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What Businesses and NGOs Can Do for Women, and Each Other

International Womens Day panel stresses collaboration

L to R: Susan Davis, Jo Natauri, Donna L. Blackwell, and Umber Ahmad in New York on Mar. 8, 2011.

L to R: Susan Davis, Jo Natauri, Donna L. Blackwell, and Umber Ahmad in New York on Mar. 8, 2011.

International Womens Day panel stresses collaboration
NEW YORK, March 8, 2011 - Commemorating the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, Asia Society hosted women from international philanthropy and corporate America for a panel discussion that celebrated the potential for partnerships between these two communities.  

Sponsored by Women's Education Project, the panel discussion included Jyothsna (Jo) Natauri, Managing Director, Investment Banking, Goldman Sachs; Susan Davis, President and CEO, BRAC USA; Donna L. Blackwell, Executive Director, AUDACIA, the Global Forum for Girl's Education; and Umber Ahmad, Executive Director, Platinum Gate Capital Management.

Zoe Timms, founder of Women's Education Project (WEP), kicked off the discussion by speaking to the power of NGO and corporate partnerships, citing the resources corporations can provide to NGOs such as guidance, funds, and volunteers. Such collaborations enable Women's Education Project to offer four facilities in India that serve as study centers with computers and tutors for young women entering the 11th and 12th grades. Many of the centers' students go on to college with the help of a scholarship from WEP, continuing to leverage the center for studying and tutoring resources.

In describing her work, Umber Ahmad explained that the first step in addressing women in the Middle East is to ask, What do you need? "Americans are very good at saying here is what we have to sell you," says Ahmad. "We are focusing on how we can empower women, who hold about 387 billion dollars of wealth across the Middle East, to understand financial options they have for the things that are important to them: security, protection, agriculture."

Ahmad said that 40% of all brokerage accounts held in the Middle East are owned by women, and that more than 1/3 of women-owned businesses make over $100,000 a year—a startling statistic when compared to the average women-owned business in the US, of which only 13% make over $100,000.

Susan Davis unveiled BRAC's newest program at the event: Courage of the Heart, a multimedia storytelling platform that will allowing women around the world to see the work that BRAC does across the world. "BRAC is one of the best-kept secrets," said Davis, adding that the group's low profile is a typical challenge that many international NGOs face. "When Barbara Walters learned about BRAC she said, It can't be true—if I have never heard of BRAC it can't be true," relayed Davis.