Thank you for that introduction, and thank you to the Africa Alternative Investment Intensive and all the organizers of this event for inviting me to speak with you today. My thanks also go to everyone at Norton Rose Fulbright for hosting us. It’s an honor to be here.
My name is Karen Sessions and I serve as the Vice President of Congressional and Public Affairs at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC.
MCC has a very clear mission—reduce poverty through economic growth.
We are an independent U.S. Government agency that makes five-year investments, which we call compacts, with partner countries that meet certain requirements for good governance, economic freedom, and investing in people.
About two-thirds of our partner countries are in Africa, and we see enormous potential on the continent.
At MCC, we believe that one of the best ways to accomplish our mission is by investing in women’s economic empowerment. And, the reason is simple—research shows that empowering women leads to stronger economies, increases in household incomes, and higher profits for businesses.
We recognize that MCC investments reach their full potential when we invest in women.
And, our efforts aim to support the Trump Administration’s focus on empowering women around the globe. The President’s National Security Strategy identifies women’s economic empowerment as a clear priority, noting that societies that work to directly empower women are more prosperous and more peaceful.
I would like to share with you the three primary ways in which MCC’s investments support women’s economic empowerment.
First, we enable women in the workforce by creating opportunity in fields of expertise where they have been historically underrepresented.
The World Bank estimates the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality to be around $160 trillion. Our investments seek to provide women the education, training, and resources they need to boost their incomes and increase the total value of human capital in their respective nations, narrowing the gender income gap.
That means preparing women to enter sectors and technical fields where they can earn higher incomes, while aligning their training to the needs of businesses.
These efforts begin in primary and secondary education, where MCC works with our partner countries to develop new curricula and gender policies, and to redesign institutional financing mechanisms to ensure schools can get the classroom materials they need, when they need them.
We also invest in Technical and Vocational Education and Training, or TVET centers, which help develop women’s skill in alignment with the needs of businesses.
In Morocco, MCC will support TVET centers that train women and men in relevant skillsets demanded by the private sector, and provide career counseling to connect them with private firms that seek their expertise.
In Burkina Faso, MCC is considering investments in the energy sector, including solar power, and we are looking at training women to serve as solar equipment technicians and distributors.
And, In Cote d’Ivoire, TVET centers are being created under our compact which will be government-owned, but managed and operated by the private sector and educational institutions. Each TVET center will be required to develop a gender and social inclusion policy, as well as an action plan.
Second, we help women succeed as entrepreneurs.
MCC programs include grants, training, and access to microcredit that can help women gain employment. In Zambia, an Innovation Grant was created to support entrepreneurship and income-generating activities for men and women in water supply, sanitation, and drainage maintenance.
In Liberia, we are designing a project to train Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (most of which are women owned) on productive energy usage to grow their businesses, and move up the value chain. And, we are electrifying markets, which will allow longer opening hours, and improved safety.
And, as part of the Niger compact, we are exploring opportunities to train women to be certified seed distributors, diversifying their incomes and increase production yields.
In Benin’s Off-Grid Electricity Access Project, MCC will provide training to women in the electricity sector; helping them to gain invaluable business management skills and an understanding of grid and off-grid energy business opportunities. We will also connect women to banks and microfinance institutions, financing initiatives, and other donor programs so they can more easily access funds.
Finally, in Togo, MCC is looking to close the digital gender divide by facilitating women’s access to the internet and communication technologies which will enable them to access services such as mobile banking and timely market information.
Incentivizing institutional reforms to empower women in the economies of our partner countries is the third, and possibly most important, way MCC supports women’s economic empowerment.
In countries where we are investing in the power sector, MCC has integrated the needs of women (as customers, business owners and workers) into our activities designed to reform and strengthen utilities. Gender policies incorporated into reforms of the electrical utility in Malawi can help ensure female engineers and women in the workforce receive equal opportunities for employment and promotion in the utility. Similar reforms are planned in Ghana and Liberia.
We also work with the Ministries of Finance, Education, and other institutional actors in our partner countries to increase access to and quality of workforce training and education through systemic reforms that take into account the particular needs of girls and young women. We build the potential of women by insisting on policy and institutional reform within their countries.
The impact of institutional reforms ensures women will continue to enjoy greater economic opportunities in their countries long after our five-year compacts end, and likewise means those countries will also be stronger United States partners and U.S. businesses in the future.
Another key to the long-term sustainability of our investments are our partners.
We engage in public-private partnerships to take advantage of the unique assets and companies, NGOs, and donors bring to help meet development challenges.
MCC works to crowd in private capital and partners in the public and private sectors to help us scale up our investments and ensure those investments have long-term viability. Our compacts seek market-based economic growth led by private investment to achieve true sustainability. We engage with private partners in several ways:
First, businesses help shape our investments by participating in private sector stakeholder consultations when we are identifying the initial barriers to entry, and later when we design the programmatic components to our approach in our partner countries.
Second, they invest alongside us. Our compacts aim to incentivize reforms that create an investment climate that is welcoming to private capital.
Third, businesses compete for contracts, grants, and public-private partnerships under MCC compacts.
Working with MCC offers several advantages:
We offer targeted, strategic investment in growth sectors. Our data and research powers our investment decisions and MCC develops projects and invests with data-driven analytical rigor with a focus on results that target the barriers to growth in our partner countries.
Working with us can also give investors access to new markets. Our compacts connect businesses and investors to new, underserved markets like those in Africa, or to particular sectors like energy, water, infrastructure, agriculture, education, and human development. This expands access to vital services and creates new opportunities for beneficiaries to participate in the global economy.
We Push the Boundaries and Measure our Success. MCC promotes US best practices and innovations abroad while building new markets. Our investments tackle poverty and create more stable, prosperous countries through sustainable, inclusive growth, and institutional reforms, while stringently monitoring and evaluating our processes and outcomes to measure success. Partnering with MCC means you can be part of something truly transformative. MCC welcomes the opportunity to be a part of Africa’s efforts to recognize and tap into their enormous potential; as we understand it an important part of that effort will be investing in women’s economic empowerment. We recognize how to support women.
We aim to equip women with the skills they need to be successful in the workforce; we can empower them as entrepreneurs, and we can incentivize reforms that sustain institutional changes that will ensure women will not be economically marginalized. Investing in women as future leaders, business owners and skilled workers means we can do more than improve women’s lives—we can transform entire nations. Empowering women in the 21st century economy can lead the way to economic growth and poverty reduction, a more promising future for Africa, and a more prosperous world. Thank you.
We don’t just invest in women because it feels good; we do it because it works. By integrating solutions to women’s issues throughout our work—from our initial country selection, to compact development and then implementation—we ensure that every dollar we invest moves the needle toward women’s empowerment.
We understand the opportunity that exists. Women are the key to unlocking some of Africa’s most significant challenges—investing in women boosts economies, reduces poverty, and means better health, nutrition, and education.
We recognize how to support women. We aim to equip women with the skills they need to be successful in the workforce; we can empower them as entrepreneurs, and we can incentivize reforms that sustain institutional changes that will ensure women will not be economically marginalized.
By integrating solutions to women’s issues throughout our work—from our initial country selection, to compact development and then implementation—we ensure that every dollar we invest moves the needle toward women’s empowerment.
Investing in women as future leaders, business owners and skilled workers means we can do more than improve women’s lives—we can transform entire nations. Empowering women in the 21st century economy can lead the way to economic growth and poverty reduction, a more promising future for Africa, and a more prosperous world.