Risks and Returns of Gender Investing

Suzanne Biegel, Kelly Northridge, and I hosted a (re)Value Gender session at Oxford Jam yesterday.  We were really pleased with the outcome, especially because the circumstances were rather different from what is envisioned by the methodology.

(re)Value Gender is a brainstorming exercise developed by Joy Anderson, founder of Criterion Institute, for the purpose of helping investors and financiers forge the mental connections between gender issues and financial instruments (and measures). Everyone I know who has sat through one of Joy’s sessions experiences (re)Value like a fresh wind blowing through your thoughts.  Pure exhilaration.

Suzanne's group at Oxford Jam.  Suzanne (left) is an activist in the gender lens investing space, helped us lead this Oxford Jam session. Suzanne will speak on angel investing at Power Shift.

Suzanne’s group at Oxford Jam. Suzanne (left) is active t in the gender lens investing space and will speak on angel investing at Power Shift.

The concept, however, was really created for a panel of matched experts and not so much for a public application among randomly-assembled players. It takes time to go through the mental re-orientation that Joy provides plus work through whatever problem is presented as the brainstorm task.

At Oxford Jam, we had only an hour.  We had no idea how many people would show up. We had no clue as to what kind of expertise would be represented in the audience.  Since we were drawing our crowd from the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship–which runs in parallel to Oxford Jam–we could guess that there would be people who knew something about entrepreneurship and social issues, but could not count on either gender or financial knowledge in the crowd.

We boiled the conceptual set-up down to the bare essentials:

Financial measures are really just a way of assigning value.  The discounts and ratings are purely a set of conventions and thus can be altered to engage with anything the community deems important.

Gender is something that finance has not engaged.  That is why it seems so strange to talk about them in the same breath.  But there is no reason that financial measures (and thus financial instruments) cannot be made to encompass gender issues, just as they have now encompassed environmental issues (which, ten years ago, was also thought odd).

We illustrated with a couple of Joy’s key examples for how this might be done, such as discounting the value of a firm for the known bias that comes from having a homogeneous leadership (e.g., all men at the top). An investor might “go long” on women as an investment strategy, just as one might “go long” on China or India–if the products and portfolios were available to do so.

We then set up the group task with a diagram adapted from Joy’s explanatory deck (you can download her (re)value deck here), in which three points of a triangle set the parameters for analysis:  a gender issue, a financial instrument, and a sector.

Kelly Northridge, a new Oxford doctoral student who is focusing on gender lens investing for her dissertation, had spent hours distilling two examples into a graphic treatment. One of them was the project she and Joy have been working on together, in which sex trafficking, city government, and municipal bonds are analyzed for their interrelationships.  The other was a fictionalized treatment of the Vodafone project I worked on this winter.



In the mobile technology example, a mobile operator (the “sector,” in this case) responds to a service provider’s global commitment–as a corporate social responsibility promise–to develop mobile apps that will serve the needs of women in the developing world. Three apps are suggested: one for health, one for education, and one for safety (see Vodafone “Connected Women” report for explanation and examples).  Any or all of these three would manifest success as reduced maternal mortality (the “gender” issue). (Efforts on behalf of women in health, education, and safety would have other felicitous outcomes, too, but we were trying to be focused, so we just put “maternal mortality” on the chart.)

In order to decide which of the three apps to invest in developing, the mobile operator would perform a standard calculation used to assess a proposed capital investment: Return on Investment or ROI (the “finance” box).  To calculate ROI, you must estimate costs for a project, then project the incomes expected from it, and lastly discount the cash flows by a rate that reflects the relative risk, as compared to other investment opportunities.  You do this because, regardless of your commitment to social good, you must protect your investors, who expect earnings.

In this case, the income would come from closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership, which is substantial in developing countries–thus an important market opportunity.  You would have the costs of introducing the service, which might be increased by the need to market to females, but which might be reduced to the extent that schools, hospitals, or NGOs might partner with you to deliver a pro-social service.  You might need to discount at a higher rate because the local culture has some resistance to females owning mobile phones. We summarized each exercise into a key question that emerged from doing the analysis.  In this case, the question was whether there was a correlation between maternal mortality and ROI on mobile phone ownership.


Here is one of the questions for further research that our group pinned to the curtains at Oxford Jam.

An interesting point that Kelly observed is that when you arrive at the top of the triangle, where the risk of the investment points back up to “maternal mortality,” you are presented with the essential puzzle of the gender lens proposition. That is, the assessment of “risk” nearly always accommodates some notion of the stability of the local environment:  investors don’t like their cash in places that might fall tomorrow to some dictator, for instance.  ”Maternal mortality” is actually a pretty good proxy for the risks inherent in the local environment.  You only find high levels of maternal mortality in very unstable places and, conversely, very stable localities have infinitesimal maternal mortality rates. Yet conventional measures of exogenous risk never look at this very powerful indicator.  Why not?

