I'm a fan of microfinance, especially for women. Ample studies have shown if you help women in developing countries, you also help their children and larger communities, which is not always the case when you help men in extremely patriarchal societies. Yet as a devoted Kiva lender, I can't help noting that the businesses many third-world female entrepreneurs are starting are only slight expansions of their household chores. One Ghanaian woman I lent money to recently cooked extra rice and sold it to the village schoolchildren at lunchtime. Another made a small income sewing batik dresses and selling them to her neighbors. I don't mean to imply that these businesses are not feats of enterprising brilliance, but without additional skills beyond sewing and cooking, these impoverished women face radically limited horizons.
So yesterday's news that Goldman Sachs, one of the world's largest investment firms, has pledged $100 million to give 10,000 disadvantaged women business and management training deserves some celebration. According to reports, Goldman Sachs has partnered with several top-flight business schools to implement the program, which will serve women in the United States as well as the developing world.
The devil will no doubt lurk in the details. So far Goldman Sachs has said it wants to create a "new model of management education" that would teach things like writing business plans, marketing and accounting as well as offer ongoing mentorships. It's not hard to imagine how easy it would be for a bunch of Ivy League business school professors to underestimate the obstacles these women face. In truly impoverished parts of the world, where a clean glass of tap water is a rare treasure, finding the resources necessary to write a business plan may seem impossible.
What's interesting is the way that Goldman Sachs is framing its gift -- not as pure philanthropy but as good business. This is no doubt because shareholders have criticized the company in the past for generous, non-bottom-line-related gifts. But it also may be a sincere realization -- based on its own research paper "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" -- that gender equality leads to economic vitality. Last year the company published a paper that enumerated the economic reasons for harnessing female talent and reducing gender equity.
So yea for Mr. Goldman!
Unfortunately, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms haven't applied such sound research on the economic value of gender equity to their own companies. After a decade of sexual discrimination suits, the financial industry is still dominated by white men -- especially in managerial and executive positions. I know it's not nice to look a gift horse in the mouth, but sometimes those rotting molars sure do stink.