Varsha Mahendra, center, is CEO and head designer of a custom sari business in Hyderabad, India. She participated in Goldman Sachs’ ambitious program to reach 10,000 women entrepreneurs with business training. Photo by: Goldman Sachs

In the world of corporate philanthropy, few programs are as recognizable as Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women initiative.

Created in 2008 as a bold five-year, $100 million pledge to train women in business and management, the initiative has garnered praise from governments and nonprofits, and has developed a brand for itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility for women.

(See infographic: ’Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women at a glance.’)

Five years after it began, Goldman executives say that they have no plans to close shop.

As they work on developing the next phase of the initiative, they point to their success in training 8,400 women and say they are on target to reaching the 10,000 by the end of 2013.

They are also proud of the program’s impact: Of 400 women tracked a year and a half after leaving the program, 82 percent report increased revenues, 68 percent say they have hired more employees, and 90 percent say they are mentoring other women, the company said.

A change in strategy

The initiative marked a significant shift from the way that Goldman had previously administered their philanthropic efforts. In the years before 10,000 Women, the company donated to wide-ranging organizations and awarded scholarships to young people.

That focus changed after Goldman published research on “womenomics,” which found that empowering more women in the workforce could lead to increases in GDP and reduce inequality, particularly in the developing world, company executives said. In the mid-2000s, the company began discussing more strategic ways to make a difference, said Joe Snodgrass, the chief operating officer of the Office of Corporate Engagement.

“There was a view that we wanted to have our philanthropy align with our business, and our business is economic growth. But we recognize that investments in regular markets don’t always distribute the benefits of growth equally,” Snodgrass said. “Interventions like this are needed to help better distribute the social benefits of economic growth.”

10,000 Women would serve as a model for the company’s 10,000 Small Businesses initiative in the United States and its 10,000 Small Business initiative in the United Kingdom.

Today, the Goldman Sachs Foundation solely funds these three programs and acts as an operating foundation closely involved with each program’s administration, said Noa Meyer the global program director for 10,000 Women.

“We don’t just write a check and hand it over to our partners and ask them to just let us know how it goes,” Meyer said. “We’re deeply involved in program delivery for each and every one of our partners.”

A global network

From their New York headquarters, the company oversees funding to 89 grantee universities and teaching institutions, the selection process of female candidates in 43 locations, and oversight and data collection for all the students, including post-program follow-up.

While Goldman Sachs did not disclose how much of the $100-million pledge it has spent so far, Snodgrass said that they are “on path to spend $100 million” by the end of the 2013. The company’s gift to Goldman Sachs Foundation does not include costs associated with running the foundation, salaries for staff, or in-kind contributions from employees that volunteer for the program, he added.

“The $100 million is just money that was given from the firm to the Goldman Sachs Foundation to execute this,” Snodgrass said. “If a Goldman Sachs person flies out to India to do a site visit, that’s not counted in the $100 million.”

According to publicly available nonprofit tax returns analyzed by Devex, the company spent $51.5 million on grants between 2008-2011 to 54 different institutions. If Goldman Sachs spends all $100 million by the end of the 2013, that means the Foundation will have had to grant $48.5 million in 2012 and 2013, or about $24 million each year – far more than they’ve spent in prior years.

Of the nations served through 10,000 Women grantee institutions, the single country with the largest recipient of aid was China, where institutions received about $8.7 million, followed by India with $6.3 million, and Brazil, where schools received more than $3 million between 2008-2011.

The grantee institutions are often U.S. universities that run overseas educational programs. Goldman funds each recipient directly after schools present a detailed budget that Goldman approves, several grantees said. The schools then select the candidates, often through an online application process, and develop Goldman’s business certificate program that is tailored to each country and local culture.

Each program has its own training schedule that can last from few months to seven months. Students must be the owner of a small business and in most cases have at least five employees. The women do business in a number of fields, including clothing manufacturing and design, handicrafts, agriculture, construction, tourism, catering, and dining.

“They were looking for women with entrepreneurial spirit and leadership qualities who usually wouldn’t have had experience with entrepreneurship training,” said Claire Fallender, director for global venture and fellowship at Ashoka, a nonprofit in Arlington, Va., that assisted Goldman on selection methods. “They wanted women who were from underserved populations but did have a business with growth potential.”

