Finance as a Tool for Social Change and Gender Equality – Women Deliver
September 26, 2018 Suzanne Biegel, Founder of Catalyst at Large/Co-Producer of the Gender-Smart Investing Summit Catalyst at Large

Finance as a Tool for Social Change and Gender Equality


The first ever Gender-Smart Investing Summit will take place in London this November. Leaders will come together to address how to deploy more capital, more strategically, with more velocity to achieve gender equality and to use finance as a tool to address issues that disproportionately affect women and girls.

Investing can be viewed as a lever in to drive policy interventions, public sector shifts in procurement and budgeting, philanthropy, media and culture, and even shifts in business behaviour. This concept isn’t new. Impact investing has become popular by fuelling investments with both social and economic objectives. Take it a step further, using a gender lens means being intentional about the gender factors and outcomes in financial decisions in order to make investments that are smarter and more impactful for women and girls.

This field of “gender smart investing” has grown exponentially in recent years with partnerships emerging across public and private sectors to accelerate the impact.

I believe there are three important principles to keep in mind to ensure we approach the use of finance as a tool in the most effective way possible.

1. Each actor has a critical role – or multiple roles - to play

Investors have different types of capital to deploy, timelines, priorities, and constraints. A few examples: A women’s foundation may have an endowment or be able to use program related funds from a grant to achieve their mission aligned objectives. A corporation has a range of capital from corporate venture capital to invest in ventures, to corporate foundation funding to support accelerators or pre-investable ventures. A development finance institution may invest debt or equity into companies, funds, or financial institutions seeking strong financial returns as well as development impact.

New blended capital vehicles involve investors with a range of motivations, aligning incentives to each investor’s needs and constraints.

There is also the ability to sequence capital: with philanthropic capital coming in to an early  stage initiative to prove a new model, and commercial capital coming in as an investor later, to scale the proven model.

A good understanding of appropriate financing tools and a strong grasp of gendered issues and opportunities is essential. And the ability for each actor to be clear about their priorities AND see the partnership opportunities, is key.

2. Differentiation matters

There are many types of financing vehicles; and each carries their own risks and returns. We must make it easier to see where different kinds of investment actors can make the greatest difference, and where choices are most appropriate given their parameters.

Similarly, women and girls are not “one segment” but many segments. We need to be clear about which women and girls, where, and with what opportunities and barriers they live. Women and girls can be powerhouses of innovation, represent big markets, but also may face barriers at every level of society. Are we talking about providing safe drinking water in rural Kenya, renewable energy access in Nepal, affordable education in Jakarta? Or are we talking about a high tech high growth job creation engine for women, crossing three continents? All of these represent gender-smart investing opportunities.

Gender-smart investing has vast and nuanced potential, and can be applied in all countries, at every level of society. Investors should be able to see options across the whole spectrum of investments, from philanthropy to blended finance to commercial investments.

Differentiation matters, and bold actors with smart, creative solutions that deliver for girls and women are coming forward. A new fund to invest in social ventures related to International Planned Parenthood in their  Western Hemisphere Region; a blended finance fund from Canada which deploys to both non-profit and for-profit solutions for women and girls; and customised investment strategies for women’s foundations enabling them to prioritise and set their own parameters.

Making investments in companies like these can be transformational.

3. Creativity and imagination can go a long way

The level of creativity and imagination we are seeing from both those bringing investment opportunities to market, and from investors themselves is exciting. The drive to break free from “business as usual” is palpable and people are working together imaginatively to solve age-old problems.

The issues that we care about are not going to be solved by investing in one company, or in one fund. They require systemic thinking, market level solutions, and partnerships. Take menstrual health access and affordability –I’m inspired by the team behind The Case for Her, who are investing in an ecosystem of solutions, recognising that investments are needed across product design, manufacturing, supply chains, distribution and education. Or the new Reproductive Health Investors’ Alliance in the US, which is addressing access and affordability to family planning, in an integrated, collaborative, research-based way.

One could also look at leaders like Katherine McCormick, the financier/philanthropist behind Margaret Sanger, as an early 20th century “gender-smart impact investor.”  She used her wealth to patiently, insistently, consistently fund and invest in the conception of the birth control pill. Since McCormick, we have seen a positive changes the use of investing to achieve gender equality. While the change has not been fast enough, I am energized and encouraged to know there are passionate advocates and investors working together to accelerate progress.

I am looking forward to our upcoming Summit and to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference where we can continue working together to find new and innovative investment solutions that deliver for girls and women.

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