Well, indeed, why not?  That is the whole point of the (re)Value Gender exercise:  to turn your head and make you look into the blind spots that the gender system imposes on the economy.  These instances are what my students have coined “the invisible obvious”–those gender phenomena that are right in front of your face, but that you do not see because the system is so thoroughly naturalized.

We then gave each group a template of the sheet Kelly developed and assigned them to work on either “women’s entrepreneurship” or “girls’ education” as gender issues and either “energy” or “transportation” as sectors.  The groups worked enthusiatically and the feedback at the end was good.  The session ended right smack on time and we all three took a deep breath of relief.








During the past 24 hours, we have had lots of positive feedback from participants.  They say the exercise was  fun and challenging, that it opened their eyes.  They enjoyed being with a diverse group of practitioners to think this through. Some are already thinking:  how can we really design a financial tool in this vein and put it out to the market?

Organizations who wish to engage in a formal (re)Value Gender session can contact Criterion Institute.  We will be conducting several such sessions at Power Shift, this time led by Joy and her team.  Power Shift is by invitation, like the Skoll Forum, but we are open to folks who are active in the effort to empower women economically requesting invitations.  (You can do that by writing edward.david@sbs.ox.ac.uk.)  And, of course, you can join in the conversation by social media.  Joy’s twitter handle is @criterionvent and Suzanne’s is @zanne2.  Mine is @ProfLindaScott. We have been using “genderlensinvest” as the hashtag.



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(Re)Valuing Women in Our Investments

This is the title of an interactive brainstorm session Linda has been organising with Kelly Northridge and Suzanne Biegel, that will be held at the Oxford Jam event on April 11. The session will brainstorm ways in which we can re-value women across capital types and investment vehicles. Thinking about questions such as: ‘What would our investments look like if we considered their impact on women? Would we consider social policies? Corporate structure? Philanthropic efforts?’

Kelly and Suzanne, together with Linda, have a great deal of experience between them to lead a really stimulating session and we will be tweeting using the hashtags #OxfordJam and #RVW.

KellyKelly is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, Said Business School, whose dissertation focuses on inventing new ways women’s economic contribution can be measured and valued. Using her prior experience working in economics and outcomes research, management consulting, mergers and acquisitions, and venture capital, she plans on developing a metric useful for all types of investors in evaluating an investment’s support of women. Prior to her doctoral programme, Kelly was active in angel investing, working specifically with women-led ventures.


SuzanneSuzanne, a Senior Adviser for Women Effect Investments initiative at Criterion Institute, is also CEO of Catalyst at Large Ltd, and runs the Clearly Social Angels network in the UK for ClearlySo. She launched Women in Social Finance in 2011 in London. In the US, she is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Confluence Philanthropy, serves on the Advisory Board of Investors’ Circle, and she initiated the Values Based Investing Circle for Women Donors Network. She is also a Catto Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Suzanne brings more than 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, investor, board member, and hands-on operational manager to her work.


The whole Oxford Jam event is running in parallel to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Oxford Jam is a three-day fringe event (April 9-11) in Oxford, that creates a space for the nurturing of social economy and social finance projects the world over and will be offering more than 40 sessions over the three days.

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Fifty Shades: A Way Readers Put Sex Back in Their Lives

This is a guest blog from Gry Høngsmark Knudsen, a former student, who visited my “Women’s Economy” class this winter to report on her project about the reception of Fifty Shades of Grey.  We all enjoyed her report, so I asked her to write a short blog for Double X Readers.


Gry Høngsmark Knudsen is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark.  This is a brief report about her cross-cultural ethnographic research project aimed at understanding the reception of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

“I know the book says his hair is red, but red-haired men don’t do it for me – so in my world he is tall, dark and handsome”

The words above are translated quote from an interview among Danish readers of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I have been interviewing Danish women about their experiences with this popular, but controversial book since last May.

E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey has been a runaway seller in much of the world. Because the book's focus is sadomasochism, it has garnered a great deal of notice from unexpected parties, such as literary critics.

Though the first Fifty Shades book appeared in the English-speaking countries in 2011, the Danish version only arrived in August 2012.  The response has been contradictory, just as in the English world.  The book was reviewed as if it is a literary work.  The reviewers, predictably, hated it. Yet Fifty Shades sold in high numbers in Denmark, just as it has in many other parts of the Western world.  The book is still all the rage on social media with the film coming out next year.

