Investing in Women “not about the money” for Exxon Mobil

September 24, 2009 at 3:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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reporting this week from the Clinton Global Initiative

By choosing ‘investing in women and girls’ as the topic for his opening plenary, President Clinton sent a message that women were at the center of his agenda. The panel embodied the CGI spirit of broad and innovative coalitions, with speakers from the government, private sector and women’s organizations.

Two CEOs sat on the stage: Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobile and Llyod Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.  They were joined by Melanne Verveer, the US ambassador for global women’s issues, Zainab Salbi, Women for Women International and Edna Adan, the founder of a maternity hospital in Somaliland.  Twelve new commitments for women in girls were announced at the session including training in entrepreneurship and financial literacy and access to low-cost technology.

On one hand, the unprecedented high-level private sector participation means that the women’s agenda has gone mainstream; real change will not happen if only women are talking to each other. On the other hand, the panel would not have succeeded if it hadn’t had two women from the trenches who could keep the discussion grounded in the life and death realities many women face.

But when the discussion turned to his corporate philosophy for focusing on women, Tillerson said that for empowering women, “money is not the issue”.   Easy for him to say as CEO of the world’s second largest company.

Zainab Salbi was quick to disagree, arguing that it is absolutely about increasing resources and  political commitments for women and girls.

Tillerson tried to backtrack, clarifying his remarks by saying it was about education, training and staff capacity, not just pouring money into a problem.

Still, it was a reminder that even though they may be sitting on the same stage, the reality of a woman’s organization and Exxon Mobile are quite far apart.  While it is “not about the money” for  Exxon, it is all about the money for thousands of women’s organizations like Salbi’s and Adan’s that are struggling to help women every day survive childbirth and rebuild their lives from war.

But the question seemed to open a door, and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs reframed the question, asking: are we making all the investments that we can make in women and girls? are we at capacity?

I think the answer is a resounding no.   Stay tuned for more updates from CGI.

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