In the winter of 2011-12, a new conversation around investing in women began between Calvert Foundation, a nonprofit financial institution that raises debt capital from retail investors to lend to communities in need, and Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the global bank whose mission is to expand financial inclusion and foster innovation.
Investing in women was a concept that both organizations had been exploring for a while, but neither of us had a clear understanding of how to turn theory into action. Once we began the dialogue it didn’t take long to create a solution: Citi Foundation would provide seed capital and support to Calvert Foundation to launch a pilot initiative and branded Community Investment Note to connect retail and institutional investors with organizations around the globe that are empowering women through their work.
We called it the Women Investing in Women Initiative, or WIN-WIN, and launched it at the UN Foundation on March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day. The goals of the initiative were to raise capital from investors interested in fostering women’s economic empowerment and deploy $20 million to organizations around the world that empower women and girls. We created gender metrics to track the impact generated from the portfolio organizations.
We surpassed our goals in December 2013 and learned many lessons along the way. Here we discuss four of those lessons in the hope that they will benefit others working with similar goals in mind.
Lesson #1: There is power in an investment
Building off the success of the responsible investment movement, impact investing is perfectly positioned to create deeper engagement between an individual’s values and her investment portfolio. In the same way that purchasing decisions – the car you drive, the clothes you wear – suggest a certain set of values, an investment product can represent your values and the impact you want to have on the world.
The WIN-WIN Community Investment Note serves as a tool for investors to express their values through their investable assets and provides a direct connection between capital providers (investors) and capital receivers (organizations or communities) that are otherwise largely disconnected. It taught us that there is investor appetite for investments that connect them to the people, places and issues they care deeply about.
Lesson #2: There was latent demand that was waiting to be activated
This initiative seems to have been one of the first stones thrown in a deep pond. It wasn’t until we put the product out into the marketplace – with admittedly limited marketing efforts – that we realized how hungry the industry was for such an investment. We certainly were not the first to understand or highlight the power of investing in women; copious research exists (here, for example) that quantifies and touts these benefits. We were simply the first retail impact investment product with an explicit gender focus, available to investors for as little as $20. This product helped move the dialogue beyond the “what” and “why” of investing in women to the “how.”
(Left: Click the image to view an infographic on WIN-WIN)
Since WIN-WIN launched, other organizations have recognized this demand (some are even going as far as calling it “one of the transformative economic trends of the 21st century”) and have created their own women-focused investments and initiatives. This, to us, is one of the most important byproducts of this work. Our $20 million portfolio is now a very small portion of investable assets targeted toward women’s empowerment and inclusion, a reality that illustrates the great ripple effect of our small stone. And this has certainly caused us to think more intentionally about other stones at our disposal.
Lesson #3: Gender has the ability to knock down verticals
WIN-WIN showed us the ability of gender to cut across more traditional impact sectors (education, health, environment, etc.) to inspire investors and businesses to bring more intentionality to their work with and for women.
One example of this evolution exists in our current portfolio. A couple of years ago a borrower, a manufacturer of clean cookstoves, did not consider themselves a “gender-focused” investment. In fact, when we first approached them, they decided that they did not want to be a part of our WIN-WIN portfolio because of the additional gender metrics we asked them to collect (they opted to be in our standard portfolio instead). Many conversations later, they realized that while they had always identified as an organization that promotes clean energy and healthy living, their target market – and target beneficiary – was young to middle-aged women. They have since created Women’s Empowerment Training that is training women to become entrepreneurs and spokeswomen, essentially the salesforce for their products.
At Calvert Foundation, we have had a similar “Aha!” moment. As we started collecting gender metrics on WIN-WIN borrowers, we realized that these metrics were not just applicable to that $20 million, but across our entire $220 million portfolio of loans. Because of this, we now collect gender-focused data for all of our borrowers, enabling us to build a much larger, longitudinal dataset on the impact our work has on women.
Gender is certainly not the only demographic with this cross-cutting ability; other identities like age, ethnicity or location can have a similar ability to unite, empower and connect.
Lesson #4: Portfolio creation should be inclusive and aspirational
We made a decision together at the beginning of this initiative that we were going to create inclusive screens for our WIN-WIN portfolio. We did this mainly because we found a lack of disaggregated gender data in many of our sectors, which made it hard to create initial benchmarks. What we didn’t realize was that this inclusive screen would help us create a more diverse portfolio during this pilot phase that allowed us to conduct a broad scan of the activity targeted toward women’s empowerment.
This diversity – and the due diligence and research required to make each loan – enabled us to identify the areas of greatest need for our capital, and the organizations having huge impact on women and girls around the world. If our screens had filtered out all but a slice of these deals we would not have had nearly the same learning experience.
The best example of this is the work happening in the clean energy and appliance sector internationally, mentioned above. There is a sector developing around these products in developing countries that promises to reduce CO2 admissions, improve the health of the women and families using the products, and enable women to spend more time adding value through other economic or educational activities and less time collecting wood. We discovered the great work happening in this sector through our pilot phase of WIN-WIN and we plan to devote most, if not all, of our follow-on lending to organizations along the clean appliance value chain. There is more on WIN-WIN 2.0 to come.
While we are thrilled to have hit our goals, we feel the true success of this pilot was in the lessons learned. These lessons have become embedded in how we think about our strategy and our role in the broader impact investing field. We are certainly not finished learning and we would love to hear from others doing this work if these lessons resonate with you – or if you have more to add to this exciting conversation.
Jennifer Pryce is the president and CEO of Calvert Foundation.