What's the Clinton Foundation Doing for Women's Empowerment?

On an unusually warm February day in New York City, the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convened its annual winter meeting, bringing together over 450 leaders across the public and private sectors to discuss and (hopefully) make progress on some of the most difficult challenges of our time. Invited to the meeting, I came to observe and learn more about CGI and the foundation's ongoing strategy for women's empowerment. 

The day's events included President Bill Clinton in conversation with Chobani yogurt executive Hamdi Ulukaya—who, by the way, is one of IP's favorite donors for coming to the rescue of Syrian refugees—as well as several topic-specific breakout sessions and a plenary with Chelsea Clinton engaging finance and philanthropy leaders in dialogue about LGBT issues and the refugee crisis. Also on my agenda was an interview with Terri McCullough, Director of the No Ceilings Initiative at the foundation.

In 2015, McCullough was tasked to oversee the creation of the Full Participation Report, funded by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The report brings together 850,000 data points on women and girls worldwide and lays out a plan for addressing the problems, including making gender equality the standard across the globe and working to change cultural norms and attitudes that hold women back.

McCullough described how No Ceilings was created when Secretary Clinton came to the foundation in 2013, and she and Chelsea began to explore how to leverage the existing research on gender equality. They began asking big questions, said McCullough, such as: "How can we make a case to the important actors who can make change that women's equality is the smart thing to do? How can we drive home an economics-based case to say, if we empower girls and women and we provide more opportunities for them, everyone benefits?"

No Ceilings decided to create the Full Participation Report in order to give the available data on women and girls a new coherence, and hopefully fuel new directions for the gender equality movement. 

"Having spent time working on Capitol Hill, one of my deep frustrations was that when you looked at legislation and advocacy, there wasn't always a lot of gender-disaggregated data," McCullough said. "And what we had was not very reliable, so I was deeply invested in the idea that we could go through a rigorous process to learn about the status of women now, and use that data to make the case for where we need to go."

The historical frame of the Full Participation project is important. In 1995, at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, leaders from governments and civil society around the world came together and committed to ensuring that women and girls have the opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of life. Hillary Clinton famously declared, "Women's rights are human rights" at that conference.

At the 20th anniversary marker of that moment, the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to "gather data and analyze the gains made for women and girls over the last two decades, as well as the gaps that remain." Other organizations, including the Wyss Foundation, the Cheryl Saban Self-Worth Foundation for Women and Girls, Corning, and the Leslois Shaw Foundation have supported this effort. A wide range of experts contributed to this work including the Economist Intelligence Unit and the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA.

The result is a research hub that has gathered the available data on women and girls from over 197 countries spanning more than 20 years. "We wanted to set up a road map to make the case for gender equality even more clear," said McCullough. "We aimed to turn up as many nuggets of research as we could on the status of women worldwide."

The report looks at a wide range of issues—economics, health, education, political empowerment and gender-based violence, coming at this data with big questions: "What do women’s and girls’ lives look like around the world 20 years after the Beijing conference? What barriers remain? How have laws and policies progressed over the same period? What information do we still need in order to assess the status of women and girls?"

The end result is a hefty and sobering report that offers the long view on women's progress over the past 20 years, and the gaps that still remain to be addressed in the future. 

The good news on women's progress: "Women are living longer and healthier lives than ever before," said McCullough. "Maternal mortality has improved. Access to primary education is almost equitable."

But the report also turns up some data showing how little movement there has been for women worldwide on some broad markers. One of the most startling findings for McCullough was that women have remained stagnant in workforce participation over the past 20 years—at least according to official statistics. In developing nations, though, women are more likely to be participating in the informal economy, and therefore this work is not counted. Women are also more likely to be doing domestic labor and child care in the home, or subsistence agriculture, none of which are counted by the labor participation statistics.

McCullough says the Full Participation Report also uncovered some important new findings about women and technology. "Technology plays such a different role than it did in 1995 as a tool to make progress. And women's access to technology has become a critical aspect of gender equality."

Another area of big change, said McCullough, is the private sector's engagement in gender equality efforts. "Companies are recognizing how this work can benefit women and also their bottom line. You see companies like Walmart and Coca Cola with these programs that are authentic to their business model but also really are transformative for women in a lot of different economies."

Case in point: At the CGI Winter Meeting session called Invest In Her: Integrating Gender Inclusive Practices in Business & Supply Chains, I sat at a table with conference participants discussing how to get more women businesses into the supply chain for various markets. One of the leaders of Walmart's initiative for bringing in more women suppliers talked about the corporation's goals, while a young female entrepreneur talked about trying to find markets for her cosmetics line, and being surprised to learn that Walmart might hold possibilities. It's from interactions like these that the Clinton Global Initiative gets its reputation for being a powerful convener for cross-sector collaboration.

Related: Teach a Woman to Fish: The Walmart Foundation and Women's Empowerment

Currently, No Ceilings is working on building a multi-sector collaboration launched in 2014 around improving access for girls to secondary education. Dubbed CHARGE, this initiative brings together private sector and government actors, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, who are committing over $600 million in an effort to reach 14 million girls with safer, higher quality schools that prepare them for the workforce.

Among the major participants in CHARGE is the MasterCard Foundation, which kicked in $30 million. As we report often, this giant funder is everywhere these days in the fight against poverty in developing nations, so it's not surprising to find it part of CHARGE. Discovery Communications put up $19 million for CHARGE. We hear less about this funder, but it turns out to be engaged in a wide range of philanthropic activities around the world.

Other private partners listed when CHARGE rolled out were Gucci/Chime for Change, Intel, and Microsoft. But nailing down grantmaking amounts that have either gone out the door or been pledged isn't so easy. For future reporting, we hope to learn more about what happens after major commitments are made through CGI—how much money was given by which funders to which organizations, what was done with that money, and what the impact has been. 

What is clear, though, is that the Clinton Foundation continues to play a very unusual and valuable role in terms of bringing together different power players and getting them to connect with each other to tackle big problems. The Full Participation Report also shows how the foundation can play a key role in marshalling new data and framing issues.

McCullough said No Ceilings is also looking at developing more financial inclusion efforts for women, one of which may become a Clinton Global Initiative commitment made at the September 2016 annual meeting. The program is also looking at new ways to support women-owned businesses, again using a cross-sector collaborative approach.

"If you've never had those voices at the table, you don't know what you're missing," said McCullough.