The discrepancy between readers’ and reviewers’ verdicts has been staggering. My research was intended to find the explanation for this contradiction by going to the readers, rather than merely accept the implied judgment of the reviewers—that the readers were stupid or wrong.  The interviews show that many Danish readers of Fifty Shades of Grey were offended by the reviews.

Fifty Shades falls between porn and romance.  Neither are highbrow genres–Danish reviewers made sure that we all know this.  Yet the question then remains:  why they are reviewing the books if they think the books are not worth their time?

Reviewers forward many assumptions about how the readers of Fifty Shades read and relate to the books. For example they expect readers to identify with the characters and their relationship. Reviewers frowned upon the presumed identification because the characters are shallow and the gender roles in the books are old fashioned and stereotypical! Further, reviewers claim the story is pathetic, the language overly simple and redundant.  Thus, by implication, anyone who enjoys reading these books must be correspondingly simple minded. Reviewers seem to expect there is a direct relationship in the reading process between reading, identifying, and accepting turns of events.

When I began my research, my strategy was simply to tell everyone I know, colleagues, friends, and family.  As if by magic, people started referring their friends to me. Women were keen to talk about what reading Fifty Shades trilogy gave them. Not all were happy readers who loved the books, but I talked to all of them and listened to their opinions and experiences.

Some of the women wanted to talk to me because they had been reading the books so passionately.  Most of these had read all three books (about 1,500 pages) in a week or two. These were the readers who were offended by the reviews that Fifty Shades had gotten in Denmark.

Does this guy do it for you? If not, fine. Change him.

Readers did not identify at all with the main character.  In fact, they hardly remember her! Anastasia, the female protagonist, is described as pretty, but other than that the readers have very little to say about her. Mostly, she is just forgotten. The readers have more to say about the male protagonist, named “Christian,” but their imagined version does not necessarily reflect what is in the book.  The introductory quote to this post is illustrative.  The reader describes a very conscious move away from the text rather than into the text.  She does not care for red-haired men, so she imagines Christian to have dark hair. A similar, but less self conscious, remark, comes from another reader who described the male protagonist in the following way: ”He is older, bald, rich – like the friend in Californication” and later ”like 35-37 years old.”  Yet in the book, Christian is described as 27, rich, and with “unruly dark copper-colored hair.”

I also asked the readers about the gender roles the reviewers had bemoaned. I got quite a variety of responses. If the readers did not like the books, they were usually also quite concerned about the gender roles and felt they were a barrier in the reading process. But the readers who liked the books had different answers:

 ”I couldn’t care less about the gender roles – it’s fiction!”

”I felt like I had to not like the gender roles – be conscious about it – but I had a hard time, because I thought it (the book) was fun.”

So if the readers liked the books, they decided to read through the gender roles without really taking them into account. That is, they were aware of the gender roles, but they ignored them because otherwise it took the fun out of reading. It seems like the readers do not read the books very carefully, even if the language is simple enough. And they certainly do not seem to identify with the characters or immerse themselves in the relationship.

What was the fun about then? It was not about the characters.  It was also not really about the story.  Like the characters, the narrative was usually described in very few words:  “it’s a love story.”

Mostly the fun was about sex. As one of the readers explained:

”I don’t have time to think about sex, so sometimes you forget. The books reminded me that sex is fun.”

Another of the readers claimed that just having the books on the nightstand put sex in the room and on the agenda in her relationship.

 ”Suddenly my husband blindfolded me – and he hasn’t even read the books!”

Hair good, clothes not right? Up to you.

Fifty Shades gave many of these readers an opportunity to remind themselves of sex and even actually to have sex.  Many had, for one reason or another, fallen out of the habit.  Maybe the birth of children had stalled out their sex life, or maybe their relationship had flattened it.  The forbidden fun of Fifty Shades put them back in the mood.

One reader explained this phenomenon in detail to me. She and her husband had had problems with intimacy after their kids had been born. They had seen a therapist and now she was a lot more careful to create time for sex in her life. She had given up on the idea that sex would appear on its own. She had also given up on the idea that her husband was the one to create the mood for her. What had happened was that she had started to take responsibility for sex into her own hands. So, for example, when going on vacation, she would find books to bring along that could put her in the mood for sex. And Fifty Shades had been part of that emancipation, because it was just such a book that could help her in focusing on her mood and her own needs.

Interestingly, hotels now report a noticeable number of copies being left behind in rooms. The books are simply handy when it comes to transporting yourself from the routine of everyday life to the hedonist space of vacation.

