Earlier this month, ImpactAlpha published a list of 22 impact markers that investors should be paying attention to in 2022, filed under five broad themes: The Reconstruction in 2022, Impact in Emerging Markets, Climate Finance, Catalytic Capital, and Capitalism Reimagined.
ImpactAlpha is always on the leading edge of impact investing, and their team’s ability to synthesise the big themes and trends is powerful. Their coverage has also played a significant role in putting gender lens investing on the map.
The piece got me thinking about the many connections between the areas of impact and innovation ImpactAlpha identified and the work being done in the gender-smart investing community. If you’re an investor who cares about impact, and you’re not already bringing a gender lens to your investments, read on to learn why you should be paying attention.
The Reconstruction in 2022
As ImpactAlpha notes, the number of Black and Brown entrepreneurs has grown significantly in the US throughout the pandemic, up 38% and 15% respectively between February 2020 and September 2021, with the number of businesses started by Black women growing fastest of all. But these entrepreneurs are still vastly underinvested: ProjectDiane reports that Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs received just 0.43% of all venture capital investment in 2020.
To address this discrepancy, as well as to address other inequalities relating to gender, race, and ethnicity, a growing number of gender lens funds in the private markets — along with public markets trailblazers such as Adasina Social Capital’s ETF JSTC — are employing dual gender and race/ethnicity lenses. 47% of the private market funds that responded to Project Sage 4.0 reported that they consider gender and race or ethnicity in their decision making process — you can learn more about this new class of funds here. Stay tuned also for GenderSmart’s forthcoming JEDI investment toolkit, which will cover the what, the why, and the how of investing with a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion lens.
According to ImpactAlpha, two levers that will be key to moving capital to entrepreneurs and businesses whose work can powerfully address racial inequality — as well as address the still vast racial and other inequities of which entrepreneurs receive investment capital in the first place — are building investment vehicles that are flexible and appropriate to the needs of the entrepreneur, and models that shift power and ownership. In both these areas, gender-smart investors are at the leading edge: see this spotlight on alternative and innovative finance from the 2021 GenderSmart Investing Summit, Aunnie Patton Power’s recent book, Adventure Finance, or take a look at Criterion Institute’s work on metrics to analyse power dynamics in investing.
Impact in Emerging Markets
ImpactAlpha notes the growing role of B2B tech ventures in financing small and growing enterprises in emerging markets, filling the gap left by “traditional sources of capital like banks, development finance institutions, and microfinance,” as well as the growth of fintech and its potential for serving both underbanked businesses and customers. “African startups are on pace in 2021 to more than double the capital raised in each of the last two years,” ImpactAlpha notes.
These shifts are powerful for their ability to get capital into the hands of entrepreneurs who need it, as well as giving customers the tools to fully participate in the 21st century economy. They are particularly crucial for women, who as entrepreneurs are statistically less likely than men to have access to appropriate banking services, insurance, and loans, and who as customers are at greater risk of physical and other forms of abuse when they lack access to basic financial resources. Too often, women’s needs and perspectives are sidelined by fintech entrepreneurs and investors, but there are many who are getting it right, including the People’s Pension Trust in Ghana, Pula Advisors, Aflore, Tyme, and myAgro.
For these reasons, it is essential that women are addressed and included throughout the fintech value chain: as customers, employees, owners, and in marketing and distribution. As the sources of capital in emerging markets continue to diversify, it’s also important that we pay attention to which entrepreneurs have access to and receive that capital — not only because there are categories of entrepreneurs that have been systemically left out, but even more because there are smart businesses coming from those entrepreneurs. Gender lens funds that are doing powerful work in this area include Accion Venture Lab and Women’s World Banking.
The climate crisis — and its solutions — continue to be top of mind for many people in the impact investing space, with once cutting edge technologies such as solar energy and electric vehicles on the brink of going mainstream, climate mega funds looking for new places to put their capital, and carbon markets booming in Europe and North America.
