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5 Keys to Impact Investing for Gender Equality

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

When it comes to social finance, the public sector is (in many ways) leading the charge in innovation. More and more, governments are exploring the use of public funds to drive private sector capital into truly impactful projects. Exhibit A: the Equality Fund.

The Equality Fund is a consortium of Canadian and global organizations focused on gender equality and women’s issues, specifically in the Global South. In 2019, the fund was seeded by a $300 million contribution from Global Affairs Canada.

Today, the Equality Fund is fueling feminist futures through three pillars: feminist grantmaking, a gender lens investing fund, and multi-sector philanthropy.

On this episode of the Impact Investing Podcast, we sat down with Bonnie Foley-Wong, Head of Investment Strategy, and Beth Woroniuk, Policy Lead, to learn more about this exciting venture. Here are five key takeaways for how impact investing can support gender equality long-term.

1. The feminism movement is plural

For the Equality Fund, there is no clear definition of a feminist agenda. Feminism is intersectional and contains countless movements, from LGBTQIA+ issues to domestic abuse. To support and invest in feminist organizations, you have to remember that the movement itself is plural. Beth explains:

“We found that most women’s organizations work on multiple themes because that’s what our lives are like [as women].”

Instead of providing grants for specific themes, like violence or women’s health, the Equality Fund focuses on the organizations themselves and what financial support is needed to drive real change across multiple movements.

2. Make your subject the protagonist

Traditionally, socially responsible investing has been done for vulnerable people, not with them. At the Equality Fund, they understand that the leaders of feminist organizations know their own reality best. They’re the ones on the ground seeing the issues first-hand, especially in the Global South.

As subjects of financial support, they also need to be the protagonists of their own stories. For Beth, that means inviting activists and leaders to help guide financial decision-making.

“The key to our approach is that they are in the lead and our job is to find them the support and the resources that they need to put their agendas into practice.”

3. Collective action is key

The Equality Fund is a collective of 11 organizations and investment partners. To meet their common goals, they first have to build trust and strong relationships. There must be space for ideas to collide in a constructive way and for difficult conversations to be had.

The same goes for the global organizations the Equality Fund supports. They want to join forces with the leaders of these movements to offer not just funding, but long-term financial sustainability. Bonnie explains:

“We want to structure a permeable kind of dialogue between people who are traditionally making investment decisions and people who are impacted by those investment decisions.”

4. Invest in movement building

So often, an investor or investment company wants to support something tactile. They want to fund a program with a clear timeline and a specific outcome.

But through their work with feminist groups around the world, the Equality Fund has found that what most of them need is to simply connect, collaborate, talk, and organize. They need resources that allow them to work together on issues for long periods of time, building ties with other movements to get stronger and make a bigger impact.

Beth says the Equality Fund is working to provide flexible, predictable funding for organizations to make real progress on their agendas.

“That’s the niche we’re trying to fill. But we’re also trying to move it away from being a niche. To convince other [philanthropists and investors] that this is a really important way of funding.”

5. The landscape is shifting (and growing)

The Equality Fund’s investment strategy, in partnership with the Toronto Foundation, is split three ways: public security (investing in stocks and bonds), private debt, and gender lens private equity and venture capitalist funds. While the first two offer higher returns and less risk, the third area is where they see the most opportunity.

According to Project Sage’s most recent numbers, over $2.2 billion is now being allocated globally to gender lens private market funds. Movements like Me Too have brought gender equality to the world stage, empowering more people to support diverse and women-led funds.

Bonnie says the Equality Fund knows its investing dollars alone won’t affect enough change, but encouraging others to invest this way could - whether they’re experienced VCs or investing for beginners.

“People are realizing that gender equity is a driver of change. Full stop. It’s intersectional. It’s not a siloed issue. Advancing gender equality makes societies more equal and more fair for everyone.”

Beth says the Equality Fund hopes to be the first, but not the last.

“One of our dreams is that we act a bit like the ripple in the water. That it’s not just us doing these sorts of things. That if we can move forward on this proof of concept, that other people will buy into this model.”

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