Ishrat Hussain’s decision to enroll in a Nestle job-training program that would kick-start a career in the dairy industry set her neighbors in rural Pakistan talking. For one month, the 20-year-old learned how to increase milk production through proper livestock feeding and care before Nestle helped her launch a veterinary business to service many of the company’s local milk producers. Such dirty work, people in Hussain’s conservative village said, wasn’t “good” for a young woman. But she carried on, she later told Nestle, because “I knew it would help me and my family out of poverty.”
Hussain’s new business could accomplish much more than that. A growing body of research from leading global institutions, including UNICEF and the World Bank, suggests economically empowering women not only lifts families out of poverty and stimulates the economy, but also leads to better community education and health.
Fueled, in part, by such data, experts say women’s empowerment has emerged as one of the more popular areas for corporate philanthropic investments. The benefits of women’s economic participation have seized America’s heart and imagination to an extent that, “any consumer-facing brand would be foolish to ignore,” said Racheal Meiers, a gender expert at the corporate responsibility consultancy BSR.