May 7, 2015
Vancouver, Canada

Executive Summary


While most conversations around gender equality understandably focus on the social and health benefits of greater inclusiveness, relatively less time has been dedicated to the important question of the critical role that women—as customers, employees, executives and entrepreneurs—are currently playing in transforming the global economy. An avalanche of data and statistics support the view that women today are the strongest drivers of economic growth worldwide. For this reason, The Next Billion: Women & the Economy of the Future launch conference examined increasing women’s participation in the economy as a business case first, and a women’s case second.

Senior-level corporate leaders from throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Latin America came together at the inaugural Next Billion Conference in Vancouver, Canada, to share the practical experiences of some of the world’s largest companies which are moving beyond rhetoric and recognizing the link between the economic engagement of women and the bottom line. This innovative conference was launched by Women and the Economy Ltd., in partnership with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Multilateral Investment Fund, UN Foundation and the World Bank Group led by the International Finance Corporation.


This successful first Next Billion Conference provided key insights into how international companies such as IBM, Unilever, Li & Fung, HP, Accenture, Disney ABC and Edelman Canada are capitalizing on the potential of the next billion women and using the data to inform their day-to-day business operations and to ensure their long-term profitability have created specific financial services and instruments that women business owners need; these institutions are ahead of the curve in attracting and retaining women customers and thus ensuring their long-term profitability. We highlight several key themes presented at the conference by the Keynote speaker, Nouriel Roubini, Co-Founder and Chairman, Roubini Global  Economics, and panel members. and growth. Financial institutions like Itaú Unibanco and Inter-American Development Bank.


1.1 Women’s participation breeds social and economic growth


Example: In Latin America, Itaú Unibanco took a strong market leadership position by declaring its intention to  target services for women-owned businesses, which now represent almost 50% of the  bank’s portfolio.


1.2 Women’s participation boosts companies’ performance



1.3 Partnerships are key to accelerate collaboration as an ecosystem



1.4 Networks, sponsors and mentors are key to women’s scalable success


Example: Instead of imposing quotas, the United Kingdom focused on collaborative and concerted business-led efforts and launched The 30% Club in 2010. Private sector companies came together with entities within the public sector and set a soft quota of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards by end 2015.

The UK started with 12.6% women on boards in 2010, is currently at 23.5% and hopes to make it to 30% by next year.

Example: Canadian mining company Goldcorp is changing its exclusive board policy and promotes a culture of sharing by encouraging and sponsoring its women executives to be placed on other boards, so that they can gain experience and skills.

Example: IBM has a culture of celebration – a program where young women are becoming celebrities within the company, with women like Amy Su and Lisa Seacat Deluca sponsored by the top management to become thought leaders in the field of big data and analytics.

Example: In 2008, for example, evidence showed that the more women there were in a company’s management, the less the share price fell, while in Latin America companies that have women on their boards have a 40% higher return on equity and having at least one female director on the board reduces a company’s chances of bankruptcy by 20%.


1.5 Communicating the business of investing in women owned businesses



1.6 Governments are key partners in accelerating the pace towards success



1.7 Areas of opportunity and next steps to successfully change culture


Example: The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) recognized that women entrepreneurs are the biggest  source of economic growth, and in 2012 launched the Women entrepreneurship Banking Initiative (weB), to provide incentives to banks and other financial intermediaries to test innovative, inclusive lending models for women-owned SMEs.

Example: Over the last two decades the Caribbean region has closed 70% of its gender gap, and is the only region in the world where women’s participation in the labour force has been growing steadily and has now reached 53%. This has been the result of government’s actions, like awarding companies tax breaks for training women for jobs normally performed by men, thus breaking the strong occupational bias in Latin America.

Example: In 2012 Disney launched The Women’s Initiative, a program led by women that included men as well, which has sparked dialogue and generated opportunities for employees to think about gender balance in a very unique way.

As Mr. Roubini explained, by creating equal economic opportunities for everyone and increasing women’s participation in the workforce, we are actually ensuring overall pay and gender equality, thus creating
more cohesive, inclusive societies, and lasting cultural change.

Why This Issue?

Societies and companies, in particular, can—and must—integrate women economically if they are to remain competitive in the longer term. Why? It pays dividends, and some of the most influential companies in the world are paying attention. Unilever has opened markets and increased sales in India through female sales forces. Walmart has understood the benefits of including women in their supply chains. Coca Cola will be engaging over 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020 to increase market share. Over the next decade, the economic impact of women will be at least as significant as that of China and India’s respective 1 billion plus populations. Simply put investing in women—in the work force, supply chains, and as consumers—is good business, and those firms that learn how to operationalize this understanding will be poised to thrive in the coming years. Learn more

Why should you attend?

This unique gathering will bring together senior-level corporate leaders from throughout Canada, United States, Europe and Asia to discuss practical ways in which women-- as consumers and employees, entrepreneurs and executives--are critical to the continuing success of companies in today’s competitive, international economy. Learn more

Why is this conference unique?

There is no shortage of evidence to suggest that focusing on innovative ways to address the challenges faced by women and girls will lead to better health and education systems, and safer, stronger communities for all people living in the developing and developed world. This conference will devote its primary focus to the economic potential of the next billion women on the planet.

While most discussions of women and girls understandably focus on the social and health benefits of greater inclusiveness, relatively less time has been dedicated to the important question of the critical role that women—as customers and employees, executives and entrepreneurs—are currently playing in transforming the global economy. A number of the world’s largest companies are moving beyond rhetoric and recognizing the link between the economic engagement of women and the bottom line. We believe that this issue will only be taken seriously by the private sector when it informs day-to-day business operations and is grounded in the unsentimental realities of the balance sheet. Learn more