Prioritizing Gender Equality

Dec 1, 2014 9:05 AM ET

Waggener Edstrom Blog By Melissa Waggener Zorkin

When I started my agency, I did so with the belief that giving back needed to be at the heart of the business. I’m incredibly proud of the agency’s citizenship efforts. WE’s corporate citizenship represents our commitment to making a positive and sustainable social, environmental and economic impact through our services, employees, operations and contributions to society. We hold ourselves accountable via our annual Corporate Citizenship Report.

For many years now I have been honored to serve on the Mercy Corps board. I relish this position because it aligns closely with my passion that HOW you communicate something must be totally targeted to those you need to influence, in order to be effective. Our ACT for Impact (ACT) initiative truly puts this passion into action. ACT has been a long-term initiative, focused on integrating gender equality throughout Mercy Corps programs and ensuring that those programs are tailored appropriately to support men, women, boys and girls to deliver the right outcomes for local communities in the many countries where Mercy Corps operates. This is critical because it helps increase resilience in communities. Everyone needs to learn and adapt to stresses in the environment. Resilience is key to building strong, progressive and sustainable communities.

While gender inequality is a global phenomenon; progress is happening and people are realizing the importance and positive impact of addressing the issue for the greater benefit of our global economy. For example, every extra year of primary school can mean 10 to 20 percent higher wages for a girl, according to UNESCO. When a country sees a 10 percent increase in girls going to school, its GDP increases by 3 percent. Gender-sensitive programs have tremendous impact. Educating girls, boys, women and men alike improves economies for everyone. Equality is a mindset that requires people and social and political systems to change. Change can be slow, but progress is what matters.

Under the leadership of Global Gender Advisor Sahar Alnouri, over the last three years Mercy Corps has delivered value within the organization and to the global development community:

  1.  Developing training tools and curriculum, and providing resources in country to support local programming and development
  2.  Increasing the expectations among employees at every level that program design and measurement are gender-sensitive
  3.  Updating policies and creating new ones to ensure responsibility for gender integration is shared across the agency

Organizations as diverse as CARE and Intel have made significant commitments to gender integration. Recently one the world’s leading foundations, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced its commitment to putting women and girls at the center of development by focusing on a rigorous understanding of their needs and preferences relative to gender inequality. When we act as a global community, we can bring about change.

Stories can change the world, and when you connect the right stories with the right audiences, you can do anything — create support, alter thinking and shift behaviors. We need to continue to collaborate and partner to push forward ideas and tell the stories of gender inequality. I’m incredibly proud that Mercy Corps is a pioneer in championing gender initiatives and that Waggener Edstrom and I have been involved with ACT for Impact since its inception. We can all play a role in promoting gender initiatives and equality to build deeper empathy and understanding and to secure a progressive and prosperous future.