Investing for good: 14 impact-focused gender lens funds

Image credit: jozefmicic

As the gender lens investing field grows in size and profile, one question I get asked a lot is how to separate the funds that are investing with a broad gender lens, from the funds that are focused on transformative impact for women.

Most frequently, I hear this question from impact investors and philanthropists who want to use investment as a tool for women’s empowerment and wellbeing — be it in healthcare, education, or something else. But this focus on transformative impact is also increasingly in the vernacular of a broader range of investors.

It’s a complicated question to answer. One could argue that any fund that invests in women, or any other group that has been traditionally marginalised, has a positive impact.

On the flipside, some gender-smart impact investors want to know that the funds they’re investing in are not only investing in women-owned businesses, but in businesses that are creating good jobs for women, and creating products and services that positively impact women’s lives. They are looking for funds that have a focus on shifting gender dynamics and transforming the lives of women and girls. This can be hard to find. What’s even harder — currently impossible — is to find a fund focused on shifting gender dynamics for men and boys (which is equally important to gender lens investing).

What the funds in this article have in common is that they go beyond “counting women” to look at qualitative measures: be it in how they make their investment decisions (and the stakeholders they involve in that process), the structural challenges they are seeking to address, the support they provide their investees to achieve gender benchmarks and impact goals, or how they evaluate the outcomes of their investments. And almost all have a bigger agenda to influence the gender lens investing field beyond their own fund.

This is not an exhaustive list; it’s designed to be a representative sample of work happening around the globe. Overall, I’m tracking 220+ private market gender lens funds. Please add any funds with a gender lens you love that you believe are truly impact-focused in the comments.

WISH (Women in Safe Homes) Fund — UK

Believed to be the world’s first gender lens property fund, Women in Safe Homes supports women who are at risk of homelessness due to abuse or other challenging circumstances, with the aim of acquiring housing for 6000+ women and children across the UK. The fund is an example of innovative partnership in action: the fund was developed by Big Society Capital with leading property investor Patron Capital and impact investment fund manager Resonance, while leading women’s charities manage the housing and provide other specialist support. Women in Safe Homes was launched in December 2020 with an initial investment of £15.5M, and aims to raise £100M.

RH Capital — Global

One of the more commercial impact funds, RH Capital invests in early- and growth-stage ventures working on sexual, reproductive, and maternal health solutions in the United States, with a focus on women of colour, low-income women, and others affected by systemic inequities. RH Capital is a fully owned subsidiary of Rhia Ventures, a nonprofit that aims to create a vibrant, equitable reproductive and maternal health market. In addition to its venture fund, Rhia Ventures also works with shareholders to promote corporate responsibility on reproductive and maternal health, and is seeking to deepen the conversation about racial justice, reproductive health, and the investment community through its podcast series, Blossom; and provides the investor and philanthropic community with data and analysis on where they can invest to drive the greatest impact on health equity.

CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund — South and Southeast Asia

The CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund is a “gender-justice” impact investment fund created in partnership by CARE Enterprises, Bamboo Capital Partners, and the International Trade Center’s SheTrades Initiative. Each partner brings a unique value to the table: CARE, its expertise on gender; the ITC, its extensive network of investible entrepreneurs in the region; and Bamboo Capital Partners, its fund management and investment expertise. The fund seeks to tackle the “root causes of gender discrimination” in South and Southeast Asia while creating strong financial growth for companies, with a a focus on four key principles: addressing unconscious bias, incorporating women’s input into company decisions, addressing explicit and implicit inequity, and reinvesting half of all profit into the fund’s ambitious gender impact goals.

WIC Capital — West Africa

Created by the Women’s Investment Club in Senegal, WIC Capital is the first investment fund dedicated to women-led businesses in francophone West Africa. It aims to address the funding imbalance faced by women entrepreneurs in the region, only 3.5% of whom currently use financial institutions to access credit. WIC brings together both local and international institutional investors, as well as 80+ women members who pool their resources to make equity and quasi-equity investments in companies that are founded by women, at least 50% owned by women, or have a management team that is mostly women. In addition to its gender lens, WIC evaluates potential investments on their profitability, social impact, job creation potential, and contribution to the creation of a value chain. Through its non-profit arm WIC Académie, it also provides tailored business support to investees through advisory services, a shared service centre, coaching, and peer networking.

Root Capital — Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa

2.5 billion people on the planet are dependent on small farming for their livelihoods, most of them women. Root Capital invests in agricultural enterprises that support these small farmers so that they become engines of impact that transform rural communities. Along the way, it seeks to address some of the world’s most fundamental challenges, including food security, environmental sustainability, and peace and security. Investors have the option to further target their investments to focus specifically on gender-inclusive businesses. Root Capital has also partnered with the SDC, Roots of Impact, and IDB Lab in Latin America to implement an innovative, outcomes-based financing model that ties payments to verified social impact, incentivising funding to early-stage businesses that otherwise struggle to find financing that meets their needs.

Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund — Latin America and the Caribbean

Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund is a collaboration between Deetken Impact, a Canadian impact asset manager, and Pro Mujer, a women-focused development organisation that has been doing deep, gender-inclusive work across Latin America for 31 years. The fund invests in businesses that promote women in leadership and governance, products and services that meet the needs of women and girls, gender-sensitive value chains, and workplace equity, focusing on transactions between $1–3M. It also practices its commitment to impact by involving the diverse women served by Pro Mujer in the Fund’s governance and decision making.

Alpha Mundi — Latin America and East Africa

Swiss-based Alpha Mundi focuses on the unmet needs of low- and middle-income consumers in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, investing across agriculture, education, microfinance, renewable energy, and more. It applies a gender lens across the whole value chain: from company ownership, to team, to beneficiary. The fund is notable for its transparent analysis of the gender performance of the companies it invests in, providing investors with a detailed breakdown of representation and impact across roles, industries, and regions, that spans both qualitative and quantitative data. It is also public about its own practices and commitments, which include embedding gender analysis in screening and due diligence, discussing gender equality with companies prior to investment, and providing technical assistance for meeting gender goals.

Acumen Latin America Early Growth Fund — Colombia and Peru

Acumen’s latest Latin America fund invests in impact-driven early growth companies in Latin America, across industries including agribusiness, education, and energy. The fund is focused on tackling the challenges faced by low-income communities, and employs a gender and diversity lens every step of the way: from origination, to post-investment management, to exit. It launched in 2020 with a first close of US$28m. Acumen is also the original backer of 60 Decibels, which uses Lean Data principles to help investors measure the gender (and other) impact of their investments on the people whose lives they are seeking to impact. (Click here for Acumen’s free Lean Data Guide for Understanding Gender Impact.)

Impact Bridge — Global

A Madrid-based fund of funds that target five areas of sustainability and social impact (of which gender equality is just one), Impact Bridge also makes direct portfolio investments. Impact Bridge is so committed to gender impact that they commissioned a study, later published in the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, of one of their portfolio investments, to more deeply understand from an academic perspective what drives women’s empowerment and the impact the company was having in the lives of the women who work for it.

The study came away with five key criteria: pledging (making a public commitment to women’s empowerment), bridging (forging connections between the organisation and the broader community it operates in), coaching (providing personalised support to women workers), occurring (providing women workers with resources and ensuring they retain control over them), and peer bonding (encouraging relationships and mutual help between workers). This kind of evidence-based analysis is labor intensive and often costly, but it is also crucial and lays the groundwork for the whole investment industry to benefit from.

Beyond Capital Ventures — India and East Africa

Beyond Capital Ventures focuses on underserved consumers living on up to $15 per day who are looking for affordable private solutions to healthcare, financial services, waste and sanitation, secure food sources, mobility, and energy access, with a disproportionate impact on women. The fund builds upon the work that founder and GP Eva Yazhari has done with her pioneering nonprofit Beyond Capital Fund since 2009, taking the lessons learned from catalysing philanthropic capital to invest in Seed to Series A startups aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and addressing macro trends impacting women. Beyond Capital Ventures has a majority-female investment committee, and will also pioneer an Equitable Venture strategy that provides every founder in the portfolio at the Series A level with a profit share in the GP carry.

NESsT — South America and Eastern Europe

NESsT is a non-profit investment fund with the objective of creating good jobs and lifting workers out of poverty. It leverages donations and patient capital from primarily foundations and individual investors into investments in social enterprises, with competitive interest rates and flexible terms that support entrepreneurs to sustainably accelerate their growth. Like other funds using alternative and innovative structures, NESsT seeks to fill the significant gap into the market between microfinance loans and VC. It also deploys a strong gender lens, directing investments to enterprises working to eliminate gender biases in their operations, and providing support to companies to become equitable and gender inclusive.

Women’s World Banking Capital Partners Fund II — Africa, Asia, and Latin America

Women’s World Banking’s private equity limited partnership, launched in 2020, makes direct investments in women-focused financial institutions around the world. Drawing upon the lessons learned from the Bank’s first fund, launched eight years earlier, it employs a blended structure to bring together traditional donor money with more commercial investors, enabling Women’s World Banking to bring more capital to the table and have a bigger stake in its investments. The fund also provides technical assistance to investees, to help them improve internal gender diversity, better serve their customers, and grow their impact.

Calvert Impact Capital and CNote — Only open to US investors

CNote (investing in the US) and Calvert Impact Capital (global) are part of a class of vehicles that offer fixed income debt investments in small and local businesses, accessible to investors ranging from $20 to $20M or more. Their approach to change is to invest in underinvested communities, working through financial institutions to shift capital not solely to women, but in gender- and diversity-inclusive ways. Their rate of return is typically low, similar to that of a high-interest savings account, but they are also significantly more secure than more commercial public or private investments, and make a good cash alternative for investors seeking to maximise the impact of all of their capital.



Catalyst at Large and Co-Founder, GenderSmart, investor, change maker, movement building leader., @zanne2,

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suzanne biegel

Catalyst at Large and Co-Founder, GenderSmart, investor, change maker, movement building leader., @zanne2,