such that even in this session only 12 men participated with over 40 participants. This is counterproductive to the fact that women make up 60% of consumers globally. We need to push for incentives for access and inclusiveness to be explored and developed which must also include women in the informal sector and possible ‘branding’ or an index for small commercial businesses. The proposed index would inform and target consumers on stores which source from women businesses, as one approach to change consumer purchasing behavior.

3. Innovative tech applications need to be shared and replicated such as the Agronavti mobile application, developed in Georgia, which allows women (especially rural producers) easy access to market information, pricing, regulations, related services & products. This need for inclusive digitalization requires practical technology training for women businesses, including but not limited to blockchain education initiatives. This is reinforced by findings in Canada that “women entrepreneurs are 20% less likely to adopt new technology as men” as e-commerce dominates business opportunities to build supply chain, find markets and investments for growth.

4. In the policy arena, we need parliaments/congress (government representatives) to remove ‘blind spots’ and to be more attuned to gender inclusiveness and the negative impacts of trade liberalization on women businesses. As noted by the World Bank ‘Women, Business & the Law 2019’ report, we need to go beyond a legal framework, to change unspoken bias which ‘requires sustained political will, leadership from women and men across societies, and changes to ingrained cultural norms and attitudes’.

5. We need to develop baseline data to track the impact of trade, looking at trade in services through a gender lens, with sexdisaggregated data, so that we can assess women’s economic growth and contributions to increased household incomes, to agree on what needs to be measured and how to define progress. This is particularly important to measure progress on the Buenos Aires Gender and Trade Declaration, to ensure that all stakeholders are aware and taking actions to ensure a ‘greater piece of the economic pie’.

6. Best practice measures need to be employed because trade barriers are ‘not neutral’; such as in Canada where there is a ‘specific policy and practical response to grow trade for women’s businesses’ through 1) funds designated for training women MSMEs to adopt new technologies, 2) financing programs for women only, 3) women-only trade missions that allow for mentoring women-owned businesses, and 4) specific language and chapters on gender integrated into Canada’s free trade agreements. In addition it is proposed that a case study on ‘Best Practices’ can be developed.

7. Recommendation that a joint group be created to engage Permanent Representatives/Missions in Geneva from countries (126 to date) that agreed to the Buenos Aires Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment, which aims to increase women’s participation in trade. The objective is to see how non-state actors such as OWIT, WEI, women’s business support organizations, private sector organizations and our governments can take actions to increase awareness, and ultimately to take action and develop tools to lower barriers for women in trade.

Click for Livestream session link here Public Forum 2019 – Session 49 – Gender Inclusiveness in Trade in Services.

Other links: World Trade Report Future of Services Trade 2019