The news coming from the financial sector these days is nothing but bad. Writedowns. Layoffs. Lawsuits. Rolling heads. The dark side of leverage has created economic turmoil. But here's a ray of light. On Wednesday March 5th, CEO Lloyd Blankfein announced a new initiative called 10,000 Women. The goal is to "provide 10,000 underserved women, predominantly in developing and emerging markets, with a business and management education." For all those likely feeling the pressure created by challenging markets and financial turmoil, this is a reason to smile.
The initiative is based on a truth that once seemed to only circulate among grass-roots women's organizations. It has since come to be accepted as cold hard fact. When you empower women, not only do you change a single woman's life for the better, you have a positive impact on her family, her community, her country, and the world. Goldman research [PDF] indicates that when you close the gender gap in employment in key emerging markets, you can lift per capita income 10-14% above baseline forecasts by 2020. As reported in FT.com, this research suggests that higher levels of female education could have raised GDP growth rates in emerging markets by .2% already over the past 10 years. Says Blankfein, "We not only follow GDP around the globe, we try to create it." In the social change world, this is called "the multiplier effect." In the world of finance, it's called "leverage." Trust Goldman Sachs, the financial leader and innovator in world, to create such a unique, bold and inspiring program for change.
Since last summer when the housing asset bubble burst, we have been seeing the negative effect of financial leverage. The first victim was the sub-prime borrower who was given a mortgage that he/she could not truly afford for a home that was valued too high. Their defaults, or perceived likelihood of default, caused the prices of their pooled loans to tumble. These assets owned by a variety of financial players, employing a high degree of leverage, suffered big losses causing them to have to sell assets. These sales led to a further decrease in prices of those securities, billions of which were held by large financial institutions, Goldman Sachs included, leading to even bigger write downs. Out of need to protect their balance sheets, banks have virtually shut down their lending, sucking the leverage out of the system so quickly that hedge funds are starting to close their doors.
Many, including Pimco's Bill Gross, are now calling for a financial system Armageddon the likes of which we have never experienced. In desperation, financial behemoths have had to go to the capital markets for money, and the main providers have been sovereign wealth funds of the emerging countries.
What a contrast. While much of Wall Street is running for cover and looking out for their own survival, Goldman chooses the moment to launch an initiative that has the potential to help change the world. Goldman's vision to empower women entrepreneurs with a business education is an important component in support of long-term economic growth. May other corporate leaders similarly use their resources and convening power, in partnership with women's organizations on the ground, to power solutions that bring about holistic and lasting change.