Everybody Wants a Win-Win: Oak Foundation Contributes to Shaping Corporate Funding for Women's Economic Empowerment

Oak Foundation’s Issues Affecting Women (IAW) program believes that feminist movements are key to change. The IAW program promotes a rights-based approach and funds programming under two main pillars: (1) movement building and (2) ending violence against women. IAW program director Florence Tercier shares, “We believe strongly that to advance women’s rights and to have more progressive legal frameworks, we need sustained movements of women’s organizations on the ground.” To support this core belief, Oak Foundation has invested significant time and resources into research, work, and advocacy related to women’s empowerment. With this investment, Oak Foundation aspires to educate donors that funding women’s movements is central to women’s empowerment.

Findings from a three-part research series “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights” by the Association of Women in Development (AWID)— a global, feminist membership organization—revealed an influx of new, largely corporate, donors investing in women’s economic empowerment, spurred by growing public recognition that investing in women is good economics. Oak Foundation reflected about what this finding meant for women’s rights and economic empowerment resource mobilization, and in 2013, launched a process to engage with these new actors. The dialogues that have emerged from this process to learn more about those actors and engage with them has led to the creation of the Win-Win Coalition.

This coalition brings together leaders in the field of women’s economic empowerment, including donors, women’s funds, corporations, corporate foundations, investors, and individual feminists and activists who function as bridge builders between women’s organizations and the private and public sectors.

The Win-Win Coalition (Win-Win) aspires to yield more impactful funding streams by educating donors and corporations investing in women’s economic empowerment on the importance of (1) addressing the broader conditions necessary for women’s advancement alongside economic interventions, and (2) partnering with grassroots women’s organizations and women’s funds in the design and implementation of women’s empowerment programs to enhance their impact. 

AWID’s research indicates that despite large corporate commitments to supporting women and girls, little trickles down to women’s organizations and movements. AWID conducted a mapping of 170 corporate sector initiatives revealing $14.6 billion pledged between 2005-2020. Another survey found that in 2010, a sample of 740 women’s organizations had a median annual income of $20,000. AWID also found that only 0.3 percent of women’s rights organizations in the sample received corporate funding. AWID’s research identified economic growth and return on investment as principle drivers for new, corporate donors, and that less attention is given to women’s rights and social vulnerabilities. Win-Win aims to influence corporate giving by presenting a strategy proven to deliver both higher return on investment and higher social returns.

IAW program director Florence Tercier explains: “It is not enough to give a woman a business, a loan, or training if she also doesn’t have access to reproductive health, childcare, and other social benefits. It is not enough to give a woman a job if her husband beats her. Multiple factors contribute to a woman’s ability to make decisions and actually benefit from the financial resources she generates.” Economic empowerment should not be limited to jobs and income alone. Women need decision-making power and the space in which to act on decisions. “We often see an investment around financial, vocational, or business skills training, without addressing the building blocks of empowerment, which are necessary to ensure an enabling environment for women to actually make use of the resources and earnings they are generating,” shares Florence. 

Oak Foundation commissioned Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to take a deeper look at corporate-funded women’s economic empowerment programs. The results were published in The Business Case for Women’s Economic Empowerment: An Integrated Approach. This report consists of a sample of 31 of the largest corporate-funded women’s economic empowerment programs run by 28 companies and corporate foundations. The report reveals what works and what doesn’t, and provides a business case for how these programs can deliver greater benefits for both the women they wish to empower and for the companies themselves—what Oak Foundation is calling a win-win.

The Business Case proposes an integrated approach to women’s economic empowerment, a holistic program framework that goes beyond the financial aspect alone. “Some feedback we have received from corporations is that they lack the expertise for rights-based programming. They don’t know how to address domestic violence; they understand capital and how to run a business. Our argument is that if you want to have an integrated approach, you actually need to partner with the women’s rights organizations in the field so they can deliver one,” shares Florence. The Business Case is based on the theory that women’s economic empowerment programs would be more effective if companies and corporate foundations partnered with women’s rights organizations.

The Business Case demonstrates that an integrated approach delivers a higher return on investment across the corporate value chain, and higher social returns for women and girls. The integrated approach addresses underlying structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment by addressing eight building blocks that lead to sustainable, impactful economic empowerment for women: voice in society and policy influence, access to equitable and safe employment, access to and control over economic resources and opportunities, education and training, freedom from the risk of violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over health and family formation, and social protection and childcare. The approach and building blocks are relevant across women’s economic empowerment initiatives, corporate or not. 

Driven by Oak Foundation, Win-Win is now in phase two: mapping the field to find different outlets to present the research and garner interest from corporations to build new collaborations and pilot the development of empowerment programming with rigorous monitoring and evaluation plans for tracking impacts for women and for their business. On January 14, 2015, Win-Win members AWID and Mama Cash, along with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hosted a convening in Amsterdam, Win-Win: Building New Partnerships and Fostering Strategic Engagement for Women’s Empowerment. “We are part of a movement ecosystem, so we want to understand the best way to fund and support this ecosystem. We want to identify bridge-builders that are influencing or trying to achieve the same goals as the women’s rights organizations,” highlights Florence.

This has generated interest from several companies to adopt this integrated approach. As a part of phase two, Oak Foundation is funding ICRW and Business Social Responsibility—a global, nonprofit business network and consultancy dedicated to sustainability—to work with companies to develop a strategy that speaks to this initiative and to their goals for funding women’s economic empowerment.

This case study was developed for Foundation Center's Equal Footing project.

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