When the women are angry about the reviews of Fifty Shades, it’s often because they feel the reviews take this kind of agency away. Reviewers seem to allow women only limited ways of experiencing and relating to soft porn. Actual readers experience Fifty Shades in a number of different ways. Some like the books, some do not like the books.  Some read the books primarily for the sex scenes, some read it for the romance.  But all have a lot more nuanced understanding of their readership than the reviewers suggested.

I guest that’s why so many Fifty Shades readers in Denmark wanted to talk to me.  And, that is why I can trust the stories they tell me—because of the urgency with which they tell them and the passion they share with me.

This summer I will be in England, where I hope to interview more women about their experiences with Fifty Shades. Linda’s doctoral students told me that I should not expect the same kind of openness from British readers. Maybe not, but it will be interesting to understand the differences and similarities in readership across cultures when it comes to precarious genres such as Fifty Shades.

Fifty Shades readers in England who would like to be interviewed can get in touch with Gry Høngsmark Knudsen at the following email address: gryh@sam.sdu.dk

(Amazon link for Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy)

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Business Schools and the Double X Economy

Today, Bloomberg Businessweek has a column I wrote explaining the business schools’ inattention to the authoritative call–from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank,  OECD, the World Economic Forum, and many others–for the business community to better include women in the world economy.  Current business school programs and materials treat women as a “niche” area; their faculties have not turned to the task of understanding the interaction between the global exchange system and the economic constraints on half the species. I argue that an explanation is needed because, in comparable circumstances such as the push to engage with environmental effects, the B-schools hopped on the bandwagon early, as they normally want to appear ahead of the curve in the eyes of the business world.  In this case, however, they are standing by, apparently unaware of a movement that many of the world’s largest corporations are already supporting.

The article explains why I believe this is happening, but it also refers to an Oxford case study taught at Harvard last year–Mary Johnstone-Louis’ illuminating case on the International Women’s Coffee Alliance–and I thought readers would probably appreciate being pointed to our other materials, events, and courses.

Our Dean, Peter Tufano, teaching the coffee case at Power Shift 2013. Professor John Deighton, who was visiting from Harvard, taught IWCA that same day and later took it back to HBS, where the case had an enthusiastic response. If you look carefully, you can see Mary, who wrote the case, just over Peter's left shoulder.

We have a suite of case studies already available and three new ones in development.  Please understand that the intention is to eventually cover the full range of women’s touchpoints with the economy, not just “how to market to women” (which, along with “women and leadership” or “women in organizations” usually represents the limits of B-school attention to women). So, that is why the following cases look at several aspects of women’s engagement, rather than focusing on one.

International Women’s Coffee Alliance – This case is perhaps the best avenue to start working with the issues in the classroom.  The coffee industry is a worldwide system, with most of its sourcing in a belt of poor countries around the equator.  The case tells the story of the IWCA’s journey in trying to advance women in its ranks, beginning at the farm level–aiming to have an effect, as they say in coffee, “from bean to cup.” There is a real advantage in beginning to teach women’s economics with this case because most women around the world are employed in farming (indeed most of the world’s food is grown by women) and the conditions in coffee are typical of other commodities.  Also, the case addresses common limitations on women’s economic engagement, such as constraints on their communication and mobility.

Pampers/UNICEF – This two-part case demonstrates the potential benefits of a global marketing campaign that harnesses the sympathies of women in wealthy nations to address the needs of women in the poorest and most remote regions.  The Pampers/UNICEF campaign is a highly innovative effort to use the brand trust in Pampers to direct funds toward the elimination of maternal/neonatal tetanus.  This brilliant campaign has been so successful that the partners, Procter & Gamble and UNICEF, expect to eliminate this killer by 2015.  The case not only illustrates the key features of an important cause-marketing campaign, but also shows the way that common constraints on women–their limited mobility, their lack of cash access, their inability to get health care–interact with poverty and policy. There are two parts to the case, Part 1 focusing on Pampers’ marketing campaign and Part 2 on UNICEF’s delivery.  There are also teaching notes for Part 1 and Part 2.

CARE RSP/Jita - The “entrepreneurship network” has been of keen interest as a poverty reduction device among development experts in the past five or six years. One of the most successful of these is “Jita,” an invention of CARE Bangladesh and now its own hybrid profit/not-for-profit entity.  The organizers of Jita wanted to find a way for the extreme poor among women to earn a living.  Recruiting from among the “poorest of the poor,” Jita’s leadership trained even beggars to manage a basket of carefully selected consumer goods that were sold among rural villages not reached by retailers.  The case addresses typical constraints on women, as well as the challenges of rural distribution. There is also a teaching note.