Finding that combination was challenging in Brazil, said Marcele Gama Viana, the program manager for Fundação Dom Cabral, a 10,000 Women grantee that has received about $1.4 million in grants from Goldman Sachs between 2008-2011. In one program, they have received 8,000 applications for only 600 positions, she said.

“The main difficulty is finding women who would have the capacity to absorb the concepts and the knowledge that the program brings. If they’re very underserved, they won’t have the capacity to absorb this program,” Gama Viana said. “That is our main difficulty, having this balance to have an underserved profile with growth potential for their business.”

The candidates they select often face financial difficulties and many are close to bankruptcy, due to the challenges of running a small business in Brazil, Gama Viana said. Their enrollment in the course, which takes place three days a month for seven months to earn 160-192 hours of training on financial strategy, management, negotiations, developing a business plan, and learning the local business registration process, gives them a significant boost, she added.

Finding qualified candidates wasn’t as difficult at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona. The school already had an exchange program for Afghan women to study business in the United States, but wanted to create a program in Afghanistan, said Kellie Kreiser, Executive Director and Assistant Vice President of Thunderbird for Good.

The business school approached Dina Powell when she was the outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Kreiser said.

Ms. Powell, who resigned from her State Department role in 2007, suggested the school contact her again when she took on her current role as Director of Global Corporate Engagement at Goldman Sachs. After more discussions, Thunderbird was one of the first universities to implement the 10,000 Women program.

The business school received nearly $2.7 million from Goldman for the Afghanistan program between 2008-2011, and it also receives funds from a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, another Goldman recipient, to run the 10,000 Women program in Peru.

Thunderbird was also tasked to run a public-private 10,000 Women partnership between Goldman Sachs and the State Department that brings women entrepreneurs from around the world to Arizona for an intensive two-week training.

Spearheaded by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department identifies and selects the women and Thunderbird runs the training. By the end of 2013, Thunderbird will have trained 1,100 women, 11 percent of all the women in the 10,000 program in “classic business concepts that have been proven to work all around the world,” Kreiser said. Classes range from 80-150 hours of education and run from several months to half a year.

“Goldman Sachs is a great example of a company that has taken their expertise around being savvy business people and being savvy corporate philanthropists,” Kreiser said.

Real-time data analysis

One of the hallmarks of the 10,000 Women initiative is a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system that Goldman designed with the aid of Bridgespan, a nonprofit strategy consulting firm headquartered in Boston. Goldman wanted to measure every aspect of the program, said Jeri Eckhart Queenan, a partner at Bridgespan, and that meant building a performance management system that all 10,000 Women partners could access around the world.

(Interact with the data:10,000 Women grant-level data’)

The data houses information about each participant before starting the program and Bridgespan trained data collectors around the world to track and interview participants after they graduate and to note changes to their business such as whether they have created new jobs or experienced revenue growth.

While such a comprehensive commitment to measurement is a characteristic of Goldman’s work as a financial services company, it is still uncommon in corporate social responsibility, Eckhart Queenan said.

“It quite unusual among corporate philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to do this,” Eckhart Queenan said. “They are trying to demonstrate that it is this intervention that caused the change.”

The tracking also allowed the company to use the data as it was being collected to continually improve the program.

For example, early on Bridgespan noticed that a smaller percentage of the women in the program were small and medium-sized enterprise owners than Goldman had intended, Eckhart Queenan said.

“Using the data, we could go back to the partners and say you’re actually selecting micro-entrepreneurs and this program is not designed to meet their needs. So they changed their behavior and now that percentage [of SMEs] has gone up significantly,” Eckhart Queenan said.

In addition to running the monitoring and evaluation program for the first four years of the initiative, Bridgespan also helped Goldman determine which countries would benefit the most from this program.

They performed an analysis that looked at a range of possible countries and modeled each country’s opportunity for impact based on the size of the small and medium enterprise sector and the number of women in the country, Eckhart Queenan added.

Bridgespan’s work was not as a 10,000 Women grantee, however.

