Corporate actors are playing an increasingly important role in international development. Social entrepreneurs, venture philanthropists, and multinational executives are now confronting a wide range of development issues and contributing innovative approaches to development issues by providing unique business models, financial instruments, and partnership mechanisms. Corporate involvement in development has evolved from a focus solely on profit and the delivery of specific goods and services to a new concentration on global policy-setting, mobilizing financial resources, and the provision of technical assistance.
Donors have taken note of the new role of business in development and, in some cases, are combining the experience of traditional donors with the business knowledge of corporate entities in new partnership modalities, such as challenge funds which encourage companies to compete for support and investment in much the same way that academics seek out research funding. While this new aid modality has great potential, it is essential to examine the extent to which it integrates important social development agendas--such as gender--into their agenda.
Assessing the challenge funds focus on gender
DfID's Business Innovation Facility (BIF) programme is a challenge fund designed to develop or scale up innovative, inclusive business models. Sida's Innovations Against Poverty (IAP) programme is a challenge fund that aims to catalyse private sector innovation in products, services and business models that contribute to the fight against poverty and climate change by involving the poor as innovators, entrepreneurs, producers, consumers, and distributors. Both programmes ostensibly mainstream gender concerns into their respective programmes--but to what extent are they successful?
From a gender perspective, these programmes should seek to foster women's economic empowerment by increasing incomes, returns on labour, and by ensuring a greater balance between paid and unpaid work. Improved education, training and awareness could also contribute to skill development and increased access to opportunities.
The BIF has no clearly outlined set of eligibility criteria to assess a business in terms of potential contributions to development, and gender focus is not a primary consideration for the selection of participating businesses. Most projects are selected by country managers who rely on their personal knowledge and networks to identify projects...