Thank you Erin for that introduction.
At USAID, we believe that investing in women’s economic empowerment helps countries become resilient and self-reliant—which, in turn, contributes to worldwide peace and prosperity.
Women play a major role in the economic lives of their communities. Often, their participation comes through less formal interactions. And we know how much these informal economies have taken a hit during COVID-19.
We must rely on women and their leadership to help build even stronger communities. And this is why it is more important than ever to invest in women, during this pandemic and beyond. USAID has a long history of investing in women. And the White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, or W-GDP, brings a whole-of-government approach to the belief that advancing women’s economic empowerment globally has the potential to create real change and resilience.
The Initiative established the W-GDP Fund at USAID, now in its second year and totaling $200 million, and we’ve used these resources to invest in and collaborate with more than 60 countries and 450 partners to address the legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers to women’s economic empowerment. And today, I’d like to also focus on a sector of the economy often overlooked when we talk about women’s leadership: the energy sector, and specifically, the regulatory commissions that govern the sector.
Around the world and across the energy industry, there are very few women in top-tier leadership positions.
There are many reasons for this lack of diversity: workplaces without the flexibility to accommodate the competing demands women face throughout their careers; a lack of mentorship and career development support; and ingrained barriers to pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
I want to be clear: this lack of diversity is not only unacceptable, but it also leads to weaker institutions and a weaker energy sector.
When women leaders are elevated, innovation is unleashed —from new tools to prevent the next cyberattack to novel ideas for promoting greater energy efficiency for consumers.
In Europe and Eurasia, the intersection between the importance of the energy sector and the opportunity to engage more women in leadership is particularly pronounced. The region is on the frontlines of today’s great power competition, pitting freedom against authoritarianism. Energy is one of the primary avenues used by malign actors to gain control and assert influence over countries in the region. Fostering greater energy independence is critical to preserving and advancing democracy and economic prosperity in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. That is why it is more important than ever to have a diverse and capable cohort of problem solvers serving in leadership roles in the region’s energy sector.
And because of this belief, I am excited to announce the new $1 million W-GDP Advancing Leaders in Energy program, implemented by NARUC. Through a combination of network building, targeted career development services, and the transformation of workplace barriers, we hope to build a cadre of women leaders in regulatory commissions across the Europe and Eurasia region.
Women’s economic participation in Europe and Eurasia has been vital to the region’s emergence from behind the wall of communism—and we see an opportunity in this region to expand women’s participation in the traditionally male-dominated energy and water sectors in the field of power and utilities.
Everything changed with the dissolution of the former Soviet bloc in the early 1990s. The freedom to be innovative, to be entrepreneurial—and to reap the benefits of hard work—was finally within reach.
With these freedoms, however, came a period of enormous struggle.
A competitive private sector had to be constructed from the ground up, and women played a vital role in helping to build new nations and new economies. Their genius, innovation, and entrepreneurship is the reason many countries in Europe and Eurasia have advanced so far so quickly.
At every step along the way, USAID has walked side by side with women across the region, helping to equip them with the skills, knowledge, and support they needed to achieve their goals. And now we are fueled by W-GDP.
For example, with W-GDP support, we’ve worked with energy utilities in the region to create tangible economic opportunities for women. In Georgia, we’ve worked with the utility Energo-Pro, which planned, organized, and launched a retraining program to train 100 female billing operators to upskill their qualifications. In North Macedonia, we’ve worked with the utility EVN to reach parity in numbers of engineering internship applicants over the past three years, and they’ve had their first 10 female electrofitters this past year.
These are just some of the outcomes that are possible when we place a special focus on women’s empowerment and access to opportunity in our work.
Energy is the lifeblood of any economy. And, W-GDP Advancing Women Leaders in Energy paves the way for even greater outcomes. By supporting the career advancement of women in regulatory commissions, we are ensuring safer, more reliable electricity access for everyone in the region.
Thank you again for inviting me to ‘cut the ribbon’ on this important activity.
Over to Erin.