Goldman Sachs hired Bridgespan for a fee that neither Bridgespan nor Goldman Sachs disclosed.

Questions about measurement and data sharing

While Goldman executives and grantees highlight the initiative’s extensive data collection, very little of that data has actually been made public.

The only publicly available data to date comes from a 2012 report by the International Center for Research on Women that evaluated the program’s work in India and concluded that the program made a positive impact on the lives participants.

The report found that of 31 graduates surveyed through a performance monitoring questionnaire, half of them at least doubled their revenues in 18 months after completing the program. Of 37 businesses that provided data about employment, the median number of employees increased from 6 to 10, a year and a half after the program, the report also found.

While the report notes that Goldman Sachs asked the ICRW to conduct the “first independent evaluation of the 10,000 Women program,” it did not say that the ICRW was a 10,000 Woman grantee that received $409,375 in 2011 to aid the initiative in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Rwanda.

It also received $266,459 from 2009-2011 to research and evaluate the 10,000 Women program in India, ostensibly to write the report. ICRW did not return requests for an interview.

The ICRW report concluded that the 10,000 Women program in India was instrumental to the women’s business success and growth but also said that increases in revenues and employment could be due to economic growth in India that created a supportive environment for small and medium sized enterprises.

The report also noted that the program was aimed at women entrepreneurs with high potential for growth and many graduates said they were able to get financial resources from their families.

These findings exemplify how difficult it is to assign causality to any one initiative, said Mike Laflin, a recently retired nonprofit executive who has spent 40 years in international development, the last 20 as the senior vice president of the Education Development Center, a global nonprofit that designs, delivers and evaluates education, health, and economic development programs.

“The data really don’t provide enough evidence to support or contradict the kind of results that the ICRW report cites,” Laflin said. “Increases in revenue and hiring more employees might have happened anyway because of improvements in the economy and the caliber of the participants – there is no way of knowing.”

Laflin also questioned the small sample used in the ICRW report, where findings were made after talking to between 25 and 41 participants in India out of a total thousands of participants in other countries.

“In other words, the program picked winners and did it during a time when the economy was booming in the only country that had an evaluation of the program. Not a bad strategy,” Laflin said. “But it may not allow an evaluator to say much that is useful or insightful about the program itself or the wisdom of Goldman Sachs’ investment, beyond the kudos they reap for doing it at all.”

Racheal Yeager, the director of the women’s empowerment initiative, the HERproject, at BSR, an organization that works with companies to on social responsibility strategies, agrees it is challenging to determine direct impacts of any one initiative. Increases in jobs and revenue may be due to Goldman Sachs efforts or the efforts of other programs to improve the lives of women, she added.

“This is not criticism of Goldman, it happens to all of us,” Yeager said. “We have that beautiful story and then we collect all the data and make connections between our program and the growth of those economies, but it’s really hard to do.”

For its part, Goldman Sachs said it is planning more evaluations of the program, both regionally and globally, in the future but said there are no plans to publish anything in the next few months.

“Evaluations are lengthy and time consuming processes. There will be a number of different evaluations that will explore different facets of the initiative, and probably a number of independent academic research documents as well,” Noa Meyer said referring to a forthcoming case study of 10,000 Women by the Harvard Business School.

Publishing evaluations of corporate social responsibility programs is common, but companies vary in how they present their findings, and some still don’t do it at all, philanthropy experts said.

Laflin said much of the funding at his former nonprofit, Education Development Center, came from USAID, and the agency typically paid for an independent evaluation of their programs. For private organizations, one way to create a fairer model for evaluation is to partner with a foundation or nonprofit with a similar mission and ask them to pay for the evaluation, he suggested.

At Ashoka, the nonprofit performs an impact study every two years, where they track their fellows to determine if the organization is in line with its mission to fund fellows that create system-changing results, said Claire Fallender. That evaluation is conducted pro bono by the Corporate Executive Board, a leading advisory company that performs data analysis, she added.

At Women’s World Banking, a nonprofit microfinance organization, president and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian said that most of the grants they’ve received in the last three years have all had separate funding for an external evaluation. For example, one of their funders, the Gates Foundation, has recently invested heavily in three evaluations for one program. One of the evaluators was also ICRW.