Avon in Africa – This case tells the story of the rise of Avon cosmetics company on two continents in two centuries, showing how the opportunity to act as agents helped women to reach economic autonomy, particularly among the poor black women in today’s South Africa. However, the case also confronts the typical Western prejudice against cosmetics in the context of race and colonial relations in both North America and Africa, in hopes of helping students to question typical prejudices and become more aware of contextual subtleties. There is also a teaching note.

Sanitary Care in Ghana –  This case tells the story of our sanitary pads research in Ghana. It is meant to illustrate how access to certain consumer goods (or lack thereof) affects the economic viability of women.  The intention here is also to challenge attitudes about women, menstruation, and consumption by showing how traditional social practices and inattention to the needs of adolescent girls impedes their educational achievement.

Shown here at Power Shift 2013, Meg Jones (left) is head of gender at the International Trade Centre and an extremely passionate advocate for improving women's participation in global trade. Tim Love had just retired as Vice Chairman of Omnicom, but I have known him for years as a proponent for gender equality.

Two very short cases came out of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women course in China. These are straightforward marketing cases that feature women as the business owners.  There is nothing particularly “women’s economy” about these two–both are typical of B-School cases on women, in that the names could be changed to represent men and the content would not change as a result.  However, both cases were written specifically to be used in the 10,000 Women course in China, so they feature real women and are aimed at being accessible and resonant with female Chinese entrepreneurs.

Ning Du Lemon Science and Technology Company is a basic branding case.  I use it as the first case in my branding class, as it illustrates well the challenge of moving from an agricultural commodity to a more stable value-added line. There is a teaching note.

Bingo Bagel is a positioning case.  The business is a restaurant intended to introduce bagels and coffee to Chinese culture.  The Chinese consume little bread or coffee–and do not keep the kinds of hours nor have the kinds of practices that support the coffee house culture of the West.

A key advantage of the environment at Oxford is that alternative sources of support are available for work that is not considered “mainstream” by business schools.  We have been grateful to our college, Green Templeton, for their continuing moral and financial support of all this work.  The Avon, Pampers/UNICEF, and CARE RSP/Jita cases were produced under a grant from the Pears Foundation.  The Said Foundation has supported the work in Bangladesh.  The Oxford University Press John Fell Fund supported the Avon and sanitary pads work.  The Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Said School’s Entrepreneurship Centre has provided support for our sanitary pads work and the coffee case, respectively. In several instances, we have gratefully received grants from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development.

The cases now being written are being supported by grants from Walmart and from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China.

Finance After Hours – This case is being developed for the 2014 Power Shift meeting.  It focuses on a practice that is typical of the finance sector in most of the world:  the expectation that clients will go out after hours with their bankers for long boozy dinners, followed by drunken Karaoke nights, and . . . lap dances and so forth. It should be obvious that neither female entrepreneurs nor women bankers feel comfortable participating in such evenings–and indeed the men involved would think less of the women if they did participate.  Though the bank in the case insists that it treats women and men equally when they apply for loans, the upshot is that this practice, among other issues, reduces the representation of women in their portfolio to 10%.

The Finance After Hours case will be available about May 1.

We are also developing two cases to show the opposite ends of the spectrum of businesses engaged in Walmart’s Empowering Women Together initiative.  These cases will feature the Women’s Bean Project of Denver and Katchy Kollections of Nairobi. They will illustrate the challenges of interacting with the world’s largest retailer to some degree, but will be mostly focused on showing the measurement and management issues associated with these two very different women’s enterprises.  I hope to have the first one ready in time for Power Shift 2014.

I do want to say that the report I just wrote for Vodafone is a very good introduction to the role of women in the world economy.  It includes statistics, graphs, etc. from the main providers of data and analysis on this issue (including Booz & Co., as well as the World Economic Forum, OECD, and so on). There is frequent reference to another report and model done, in parallel, by Accenture. However, through the illustrations of mobile services designed to deal with challenges facing women, the report shows how a whole technology can be harnessed for a cause that has positive knock-on effects for everyone.

The Said Foundation underwrites Power Shift (otherwise known as The Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy), but we have been fortunate to have corporate support each year from ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Walmart, as well as the personal participation of celebrities like Cherie Blair and Dame Stephanie Shirley.  The 2013 program, case study, photos, videos, and so on are here.  The complete 2014 agenda, which focuses on women and finance, is ready to post, showing representation from institutions including Mastercard, the International Finance Corporation, and the Global Banking Alliance for Women, as well as our consistent corporate supporters (ExxonMobil, Walmart, Goldman Sachs) and our long-time mission partner, CARE International.

