Friday, September 25, 2009

Innovations for Women: A New Focus for ExxonMobil

by Reena Jana on September 24 for Businessweek............

Exxon Mobil is seeking to develop new technologies to help women in developing countries improve their economic lives, the company announced at the Clinton Global Initiative. What this means is ExxonMobil will work on new products that will help free women from their time-consuming household, water collecting, or farming-related chores. The goal is to eventually allow them more of an opportunity to pursue income-generating activities, too.

The specific products haven’t yet been determined. But ExxonMobil kicked off the program by supporting a white paper by the International Center for Research on Women that identifies guidelines for developing and capitalizing on tech that can help increase women’s earning potential. For example, it suggests that businesses cultivate relationships with well-connected female “champions,” which could mean high-profile executives or even celebrities, to support and promote the invention.

The white paper could be of interest to corporations beyond ExxonMobil, of course, as it might spark ideas for new products and services—and therefore new markets and revenues.(Here’s a link to the PDF.)

I met with Lorie D. Jackson, director of ExxonMobil’s Women Economic Opportunities Initiative. She emphasized that while the effort is clearly a do-good project, it is also a business investment.

"We're building the next generation of business leaders by supporting women," Jackson said. The emerging-market countries where ExxonMobil has invested more than $20 million to date in previous skill-developing projects for women are all in nations where ExxonMobil has a business presence--such as Angola, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia. So in theory, the women that the company targets with these programs could eventually join ExxonMobil's work force.

Jackson also said that the initiative also will spark fresh areas of R & D for ExxonMobil. "We're going to be identifying the newest technologies for women," she said. This means that there could be new revenue streams for the corporation.

ExxonMobil will be spending $1.5 million on its Technologies to Improve Women's Economic Livelihoods program this year. It will be working with Ashoka, an association of social entrepreneurs, to research and target the inventions that the company might pursue.

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