by Marc Gunther
March 12, 2008: 7:06 AM EDT
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Goldman sees gold in helping women

In pledging $100 million to help women around the world, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein wants his firm to embrace do-gooding in a way that is defensible to shareholders.

By Marc Gunther, senior writer

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein at the recent unveiling of '10,000 Women' at Columbia University.

(Fortune) -- Women hold up half the sky.

That's a Chinese proverb favored by Chairman Mao. It's also the title of a new Goldman Sachs research report that argues that women, in rich and poor countries alike, aren't getting due credit for their contributions - that gender gaps persist in education, healthcare, work, wages and political power.

Goldman Sachs is promising to do what it can to rectify that imbalance. The investment bank last week announced a $100 million global initiative, the biggest in its history, called "10,000 Women." The effort is aimed at providing at least that many women, mostly in emerging markets, with an education in business and management.

It's a smart move by Goldman. Lots of groups and individuals - think CARE, UNIFEM, or Oprah Winfrey - support the education of girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Many others - Accion,, Finca, Global Giving, Trickle Up - are ready to help women start microenterprises with loans or grants.

What about the women who already run small businesses that they want to scale up? Thousands will have the chance to learn how to do so, thanks to Goldman and group of 16 business schools that are partners in "10,000 Women." Included are the business schools at Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford and Wharton, as well as business schools in Egypt, India, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Women will have access to "high quality, short term courses in management and business that focus on basic business skills," says Dina Powell, a Goldman managing director who is overseeing the effort. "How do you write a business plan? How do you access capital? What about your accounting?"

At the launch of"10,000 Women" at Columbia, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein explained the initiative by saying: "We not only chase GDP around the globe, we try to create it." Markets outside the United States already account for more than half of Goldman's revenue.

Powell told me that "10,000 Women" took root in Blankfein's office. (You can read my colleague Bethany McLean's excellent profile of the Goldman CEO here.) Blankfein was looking for a high-profile philanthropic project that would address the issue of globalization. He also wanted a project that would excite Goldman's staff and be defensible to its shareholders. You may recall that his predecessor, Hank Paulson, ran into shareholder criticism several years ago when the company donated 680,000 acres of land in Tierra Del Fuego for conservation, a favored cause of Paulson's. Corporate giving, after all, is giving away other people's money, so it needs to be connected to a business purpose.

The business case for "10,000 Women" is fairly clear. As Goldman's 16-page research on women (available for download here) shows, the education of women is a key driver of macroeconomic growth. Goldman's Sandra Lawson writes:

... greater investments in female education could yield a 'growth premium' that raises trend GDP growth by about 0.2% per year. Narrowing the gender gap in employment - which is one potential consequence of expanded female education - could push income per capita as much as 14% higher than our baseline projections by 2020, and as much as 20% higher by 2030.

What's more, there's clearly an unmet need for business education in the global south. In all of Africa, a continent of 900 million people, there are only about 2,600 women with MBAs.

Powell, a native of Egypt who worked in the Bush White House and as assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs before joining Goldman last June, says she has seen firsthand the impact that strong women can have in poor countries. "Giving a woman an opportunity can produce the smartest return on the dollar possible," says Powell.

The project is also designed so that Goldman's people in the United States and overseas can lend their brainpower by serving as mentors to women entrepreneurs, for example. Like top law firms, the big investment banks are now expected to provide their employees with ways to volunteer their talents while making gobs of money.

It also can't hurt Goldman to be identified with an issue that matters to women, and one with some visibility on the campuses of the U.S.'s top business schools - places where Goldman competes with other investment banks for talent. The bank, like most, was a male-dominated preserve for years. Today, Goldman has 54 female partners, out of a total of 383 partners.

As a firm, Goldman has good reason to be in a generous mood these days. It enjoyed record revenues of $46 billion and record profits of $11.6 billion last year. In 2007, Blankfein earned $68.5 million and its two co-presidents, Gary Cohn and John Winkelried, earned $67.5 million each in salary, bonus and stock. To top of page

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