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Women and Sustainability: Women and Business Development at Rio+20 - An Interview with Tess Mateo

By: Danielle Nierenberg, Worldwatch Institute

Women Deliver is collaborating with Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project to highlight the important role of women, youth, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in sustainable development at the upcoming Rio+20 conference.

Name: Tess Mateo

Affiliation: Managing Director and Founder of CXCatalysts

Bio: Tess has served as director in the office of the CEO at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the strategic advisor to the Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy, and has launched a real estate group, technology company, and innovative specialty clothing line. Tess is also a member of the New York chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. Tess will be a panelist at the Innovative Collaborations Driving Inclusive Sustainable Growth event at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. The program is organized in part by CXCatalysts and BPW and will focus on women empowerment and clean water and clean energy business for sustainable growth.

What motivated you to get involved with BPW International and why is developing professional and leadership potential in women important?

People join organizations for all sorts of reasons but given the number of invitations I get, it comes down to the organization's members I meet. I recently got to know Freda Miriklis, the current President of the BPW International, and after learning about her vision for BPW and seeing how I both can contribute to and learn from the organization, I joined the New York chapter.

It is important to develop the professional and leadership potential in women because despite being nearly half of all new hires in most industry sectors, women's representation in senior positions in the private and public sectors is relatively low. Men and women think, operate and manage differently and this diversity of thought and action makes companies and organizations stronger.

Why do you think we should focus development on public-private partnerships and why is engaging women an essential piece to creating these partnerships?

The global financial crisis showed how interconnected we are across sectors and borders. It also showed us why more diversity is needed to balance perspectives and risk taking. In addition, in a future where collaboration is needed, because resources are increasingly limited given the demands of our booming global population, women are natural collaborators. 

In caring for our families, women are the ones who typically seek others to share the work and resources. 

What is your favorite part about coordinating with HabiHut on your current project? 

We are helping create a new model for development. HabiHut and CXCatalysts are both start ups but we are partnering with large MNCs to create real economic opportunities for women who will reinvest their earnings in their businesses. These opportunities that are focused on clean energy, clean water, waste management and sustainable food are also helping emerging countries address basic needs while leap frogging the wasteful growth path.

What topics related to women and business development will you be speaking about at the Rio +20 conference?

The private and public sectors are increasingly recognizing the multiplier effects of investing in women, particularly in emerging markets. Collaborative action to not only help women address their current challenges but also create new economic opportunities for them can change the face of development.  Directing women towards activities and opportunities that promote and or support green economic growth, can further accelerate sustainable development.

I started CXCatalysts to connect the dots of an ecosystem that includes businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, investors, academia and NGOs. CXCatalysts is a collaboration accelerator that develops and manages innovative programs that help companies profitably reach underserved markets and governments and multilateral institutions achieve their environmental and development goals. For example, we work with multinational companies and governments to leverage their "green economy" products, services and technologies to create opportunities for women and to scale these opportunities to multiple countries. Working with our "ecosystem of partners" we develop and manage innovative collaborations that ensure "soft and hard" infrastructure - like training, childcare and financing- are in place to support the entrepreneurs. In Kenya, we brought together women trained by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and screened them with NGO Umande to launch a GE solar power clean water HabiHut kiosk where women can sell clean water and cell phone charging minutes. In Guatemala, we connected several UN agencies, the NGO HELPs Int’l, Guatemalan retailer CEMACO and US-based industrial packaging global leader Greif, so women can sell lighter, safer and more ergonomic water backpacks that replace heavy and "dirty" jerry cans.

From your experience, what do you think are the biggest lessons learned regarding development and public-private partnerships? What would be your recommendations going forward?

In the past, development was the domain of the public sector. Today future growth will be in the emerging markets, and so now the private sector has a vested interest in the development of these economies. While public-private partnerships (PPPs) have existed in various forms around the world for decades, what's different is that these new partnerships, given our increasing interconnectedness and interdependencies, must be more holistic to take into account systematic impacts. Successful PPPs will take an integrated approach addressing economic, environmental and social impacts.

In what ways do you see women’s participation in business development contributing to sustainable growth? Let us know in the comments section!

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