Are You Surprised That Ivanka's 'Global Women's Empowerment' Initiative Was a Flop?

Are You Surprised That Ivanka's 'Global Women's Empowerment' Initiative Was a Flop?
Image:Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Remember when “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump launched an initiative dedicated to “women’s global economic empowerment” back in 2019? The one that promised to “advance women’s access to vocational training, fuel female entrepreneurship and lift legal and social barriers that restrict our full and free economic participation.” The one that prompted an event in which Ivanka danced with a bunch of African women, a moment she probably points to whenever anyone accuses her of being racist. Right, well, apparently Trump’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative was a bit of a flop.

Politico reports that the legislation that propped up the W-GDP has been slammed by auditors at the Government Accountability Office. They’ve accused the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversaw the implementation of the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018, of reporting incomplete and inconsistent data and failing to define what a poor, women-owned business even was.

From Politico:

W-GDP aimed to codify gender analysis and deliver targeted finance across the women’s programs of 10 U.S. Government agencies. At the individual level, the hope was that poor women entrepreneurs would receive the financial kick-start they needed to build a business.
One of the 10 agencies involved was the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is mandated to allocate $265 million a year for support to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises under the WEEE Act. Half of the money is required to go to women, half to the very poor (some overlap between the two groups is expected).
While Trump touted W-GDP as a cohesive program “enabling us to rigorously track the execution and the efficacy of the money that we are spending,” the GAO’s 14-month audit demonstrates that, at least at USAID, the opposite was happening.

So… were these Inspiring Photos for naught?

Here’s a snippet from the lengthy GAO assessment, emphasis ours:

USAID has not defined and does not collect information necessary to meet its statutory targeting requirements for enterprises owned, managed, and controlled by women. According to a USAID document and officials, USAID does not currently have a definition for enterprises owned, managed, and controlled by women because there have been challenges in defining or identifying these enterprises, such as:
• Difficulties in creating a common definition of an enterprise that includes all three aspects of being owned, managed, and controlled by women, in part because individual definitions vary according to countries’ own laws.
• Difficulties in identifying the gender of enterprise owners because USAID officials sometimes receive only the name of the enterprise, not the name of the owner.
• Difficulties with women’s self-identification as an owner, manager, or one in control of a business, due to social norms in some countries.
Officials in USAID’s PCM Office said they are working with the Office of Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment to develop guidance for bureaus and missions on the definition of enterprises owned, managed, and controlled by women.

In other words, they tried to help poor women in developing countries Lean In, but didn’t even know how to apply this broad, buzzy Women’s Empowerment™ venture in the real world. Who could have predicted that trying to apply a one-size-fits-all, American-centric ethos to women in varying nations with varying customs and norms wouldn’t be that easy?

(A lot of people, actually.)

And it turns out that all the photo ops in the world couldn’t get Trump’s program, or many others run by USAID, to help the most vulnerable populations.

From Politico, emphasis ours:

One of Ivanka Trump’s favorite anecdotes about women’s empowerment on global conference stages from New York to Doha focused on her efforts to empower Colombian women, whom she visited in September 2019 with USAID administrator Mark Green. The American and Colombian governments went as far as to issue a joint communique on their shared vision.
Below the surface, there were already problems with USAID’s programs in Colombia. The GAO singled out USAID’s Colombian funding of a Productive Entrepreneurships for Peace program and a Rural Finance Initiative as examples of projects with important general inclusion goals, which also failed to meet the WEEE Act requirement to fund the very poor directly.

Again, pretty hard to offer money and resources to the “very poor” if you don’t even know how to define them.

This, of course, isn’t explicitly the fault of Ivanka Trump alone. She was largely a shiny blonde figurehead by which to helm this well-meaning but flawed venture; an excuse for Ivanka to inflict her Ivankaisms upon the world. But it’s hard to envision Trump losing sleep over a scathing review of her passion project. While the USAID gets its shit together, Trump is probably plotting her return to the public eye.

At least she’ll always have the memories of standing next to miscellaneous Black and brown women.

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