“That idea of a truly external evaluation, that is not one that I’m paying for, seems to be really gaining currency in the donor world,” Iskenderian said.

Detailed impact measurement reports are more common with very large grants, added Margaret Coady, executive director for the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

She cites as an example, the General Electric Foundation’s partnership with CPRE, a consortium of major universities, to study the impact of their $187-million Developing Futures in Education initiative that works with school districts to improve achievement.

An advocacy success

While the 10,000 Women initiative’s direct impacts are not yet public, the high-profile nature of the program has certainly created an impact by raising public and corporate awareness of the role of women in local economies, observers added.

“Goldman is definitely a household name in this space,” said Coady. Her organization was so impressed with the program their jury awarded the 2011 CECP Excellence Award in corporate philanthropy to Goldman Sachs for the company’s corporate leadership, innovation, dedication to measurement, and partnerships.

Kellie Kreiser at Thunderbird for Good said that the 10,000 Women program had a strong influence on the Clinton Global Initiative as well as other corporate programs at Koch Industries, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart.

“Goldman Sachs has been the gold standard of this work for years,” Kreiser said. “They’ve been inspirational in helping other companies think about how they want to do their philanthropy.”

Defining the future

The company is currently evaluating how they will continue 10,000 Women and plan to announce something in the fall, said Noa Meyer. They are also awaiting the Harvard Business School case study due out in two to three months by professor Christopher Marquis that will examine the last years of the program, and outline what they should do next.

The case study will be an update to an existing case study on the program that Marquis wrote for his classes as an example of corporate social responsibility. Goldman executives have guest lectured for his class as well.

“He says it’s the most popular case in the class,” Meyer said. The program’s popularity among young people also aids in the corporation’s recruitment efforts, added Joe Snodgrass.

“We are competing every day for talent and programs like this are extremely beneficial to our recruiting and retention efforts,” he said. “There’s loads of stats about Gen Y and the millennials and how they put more of an emphasis on social benefit, and we see that. We see that resonating with recruitment.”

Recent grants show that 10,000 Women is exploring the next steps for these women beyond business training. The company has partnered with WEConnect International, a nonprofit that offers a marketplace for women-owned businesses to reach large corporations.

WEConnect will work with 30 graduates of the 10,000 women program in India for a year under a new mentoring program, said WEConnect CEO Elizabeth Vazquez.

Once WEConnect certifies the companies as women-owned, the graduates will also have access to a portal that allows small businesses to bid on contracts at corporations.

Goldman Sachs is also delving into microfinance through a partnership with Women’s World Banking, said Iskenderian.

In late 2010, the company asked WWB to find a bank in Nigeria that would develop a product to aid their 10,000 Women graduates there.

WWB worked with Diamond Bank to create savings accounts and offer tax advice to women that just launched in March. Anecdotally they have already seen three times the normal rate of account openings at pilot branches,” Iskenderian said.

“The banks there didn’t want a lot of very small accounts that had lots of transactions associated with them,” Iskenderian said. “We worked with a bank to change the way it would lend to the SME population and convinced them that banking with these women would be profitable.”

As Goldman considers it’s next steps, Racheal Yeager, at BSR said that she hopes they expand their focus to employment rights for all women and not just entrepreneurs.

“There are millions of women who are not going to be, nor do they want to be, entrepreneurs, they just want decent jobs that pay them fairly,” Yeager said. “That’s another side of the women’s empowerment story that needs to be told. One tends to get more press and a lot more corporate investment has gone into female entrepreneurship than into formal employment.”

Yeager said she also hopes Goldman Sachs considers a focus on training women-owned social enterprises and NGOs around the world that need assistance in running their organizations more effectively.

“I work with a lot of women-led nonprofits. They are super brilliant and do a great job, but they struggle with a lot of these basic issues that Goldman is teaching in their 10,000 Women program,” Yeager said.

“Goldman Sachs could try to be more intentional about the type of businesses that they are targeting. There are social enterprises and nonprofits doing good work in communities that need good accounting systems too.”

See infographic: ’Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women at a glance.’ 

Interact with the data: ‘10,000 Women grant-level data’

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