A panel on women and technology at Power Shift 2013. The gender gap in access to information technology is as much as 40% in some parts of the world. From left, Kathy Harvey (my colleague who heads up our Executive MBA), Henriette Kolb (Head of the Gender Secretariat at IFC), Lisa Felton (Global Head of Consumer Regulation and Content Standards at Vodafone), and Ruth Merritt (Corporate Affairs, Intel).

The Said Foundation also supports a program called “Inspiring Women in Leadership and Learning” (IWILL) that Amanda Poole and Elizabeth Paris (who also lead Power Shift with me) have produced since 2008.  Far from a one-off program, this series of workshops and lectures is an ongoing attempt to help women forge careers, but also live good lives and create supportive communities.

Herta von Stiegel, founder of Ariya Capital, and Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices, signing their books at Power Shift 2013.

Our executive education program at Said also has a successful open-enrollment program called “Women Transforming Leadership” that women experience as very powerful.

Though some of the cases are occasionally taught in the MBA program here, there is no course focused on women in the economy in that degree program.  However, I have taught “The Women’s Economy” in the doctoral program for three years.  I have to fight for it every time, but the students really appreciate it.  My most senior students have now sat through it three times and there have been MBAs who have slipped in, along with women from other departments around the University.

While it would not be honest to suggest all the faculty at the Said School support our mission, we have benefited greatly from the expert help of some colleagues.  In particular, David Upton helped a lot on the coffee case, Pegram Harrison is involved in our work with ExxonMobil and Walmart, and Tomo Suzuki is giving advice as we tiptoe into the gender lens investing space. My long-time friend and colleague, John Deighton, arranged for the IWCA case to be taught at Harvard, which was also much appreciated.

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Jita Founder Wins Schwab Foundation Award

Saif Rashid (left) and his colleague at Jita, Meshba Ahmed, on our Jita community impact trip in 2012.

Our long-time partner and friend, Saif Rashid, has been recognized as a Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, as part of a World Economic Forum initiative.  I first met Saif when he was in the early stages of developing Jita, itself an award-winning rural distribution system, under the auspices of CARE Bangladesh.  On our very first trip to view the system, Jim and I were tremendously impressed by Saif’s imagination, compassion, and dedication, especially to the women he was trying to help.

Making Jita work for the women has required many innovations, including this trolley, which helps them transport their bags over unpaved terrain.

Our research showed that the system was definitely good for the women who were employed by it, bringing them dignity as well as income, and on subsequent trips, we found that the impact on the community was likely positive, too.  We are currently developing a grant proposal to work with CARE in evaluating Jita’s community impact.

We have continued to be impressed with Saif as we have worked with him and all the terrific people he has hired over the past six years.  He is someone you can see right away will make a contribution to world change.

Previous winners of this award have included Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus.  

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Full Circle Exchange Employs Refugees in New Mother’s Day Promotion

I am just about to fly out of Boise, Idaho, having spent a week here observing a Full Circle Exchange project in which 60 refugees from conflict areas were employed to help put together a promotion for Mother’s Day.  Gorgeous designs by a women-owned business, Soréh Designs, were parlayed into cups, scarves, aprons, cards, and other goodies that will be assembled into an island display.  Items in the display were produced by a women-owned business in Haiti and Dream Chocolates in Boise (which also employs female refugees).

I interviewed a number of the refugees.  They were pleased with the assignment, not just for the pay, but for the dignity and safety–and the kind way they were treated.  Many of these women have experienced extraordinary trauma.  Though this was a temporary job, it provided them with much-needed US job experience, letters of reference, and the like . More on this project to come, but just wanted to post something, before the “wheels up” moment, to say what an good experience it has been to be here and observe this effort.

These refugees were pleased with the opportunity to do peaceful, creative work while establishing a track record that will help them get US jobs.

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Where’s the Money? “Impact for Breakfast” Report

From the left, Suzanne Biegel of Clearly So, Laurie Spengler of Enclude, and me, at Impact for Breakfast in London

Some weeks back, I was invited to speak at an impact investing breakfast in London. About twenty men and women, most of whom manage substantial funds, showed up for this event, appropriately entitled “Impact for Breakfast.” They wanted to talk about investing in women–how to do it, who was already doing it, what products were available, how to measure outcomes, and so forth.

Suzanne Biegel, Catalyst-at-Large and senior adviser at ClearlySo, was in charge of the program. Suzanne has been a leader in social investment for many years, as well as a tireless advocate for women and girls. She founded Clearly Social Angels, an angel investing firm with 50% women among its investors (which is likely some kind of world record). Suzanne had asked me to speak alongside Laurie Spengler, who is President and CEO of ”Enclude,” an advisor in building more inclusive and sustainable local economies.  Enclude works through both capacity and capital interventions. (Both Suzanne and Laurie are also Power Shift people.)

