5 Steps to Impact Investing with a Gender Lens

Two weeks ago in Boston I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing from three women I admire greatly: Jackie VanderBrug, Siiri Morley and Cheryl Kiser. They spoke about the complexities of social impact at a Catalytic Women event. Their perspectives spanned the full range of engagement in social impact.

In this emerging field of social entrepreneurs and gender lens investments, I see the smartest people I know struggling with definitions and metrics and models. It’s confusing — and exciting. The opportunities have never been better for women. I’m jumping in.

Care to join me? Here are a few, easy steps to help you start, from our experts who spoke to a group of Catalytic Women on May 2 in Boston.

Be the brand. Women make most consumer purchases and each dollar we spend has an impact. Leverage your power when you shop. Look for products made by women. Have you seen Prosperity Candle’s beautiful selection of gifts for self and others? Siiri spoke of the women who create these products and use candle-making as a business to lift themselves out of poverty in some of the world’s harshest places. Jackie also told a story of looking for a special purchase for herself and taking the time online to find a source that has a positive impact on its community. The Internet has never made this easier.

Focus your philanthropy. Jackie’s US Trust and Boston’s own The Philanthropic Initiative have a High Impact Giving Guide focused on gender lens philanthropy. She also spoke about a Monitor Institute/Packard Foundation report on enterprise philanthropy. Prosperity Catalyst, the nonprofit sister organization led by Siiri, is creating a special hands-on learning community for donors who support their work at $5,000 as Founding Catalyzers (perfect for Catalytic Women!) and will have opportunities to see the impact the organization makes in reducing poverty.

Invest in a woman entrepreneur. Prosperity Candle is funding a royalties program so that their global women candle makers have inventory and supply expenses covered, minimizing their initial outlay of $20,000. Kiva and Catapult offer microloans to women around the world starting with as little as $20. WINWIN (a fund of Calvert Investments), WAGES (US Trust Investment for Women and Girls Equality Strategy [link]), and the Raise for Women Crowdrise challenge allow investments in women entrepreneurs. Join Pipeline Fellowship, Astia Angel or Golden Seeds to invest seed funding to women-led startups.

Leverage your company’s giving and marketing funds. Make the case in your own business or to your corporate leaders: devote a percentage of your company’s philanthropic budget towards social enterprises with shared values; create marketing partnerships with companies looking to shift the gift and create more meaningful event and corporate swag; or invest in programs that train social entrepreneurs, like the Social Innovation Lab at Babson College.

Ask questions. No one has all the answers in this space of social enterprise, impact and gender lens investing. And only a minority of financial advisors are familiar with these tools for ROI with a social benefit. If clients aren’t asking, advisors have no reason to learn. Ask your wealth manager: What is the impact of my portfolio on women and girls?

A bit more about the experts who offer these strategies…
Cheryl Kiser, as head of The Lewis Institute for Social Innovation and Babson Social Innovation Lab, knows the challenges of becoming (or not) a social entrepreneur.

Siiri Morley brings experience as a founding team member of social enterprise Prosperity Candle and nonprofit Prosperity Catalyst, and spoke of the risks and benefits of these contrasting for/non-profit business models for social impact.

Jackie VanderBrug, as an early leader in gender lens investing and in her new role leading social investing strategies at US Trust, explained the myriad ways to invest in enterprises run by women, benefiting women, or both.

And let me know where your journey into gender lens investing and supporting social entrepreneurs leads you — or how Catalytic Women’s network and resources can help.

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