Cherie Blair Wants Women to Know 'They Can, They Absolutely Can'
There are few names worldwide that need no introduction. One such is Cherie Blair.
As many know, she set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008 to help women build small and growing businesses in developing and emerging markets so that they can contribute to their economies and have a stronger voice in their societies.
The Foundation supports women in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, helping them generate their own income and developing projects which encourage them to become successful and self-sustaining entrepreneurs.
A firm believer of fostering women’s entrepreneurship as a powerful way of driving change, Blair has been a flag bearer for women earning more money and freedom to spend on things like healthcare and nutrition.
Cherie is also closely involved with over 20 charities with a special emphasis on those working with women, with children. In the Asia Pacific region, Blair works on various projects including the DevelopHer campaign that provides mentoring and mobile support for women entrepreneurs in the ASEAN region and work with the Swarovski Foundation and the Hemraj Goyal Foundation to support women in the villages of Maharashtra in India with skills training and business development support are aimed at empowering women economically to reduce poverty, unleash social change, and create more equal, fair and secure societies.
In an exclusive chat with Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, the Queen’s Counsel and wife of the former British Prime Minister spoke about her learnings as a committed campaigner for women’s rights, equality and human rights issues.
Confidence is Key
Blair believes that the one thing that women must remember is to be confident.
“My message to women is that you can. You absolutely can,” says Blair.
She thinks the overwhelmingly presence of men as powerful leaders CEOs, entrepreneurs sends a message to young girls that leaders are men, and it can knock their confidence in themselves, or limit their ambitions.
Blair wants to challenge this thinking. “Women are competent, strong and capable of achieving amazing things. When they have the confidence to believe in themselves they can do anything they set their mind to. When they have the confidence to believe in themselves they can do anything they set their mind to,” says Blair.
Being the first member of her family to go to University, she thinks leadership is a skill that needs to be honed and developed.
In a survey in 2012, 84 per cent of Indians agreed that men have more right to work than women when jobs are scarce. Research firm McKinsey found that businesses in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 per cent more likely to enjoy above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. So having more women in power is not just the right thing to do – it’s also good for the bottom line, Blair believes.
Women are the Change Makers
She believes women entrepreneurs represent huge untapped potential in the global economy.
McKinsey estimates that if women played an identical role to men in the labour force the global economy would make an extra $28 trillion by 2025.
Her message to Indian women entrepreneurs, who she works closely with, is clear – You are the change-makers of your country.
According to the IMF, India has the potential to be 27 per cent richer if women were able to play a full and equal role in the economy.
“Indian women entrepreneurs I know are full of courage and ambition – they must believe in themselves and support each other to take up their rightful places as business owners and role models,” says Blair.
Blair’s inspiration comes from a personal challenge she faced as a child.
“My father left us when I was young, so my mother and my grandmother – two very strong women – had to work incredibly hard to make ends meet. They both had to leave school at the age of 14 but they were determined that me and my sister would have a better start in life. The example they set for me – about how important it is for women to be self-sufficient and earn their own money - inspires me to this day,” Blair told Entrepreneur Asia Pacific.
Blair thinks women can – and do – encounter sexism at every stage of their career, whether they are just starting out or leading an organisation.
“The fantastic thing about the #MeToo movement is that it shows how powerful women’s voices are when they come together. It also shows that the problems women face are global and systemic – not individual,” says Blair.
She believes sexual harassment is not about sex – it’s an economic issue because it’s about an abuse of power in the workplace, which can limit women’s ability to progress in their careers.
Being a powerful influencer, Blair’s support for the #MeToo campaign has the potential to go a long way to combat the malaise of sexual harassment worldwide.