I started with the whole “why the women’s economy is important” thing.  I alluded to the big world players  now engaged in the intentional effort to empower women economically:  OECD, World Bank, World Economic Forum, as well as ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Walmart–and McKinsey, Booz, Goldman Sachs. I closed by observing that the studies and numbers tell us that closing the gender gap will bring enormous social and economic benefits to everyone, adding “for those who are familiar with the data, this is simply no longer controversial.”

Laurie followed up with an even more emphatic statement:

The business case has been made, it’s been made, it’s been made over and over and over.  So there’s no debate about the business case and I’m not finding that in our work. There is a distinction, though, between what I would call the “implicit” or the “working hypothesis” expectation that “there’ll be a good effect on women from my investment activity,” and an explicit agenda that “I’m investing in something that I am purposefully saying is intended to have this type of outcome on a target community of women and girls.”

In other words, there is a difference between just assuming your effort has a positive gender effect and purposefully creating one. This is the sensibility on which a true “gender lens investing” approach is built.

Laurie observed that, despite the implicit expectation that microfinance benefits and goes to females, the focus of microfinance funds has shifted as they moved away from small community loans toward larger individual loans. More and more, the money has been going to men, especially when third party capital was involved. Laurie alluded to Isis Fund, from Women’s World Banking, as one of very few that acts to ensure women remain in the picture.  ”But it’s stunning to me after, you know, a couple of decades that [Isis] is one of the few funds you can point to in microfinance as having an explicit women and girl’s agenda.” So here is a clear, but little recognized example of how an investment moves, from nothing but lack of focused attention to gender, out of the position of benefitting females.

People often seem to assume that reaching out to the poor necessarily benefits females–which simply is not true.  ”A lot of the development finance institutions have made funds available on the supply side for banks and for MFIs with the idea that you’re going to reach underserved communities, entrepreneurs, and households.  The implicit understanding is that it will help women and girls because they’re part of that underserved community.  But when you go to some of these DFIs and you even ask the gentle question, ‘What percentage of that capital’s really flowing ultimately to women and girls?’ – you get blank stares.  I mean, forget outcome conversation, what’s the delta, what’s the result, what’s the change?  Just ‘what’s the data?’  Because if [capital for women and girls] was your expectation as a funder, then wouldn’t you at least ask the question ‘what’s in your database of how much of that capital has been distributed to women, women owned, women-led businesses?’ And so that, I’d say, that’s been a disappointment.”

Nods of appreciation were given to Hillary Clinton, who, as Secretary of State, “was very active with finance ministers, saying at the G8 and other tables,  ’Look, this is smart business, it’s smart economics, the business case is obvious.  At a minimum, you, as a finance minister, should be asking for this information.’”

Early on, guarantees had been used as a risk mitigant by funders inexperienced in lending to women, a kind of “training wheels” approach.  In the end, few guarantees usually were tapped. So then the training wheels were no longer needed for those making the guarantees.  A good many philanthropies–she mentioned Nike, MasterCard, and Gates–had grant programs that built financial literacy and other business skills among adolescent girls.  Those girls then have different futures, make different choices, and the cascading effect for potential investors to build on those initial grants is very powerful.

So we’ve got the economic productive activity business case, we have the multiplier effect in cascading decision making a business case, and I think these instruments of equity, debt, grant, and guarantee are now being tapped more effectively.  The shift that we’re trying to both encourage and to then share in conversations like this, is going from implicit expectations (and there you better track at least the data), to an explicit agenda and trying to really marshal those interventions in a more thoughtful and tailored way.

Laurie noted that in projects such as the Walmart Empowering Women Together effort or the Coca-Cola 5 by 20 program, you quickly see that access to capital is a problem for the women.  Yet there is capacity building needed on the bank side, too. “It’s one thing to really help the female pursuing this capital, but who’s sitting behind that credit desk and making those underwriting decisions?  They actually need to be aware of the needs of this borrower  and have the tools to interact with that borrower in a more impactful way.  So one of the great things with the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] recently, they’ve actually launched an internal capacity building initiative [for the banks].”

Suzanne then followed with some interesting observations of her own.  ”So we talk a lot about what’s going on in emerging markets, but we talk less somehow about what’s happening right here.”

