Nina-Iraq, the’ Next Billion’ and the Power of Inclusive Prosperity

Madeleine White and Nouriel Roubini

Madeleine White and Nouriel Roubini

By Madeleine White

“Emerging markets will be a driving force in sustainable economic growth. If civil society is fully and inclusively engaged in the economy, the significant population growth rate will lead to greater consumption and therefore greater economic growth.  Cash rich emerging markets with an inclusive approach to prosperity will be ideally placed to become economic trailblazers.”

Nouriel Roubini, global macroeconomic strategy expert and former senior White House economist

Vancouver, May 7th, The Next Billion Conference.

A unique opportunity, a global dialogue – with the aim of moving gender inclusion  beyond the ‘nice to have’, to the ‘must have’, driven by a hard financial evidence. The conference aligned global thought leaders, policy makers and economists with key data. With women cited by experts as the largest emerging economy in the world, the question of the power of long term strategic investment in inclusion and diversity is beyond doubt. What is less clear though, is how to realise this potential for growth in terms of national and economic advantage –  the Next Billion Conference was all about taking steps to make it happen…

To contexualise this in terms of Iraq. In March’s Middle East Congress, the region’s richest oil resources were cited as belonging to Iraq. At the moment 50% of its other richest natural resource – its people, are not engaging within the country’s economic activity. Less than 1% of managers in Iraq are women, just 17% of women are engaged as entrepreneurs or employees.

Alexander Meira da Rosa , VP for countries of the Inter-American Development Bank, was able to explain that the significant economic growth enjoyed by countries such as Brazil, which at one point had battled with a similarly challenging gender gap, was driven in part by the burgeoning economic participation of its women. By understanding that gender is an economic development issue and instituting a pro-women policy in dealings in partnership with government and private sector investors, he shared that regionally this gender gap had closed by  70%.

Ambassador Verveer

Ambassador Verveer

Indeed, the importance of partnerships was at the heart of most discussions. The idea of a collaborative national and international approach in terms of closing the gender gap – with policy advocacy, business profits and social impact forming a triangle of success, was championed by many speakers, including former US Ambassador for Global women’s issues, Melanne Verveer, and Accenture’s Marianne Schoenig. Other key points of peer-to-peer guidance, within this strongly evidenced-based dialogue, included:

  • Women in leadership and on boards – the significant financial return was highlighted (40% greater profitability with women on the board)
  • Women as successful entrepreneurs
    • Access to finance needed to be improved– examples of significant return on investment by assessing risk levels of women-owned business and answering their specific needs, led to marked profitability for  Itau Unibanco for example.
    • By ensuring women-owned business were part of the inclusion and supply chain, stronger communities and more profitable business practices were shared by the corporations, including HP and Accenture.
  • Unilever cited significant return on investment by providing a safe working environment for women; project Shakti which has created 50,000 rural women entrepreneurs in India, was given as an example of how women focused policy could drive corporate brand message and profits.
  • The importance of a relevant, forward-looking education came up frequently with responsibility for individual learning and access to technology being particular priorities.
  • Large corporations incorporating horizontal and vertical strategy in terms of work culture:

IBM’s Catherine Lord championed, “ regional women’s councils drawn from the workforce”  and  “the importance of including men and women in a way  that is relevant to local cultural need, while reflecting the values of the corporation”. Examples from Russia and the Middle East were shared.

  • Disney/ ABC Daisy Auger-Dominguez spoke of a positive policy of inclusion being reflected in Disney and ABC’s product output:

“Media must be reflective and supportive of gender inclusion, thus modelling culture positives. A recent study showed that we used more men than women in most crowd scenes, we have now taken steps to change this”.

  • The importance of women’s networks in supporting the elimination of trade barriers by fostering a culture of economic diplomacy.
  • Moving beyond gender bias occupations – Charles Jeannes, Goldcorp CEO shared how the 20% of women in his workforce of 19,000 and the level of female directors on his board contributed to this mining company’s growth and innovation, which of course was reflected on the very positive balance sheet.

So what are the messages here that are relevant to Iraq? The opportunity exists to turn a strong GDP into a phenomenal one, purely by government and private sector working together to promote inclusive prosperity, implementing some of the policy suggestions above. The eyes of the world are on Iraq, for very often the wrong reasons.

Carmen Niethammer IFC

Carmen Niethammer, IFC with Nina Magazine

By creating a safer workplace for women and inclusive business practices, it is possible to leapfrog the negative and become a trailblazing emerging economy, as lauded by one of the world’s leading economists, Nouriel Roubini. However, if it is to live up to its potential, Iraq will need to depend on the readiness of a labour force that is skilled and willing enough  to ensure Iraq’s natural resources are able to fund a better future for all.

The emergence of Nina Magazine as a national and international voice bears testament to the readiness of the Iraqi people to participate in this change of narrative. The world is ready to embrace an Iraq that may be battered and bruised, but has shown its willingness to build from the roots of an ancient heritage into the knowledge age.

Iraq has sent out green shoots of understanding, showing a tentative recognition of the role of women as a medium to transcend challenges of violence and bigotry; sharing instead the strength,energy and resilience of the Iraqi people with a global audience.

I travelled all the way to Vancouver because I believed there was a need to translate this game-changing dialogue into Arabic, whilst presenting the business opportunities Iraq offers. However, I believe the need is stronger even that that. It is clear to me that a common language is needed, one that is evidence based but can be accessed because it represents fundamental shared human values.

It may be the language of business drivers and profit but it is also one that links the private sector, government and civil society (us as individuals)  – delivering economic growth by connecting us in a way we can all buy into and understand.

Lisa Wolverton, convener of the Next Billion, and one of Canada’s key business leaders, pointed out that the thriving global business hub Vancouver now represents is relatively new, even in the new world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Iraq, as a cradle of civilisation, could become the trailblazer for a new world of inclusive prosperity.

If there ever was a time to stop ticking boxes and think outside the box, that time is now!


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