I joined Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 50th Anniversary Forum yesterday to present the OECD's "Gender Mainstreaming Award" to the OECD Middle East North Africa Initiative for its work on women. The United States has supported the OECD MENA Initiative since its founding six years ago, and I am honored to co-chair its Women's Business Forum (WBF) with the Jordanian Ambassador to France. On Monday, the Network partnered with the U.S. Mission to the OECD and Venture Catalyst Private Equity Partners to convene a public-private partnership on private equity for women in the region.
MENA leaders adopted an Action Plan for Women's Entrepreneurship and Employment and called on the OECD to activate the Women's Business Forum in Marrakesh in 2009. In Beirut last November, the WBF rolled out its initial analysis on the access to finance and business services challenges that Arab women face. This type of data collection is essential to make the best case for investment and improve outcomes for women and girls. Today, at the OECD Ministerial Session on Development and Gender, Secretary Clinton called upon organizations focused on these important issues to work together on a plan to make all the data that is collected on women more comparable and useful, and to identify a list of common indicators for future data collection. The Women's Business Forum will continue to examine these challenges and work with MENA governments to try to increase opportunities for women in the region.
As I mentioned during the OECD 50th Anniversary ceremonies this week, we saw so much energy and entrepreneurial drive in our meetings in Marrakesh and Beirut -- if the barriers come down, these women can do amazing things. As President Obama said last Thursday, "The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East North Africa is the talent of its people." The MENA program and this initiative tap into that talent.