In Conversation With Lloyd Blankfein

“Once you create the opportunity, little can hold these entrepreneurs back.”


Lloyd Blankfein is Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. In this exclusive interview, he talks about the Goldman Sachs Foundation’s groundbreaking 10,000 Women initiative and the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility (WEOF), a first-of-its-kind partnership with IFC, to improve access to finance for SMEs owned or run by women.

Launched in 2014, WEOF has now raised almost $1 billion to support women entrepreneurs across the developing world, helping to transform thousands of lives.


IFC PERSPECTIVES: Goldman Sachs launched the 10,000 Women initiative in 2008. What spurred that decision?

Lloyd Blankfein: In 2007, there was increasing concern that not enough people were sharing in the benefits of globalization. We obviously believe strongly in markets and recognized the need to identify ways we could support more economic opportunities for people. Our economists, as well as others, had done some work on women’s economic empowerment, and the clear economic and social benefits that come from more women participating in the economy.

As we dug deeper into the issues, one example that really struck a nerve was the fact that there was something like 2,000 slots for women MBAs on the continent of Africa. The schools just didn’t have the capacity, among other issues.

So we thought about how to create an infrastructure that could train and empower more women in developing economies and we settled on a certificate model that partnered with business schools around the world.

We shared the concept with the schools and tested it with people who had far more experience in this area than we did and the response was very positive. We never looked back.


Were you surprised at the success of the 10,000 Women program? Is there anything about the initiative that makes you especially proud?

The economic rationale was compelling and I thought if we could get the model right, then it would be a success.

I don’t know that I expected that 70 percent of graduates would report higher revenues in their business and nearly 60 percent would add new jobs. We’re obviously very proud of the results, but it also shows you how much untapped potential there was…and is.

But it’s the human element that matters and when you see how 10,000 Women has changed people’s lives, nothing really prepares you for that when you see it up close. When you see one woman entrepreneur grow, not just commercially, but professionally and personally, and think about the effect that has on her family and community…that’s what I’m most proud about.

“That’s what makes me most proud. Watching one female entrepreneur grow, commercially, professionally, and personally.”

—Lloyd Blankfein

For instance, 10,000 Women graduates, on average, go on to mentor something like eight other women each. The impact of that is pretty profound.


10,000 Women is widely regarded as having raised the bar for strategic philanthropy programs. What advice would you give to other private sector organizations considering similar initiatives?

First, I think it’s important to focus on an area that is relevant to your business and where you can make a difference. It didn’t make sense for us to focus on something like clean water or novel ways to deliver medicine to remote areas.

We had relationships with a number of business schools and a natural extension of that was to advance partnerships necessary to make the program a success.

As it relates to partnerships, I think it’s important to work with local institutions to deliver our program on the ground, given those institutions have the best understanding of the landscape, culture, and barriers faced by local entrepreneurs.

Finally, we hold our philanthropic work to the same standards as our other investments at the firm. We measure rigorously and developed a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system. Measurement is core to the program and has been vital to the success of 10,000 Women.


You began to partner with IFC on the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility (WEOF) in 2014. Why did you decide to do that?

As we spoke with our alumnae of the program, it was clear that we had an opportunity to further help women take their businesses to the next level by focusing on access to credit.

IFC’s own research estimated that as many as 70 percent of women-owned SMEs in developing countries are unserved or underserved by financial institutions.

Partnering with IFC was a natural next step, as it has a broad and deep presence in emerging markets, and a strong set of existing relationships with banks on the ground.

“Partnering with IFC was a natural next step.”

—Lloyd Blankfein


At the launch of the initiative, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said that your commitment was “very personal.” What did he mean by that?

Supporting, helping to grow businesses is in the DNA of Goldman Sachs—it’s what we do every day for our clients. Carrying this over to our philanthropic efforts made sense to me, and made sense to the people of Goldman Sachs.

Often, we are working on an institutional or corporate level in the context of significant numbers. But many of these enterprises began because of one person’s or a small group’s entrepreneurship.

I grew up in the projects of Brooklyn, NY but I benefited from an opportunity to attend college… through a financial scholarship.

I know about the power of opportunity and if we could create something that provided people with more personal opportunity and that contributed to broader economic growth, the multiplier effect of that would be hard to contain.


WEOF initially aimed to reach 100,000 women entrepreneurs. How did you decide on the 100,000 women target? Did it seem a lot at the time?

It’s still a large number! We knew we wanted to be ambitious having reached 10,000 women through the business education component of the program.

The leverage that IFC provided to the initial $50 million investment from the Goldman Sachs Foundation gave us confidence that we could reach the target number of women entrepreneurs.


You originally targeted total financing of $600 million but the program will soon reach $1 billion of commitments. How does that make you feel?

Reaching $1 billion will be a wonderful milestone for everyone involved. It highlights the need and opportunity to continue to invest in women entrepreneurs.

I’m proud that as a result of the success of the Facility more public-private partnerships have launched focused on women entrepreneurs.

IFC has been an outstanding partner and it has been critical in getting to this point.


The stated goal of WEOF was to enable 100,000 women to access capital. In its mid-point, the facility has reached almost 50,000 women entrepreneurs. What are your thoughts on this progress?

While we’re happy with the progress, there is so much more work to do. The financing gap is still unacceptably large. I’ve read that an estimated 40 percent of small and medium-sized businesses face an unmet financing need.


Following your success with 10,000 Women and WEOF, what’s next for Goldman Sachs in its efforts to support women?

Next, we are focused on leveraging technology to reach even more women in more corners of the world. Specifically, we are intent on creating a world-class online learning experience to support female entrepreneurs. The goal is to continue to transform entrepreneurship training globally, democratizing access to business education on a global scale, through a digitally delivered curriculum.


What were your goals and ambitions when you were first appointed CEO of Goldman Sachs? When you look back on your career, how does 10,000 Women and WEOF rank in terms of the things you are proudest of?

When I first became CEO, my priority was to ensure that I leave the firm stronger than I found it. That’s what I continue to focus on every day.

I couldn’t be more proud of 10,000 Women and our sister program, 10,000 Small Businesses, which helps provide skills and capital to small businesses in the U.S.

The opportunity to engage the entrepreneurs in these programs has been one of the great benefits of my job. I’ve gotten a tremendous amount out of those interactions and so have the people of our firm.

On WEOF, I am particularly proud that IFC chose to work with us to address this critical need. I view the facility as a powerful validation of 10,000 Women and one of the great public-private partnerships.


What is the biggest lesson you have learned from these programs?

I know how fortunate my colleagues and I are. We work with smart people in the firm and with equally talented clients. But, when you meet and talk with the participants of 10,000 Women, it only confirms that all of these entrepreneurs are smart, driven, and talented.

It’s a question of opportunity and who gets it. Once you create the opportunity, then little can hold back these entrepreneurs.


Looking back, if you could change one thing about either Goldman Sachs or your own commitment to 10,000 Women or WEOF, what would it be?

Thankfully, not much. We were intent on doing something meaningful, different, and scalable. The only thing I would change, knowing what I know now, is to have, of course, done it sooner.

But, when we first started, there was a lot we didn’t know, we wanted to be prudent with the resources and careful with whom we worked with. Of course now, I wish we would have gone faster. But I could only know that now.

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