ImpactAlpha notes the important role that communities of colour have to play in this transition, both due to their proximity to many of the challenges of the climate crisis, and the opportunity the solutions represent for generational health and wealth. To this I would add, let’s not forget about women of colour: who are proving to be innovators in the climate field, but as I wrote above, are one of the most underinvested groups.
In impact investing, gender and climate have historically been treated as separate lenses, but on the fund and entrepreneur level, they are more intertwined than some might expect. In Project Sage 4.0, 50% of gender lens funds reported a climate focus, and women climate entrepreneurs such as Gro Intelligence’s Sara Menker are developing essential solutions — and raising serious capital in the process.
As I noted in a recent article for GreenBiz, investing in gender and climate is not solely about investing in women founders. It means looking at governance, ownership and leadership, employment, and consumers. If you’re interested in learning more about the opportunities at the intersection of gender and climate, GenderSmart has facilitated a Gender & Climate Investment Working Group for the past two years, and published a groundbreaking report, Gender & Climate Investment: A Strategy for Unlocking a Sustainable Future.
There is a shift in progress to the way that investors perceive high-impact, early stage capital: away from terms like “concessionary” and “below market” and towards more positive terms like “catalytic” and “patient capital.” As ImpactAlpha observes, “Having the flexibility to accept higher risks, lower returns or longer time horizons in order to jump into the deep end of social impact is increasingly seen as a privilege, not a burden.”
Gender-smart stalwart Ceniarth features in ImpactAlpha’s analysis as one of the family offices leading this change. I also see this attitude in the work of other gender-smart investors such as Ruth Shaber, whose early investment was crucial to anchoring RHIA Ventures, and Jacki Zehner, who consistently shows up for and deploys capital to first-time gender lens fund managers. Public sector development agencies also play an important role when it comes to catalytic gender lens capital: I think of DFAT’s funding of the Pacific RISE project and Investing In Women, or Global Affairs Canada’s investment in the Equality Fund, and USAID’s Catalyze and Invest programmes, for just a few examples.
We need more gender lens investors to follow their lead: to spot and support the innovators in the gender-smart investing space, to invest in first-time fund managers and the leading edge fund managers working at the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity, and put in the grant money needed to fund research and development on new and cutting edge ideas. Don’t see it as a risk — see it as an opportunity to back the innovators.
There is a growing dissatisfaction among both the investment community and the general public with capitalism as usual. As ImpactAlpha puts it, “Our economic system and social contract is due for a reset.”
Part of this reset will come from shifting the contract between workers and employers: whether that means centring workers’ voices, creating interventions that address past injustices, or using our power as shareholders to influence company policy to create better jobs.
Gender-smart investors are working across all these areas. Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s Four For Women offers a framework for evaluating companies’ impact on the women they employ. Adasina Social Capital’s JSTC ETF excludes from its investment criteria any company that has a forced arbitration clause, a practice that literally silences workers’ voices.
Organisations like Whistlestop Capital, As You Sow, and Share Action are mobilising investors specifically on the issues of relevance to women — with the view that if you make it better for women, you make it better for everyone. Meanwhile, nascent investment fields like the care economy are raising new questions about the fundamental purpose of investment, while new investment vehicles from Native Women Lead and others are being structured intentionally to challenge the norms of investment in white settler countries.
What You Can Do
I encourage you to look at your activities across these five areas and ask yourself where a gender lens might already be there, where the opportunities are to bring a gender lens to investments that don’t already have them, and what new investments you could make to bring a gender lens to your portfolio. Then get behind them, and move your assets and energy in this direction.
If the ideas and initiatives in this article inspire you, I encourage you to reach out to the people behind them to explore ways you can collaborate or otherwise uplift their work. And please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your questions or ideas — either in the comments below, or via DM.
Finally, I invite you to get involved in the GenderSmart community, which is spearheading exciting initiatives across climate, racial equity, first time and diverse fund managers, the care economy, and more, and is home to so many investors who are doing deep work on the metrics, investment vehicle desires, and tools we need to fund the ideas that will build the world we all want to see.