Wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading lawyer and committed campaigner for women’s rights, Cherie set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008 to help women build small and growing businesses in developing and emerging markets so that they can contribute to their economies and have a stronger voice in their societies.
Cherie studied law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar in 1976. She became a Queen’s Counsel in 1995 and in 2000 co-founded Matrix Chambers.
Cherie currently also sits as a Recorder, as part-time judges are known, and is an accredited mediator. In 2007, she was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal “in recognition of her high ideals and courageous actions”. Cherie also holds Honorary Degrees at the Open University and Liverpool Hope University.
As well as fighting for human rights in her professional career, Cherie is an active campaigner on equality and human rights issues.
In addition to founding her own charity, she remains closely involved with charities with a special emphasis on women and children. She is a member of the International Center for Research on Women’s Leadership Council, Ambassador for the GSMA Women Programme, Honorary Vice President of Barnados, President of the Loomba Foundation, Ambassador for Scope, Trustee of Africa Justice Foundation and Patron of a number of charities, including Breast Cancer Care and SolarAid.
Cherie is also Vice-Chair of the US Secretary of State’s International Council for Women’s Business Leadership and Honorary Chair of the World Justice Project. Cherie was an Ambassador for London 2012, supporting the bid to host the Olympics in the UK and was awarded a CBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List for services to women’s issues and to charity in the UK and Overseas.
Under the slogan “Empowering Women, driving growth” your foundation has been an active force in developing and empowering women around the world. What are the main ideologies behind the Cherie Blair Foundation? What have been some of your most successful initiatives?
The mission of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is to provide women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies with confidence, capability and capital so they can grow their businesses, create employment opportunities and, ultimately, have a stronger voice in their societies.
Studies have shown that when you empower a woman, you empower an economy, and indeed a nation. This is because women invest 90% of their income back into their families and communities, which benefits both their immediate society and the wider economy.
This year marks our sixth year of supporting women entrepreneurs, and I am proud to say that since I established my Foundation in 2008 we have reached well over 100,000 women in more than 70 countries across the world.
We aim to provide women entrepreneurs with access to skills, technology, networks and capital – and we do this by offering a range of services, from online mentoring and training in key business skills to access to financial services via mobile technology.
I think the best way to demonstrate the success of my Foundation is to tell you about the women we work with. Take Sahar, for example, who has her own bee-keeping business making honey in Lebanon, where we run one of our business training programmes. Before joining the programme, Sahar struggled with business management.
Our programme provided her with an initial four-day intensive business planning workshop, followed by coaching from a specialist Business Advisor, and she is now receiving on-going business incubation support.
Sahar is also focusing on improving her bookkeeping skills, developing a corporate identity and meeting with potential investors. In addition, with the support of advisors in the programme, Sahar has secured a loan so she can buy packaging materials and expand to meet increasing demand. As a result, she has already seen a 60% increase in profit – a truly impressive amount. With this she plans to repay her loan and reinvest in the business
Mrs Blair, what brought you to get involved in setting up this foundation, and how important would you say is empowering and developing women for any nation?
Women’s economic empowerment is vital to driving economic growth in every country in every part of the world, so of course it should be a global priority. The idea for setting up the Foundation came from the time when I was the wife of the Prime Minister. I was lucky enough to travel a lot then, both with him and by myself, and I visited parts of the world I would not normally have visited as a lawyer.
I met some formidable women in senior positions in banks, for example, and others too who were setting up their own businesses and paving the way for more women to take the same path. I was also struck by the greater number of inspiring women I met who hadn’t been able yet to make that leap.
These were women who were desperate for economic independence and the ability to support themselves and their families, who wanted to gain the respect of their communities and fulfil their potential as contributors to their economy. All they needed was the right help. That was the why I set up my Foundation for Women.
The world has started to recognize the important contributions that women are bringing in different fields, from politics, business and social change? What can be done to further increase the number of woman taking a more proactive role in business, politics and social change?
There is no simple solution to the challenge of bringing women into the global economy and ensuring that they can play a full role in their societies and economies. But collaboration is a crucial part of the answer. It is vital that governments, commercial organisations, NGOs and public sector players build partnerships that create the optimal conditions for women’s entrepreneurship to thrive.
They need to collaborate to provide tailor-made tools and approaches to reinforce women’s capacities to start and build sustainable businesses. Technology is also a vital part of the equation – through technology we can empower women and drive growth on a global scale like never before.
Your recent visit to the UAE for the Women in Leadership Forum, was very well received in this country.How would you describe the work being done in this region when it comes to women’s empowerment? With operations in all 5 continents, where would you say there is a need of strengthening your efforts for creating a bigger impact?
There’s definitely a growing climate of optimism around the issue of women’s empowerment in the UAE.
Emirati women increasingly own their own businesses and make up two thirds of government university enrolments. In 2012 the UAE also became the first country in the Arab region and only the second country in the world to make it mandatory to appoint women to UAE boards.
The government realised that introducing more capable women into leadership roles in a male-dominated area would not only make companies more competitive but also encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
At last year’s Women in Leadership Forum in Dubai, I was encouraged to hear the His Excellency Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansoori, UAE Minister of Economy, give an inspiring speech about the key role of women in the future of the UAE, and I look forward to seeing further progress on this vital issue in the coming years.
As for my own Foundation, one of our key priorities for the next five years will be financial inclusion – in other words, ensuring that women have access to the financial services they need to be successful business owners.
Many women entrepreneurs worldwide are unable to take out a loan, do not have access to a bank, or have a limited understanding of how finances work. That’s why my Foundation is seeking to strengthen our efforts to increase women’s access to financial services.
Last year, for example, we launched an exciting new project in the UAE with our partners JP Morgan Chase Foundation and PlaNet Finance. Together we will support 100 women to grow profitable, sustainable and scalable businesses, by enhancing their skills through in-depth business training and coaching. Facilitating women’s access to capital is also a key component of this initiative and we will be building strong links with banks and other financial institutions to ensure that they extend their services to women entrepreneurs.
What would your final message be to people reading this article?
I would urge everyone to consider how they could make a contribution themselves towards the empowerment of women in their communities. For example, could you promote policies in your own workplace that foster women’s leadership and development, or perhaps partner with an organisation like my Foundation to help widen our reach and support even more women? After all, supporting women to thrive in the world of work drives economic growth, and brings wider benefits for all.
For more information about the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women please visit www.cherieblairfoundation.org.