09/19/2013 03:20 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

Want Stronger Economies and Communities? Empower Women

Building on the first debate to accelerate progress towards the MDGs, the Skoll World Forum partnered with Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Huffington Post to produce another online debate--this time focused on critical issues that do not have enough of a spotlight in the discussions on how to achieve the MDGs or what should be in the next global development framework. As part of that discussion, we asked some of the world's leading experts what's not being discussed during UN Week this year about the post-2015 development framework, but should be? View the full debate here.

Problem: With fewer than 850 days to achieve the Millennium Development Goals the global community needs high-impact solutions to fight poverty and improve millions of lives.

Barrier to Progress: Women have a harder time accessing credit and capital; carry a heavier burden of household responsibilities; and are more likely to work in the informal economy and in insecure jobs.

Solution: Women's economic empowerment drives progress toward poverty elimination, as well as our health, education, and gender equality goals.

"Can women save the economy?" asked a recent headline. This is just one of many discussions about women and the economy happening at kitchen and conference room tables around the world.

Here is what we know: Economic empowerment strengthens women, their families, their communities, and their countries.

Research suggests that increasing women's economic opportunities would raise productivity. In addition, women invest their earnings in the education and health of their children, helping to chip away at the causes of persistent, intergenerational poverty. And women who pursue their economic dreams often have a greater voice at home, nurture their daughters' aspirations by example, and help transform society.

Yet today, many women across the globe face extraordinary barriers as they seek better futures and fortunes. Generally, women have a harder time accessing credit and capital. They carry a heavier burden of household responsibilities and are more likely to work in the informal economy and at insecure jobs. And too many women - an estimated 222 million - lack reliable access to voluntary family planning services and the health and economic benefits that come with being able to plan one's family.

This needs to change. Providing equal economic opportunities for women is an issue of fairness; it is also smart development strategy.

With fewer than 850 days until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the world's shared agenda to fight poverty and improve millions of lives, the international community is looking for high-impact solutions. Women's economic empowerment fits the bill. It drives progress toward poverty elimination, as well as our health, education, and gender equality goals. That is why the United Nations and many other organizations have made it a priority.

While the need to empower women in the economy has been discussed, now the question that needs attention is, "How do women become empowered?"

The United Nations Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation teamed up to examine this question. We commissioned and reviewed the best existing research to identify proven, promising, and high-potential interventions that reliably increase women's productivity and earnings in particular settings and for women with specific economic circumstances.

This week, we released the findings in a first-of-its-kind report, A Roadmap for Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment. Key findings include:

Savings: Providing women access to savings accounts increases their earnings.

Electricity: For female farmers and entrepreneurs in rural areas, access to electricity increases productivity and earnings.

Training: Increasing the quality and duration of business training, and coupling it with other services like site visits, could improve its impact.

Land property rights: Giving women farmers control and formal ownership of their land increases productivity and strengthens economic security.

Child care: Access to quality, affordable child care increases wage employment and earnings.

Mobile phones: Mobile phones support women farmers and entrepreneurs by providing less expensive financial transaction services, access to market information, and privacy and autonomy.

The report also notes that very poor women need packaged services, not just stand-alone services, in order to grow their endeavors, earn more money, and climb out of poverty. For these interventions to succeed, however, programs must be competently designed and executed and consider a woman's local context, daily needs, and constraints.

While this report expands the body of knowledge of women's economic empowerment, our work is not done. More research is needed, and more must be learned. This work begins anew as its lessons are shared, tested, and enhanced.

Women are as economically capable and talented as men. It is time they have the same chances to participate and thrive. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "No country can achieve its full economic potential when women are left out or left behind." Instead of keeping women out, let's work to unlock the doors of opportunity everywhere. When women prosper, we all prosper.