There’s a group [in East London] called “Fair Finance,” with a very charismatic guy, Faisal Rahman, and they’re doing microfinance in East London.  He worked with Grameen early in his career.  He came back and said there’s seven million people un-banked in the UK, seven million.  And they may be immigrants, they may be ex-offenders, they may be people who just don’t have access to finance for a variety of reasons.  And he started a consumer banking initiative and now he’s launching a business banking initiative, and he is out to basically put the Wongas out of business and the pay day lenders and the other people in the informal economy.  And his statistics, he doesn’t trumpet this but the reality is that sixty-five percent of his team, by the way, are women, but something like seventy percent of his beneficiaries, his customers are women.  And so he is both explicitly and implicitly saying I want to solve a problem for a particular segment of society here and I think that will uplift communities and really change the equation.

Suzanne was wanting to remind us not only of the disadvantaged women among us, but also good work going on in the finance community to move the game ahead for gender lens investing.  She described (re)Value Gender, part of the Women Effects Investment initiative under the Criterion Institute.  (These folks will be at Power Shift!  You can sign up for the (re)Value Gender experience!)

The purpose of the (re)Value Gender exercise is to question the way gender is being valued (or not) by major financial decisions, instruments, and metrics.  The method is to put together a gender expert, an industry expert, and a financial expert, give them an assignment where a specific type of instrument must finance a particular industry with a gender lens and let them brainstorm a solution.

And the one that I love is – and it may be something that is really not obvious.  So the one that I loved that’s really not obvious is take a municipal bond that’s focused on transportation and take a gender expert who understands the patterns of women needing to get to childcare, needing to get to work, needing to sort of go through their day.  And what if you were to say that you were going to really craft the transit projects according to what would most benefit women in that city.  Would that conceivably decrease risk on that bond, because you were paying so much more attention to the gender analysis that the transit would be much better used and really much better serve the population.  And could you then tell that story to the public who would be investing in that bond and have a different outcome.  So it’s projects like that where they’re saying like think of something in whatever realm you’re in and is there some opportunity for creativity.  And I think that’s part of what’s really great about where we are right now.

When the meeting broke, the group looked back and noted that we had covered a wide range of asset classes, as well as many investor types and many industrial applications.  But there is need for more product and, especially, better metrics to measure gender-specific outcomes. Above all, gender lens investing is something that needs to be undertaken with intention, carried through with focus, and evaluated with measures sensitive to the risks that affect women, as well as to the unique contributions they have to make.


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Giving Credit Where It is Due: Goldman Sachs and IFC Announce a Historic Finance Facility for Women

Today Goldman Sachs has announced, in partnership with the International Finance Corporation, the creation of the first-ever global finance facility for the exclusive use of small and medium-sized businesses owned by women.

Up to $600 million will be made available initially and it is estimated this amount will enable 100,000 female entrepreneurs to access the capital necessary to grow.  Creation of this facility is an historic first step and it is hoped others will join to grow the available pool.  The IFC estimates that the global capital gap attributable to gender is $285 billion.  So there is a long way to go.

The gesture is itself extremely important.  It announces to the financial community that

there is a measurable gender gap in capital access (capital is not gender blind, as is often claimed)

a world leader in finance is taking this capital gap seriously enough to publicly support closing it

the world economy will be better off if women have more capital.

Specifically, GS and IFC say that closing the gap in the BRIC and Next 11 countries would, by 2030, increase per capita income in those countries 12%.

So, once again, we see that excluding women from the formal economy comes with a price previously unrecognized.  We have ignored the damage done by women’s economic exclusion for too long.  On the upside, with world leaders in both the private and public sectors now consistently calling for closing the economic gender gap, we may all actually reap the benefits of a more inclusive economy.  The intention of this new facility is to address both the barriers banks experience in lending money to women and the troubles women have getting loans.  Some of this will, I’m sure, mean addressing some of the discriminatory practices that typify banking in the developing world (and, to be fair, everywhere else as well).

I have had the privilege of teaching on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, which celebrates its five-year anniversary today.  The company says the graduates of this program have shown remarkable growth, multiplying their revenues five times and doubling their number of employees. The ripple effect, of course, includes the worker incomes and better lives for their families–efforts such as this one benefit many besides the women themselves.

There is a live White House panel discussion today at 4.30 EST in the US (9.30 PM GMT).  There is also a research report called Giving Credit Where It is Due, which can be downloaded here.

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Vodafone Report Released at Smashing Event in London

Andrew Dunnett (left) led the whole Connected Women project, which included my report, the workshops, the cool evening event, and a pledge to support the Malala Foundation.

Earlier this week, Vodafone released a report on the potential for mobile technology to advance the freedoms and well-being of women around the world.  I co-authored this report, called “Connected Women.”

To highlight and underscore the findings, Vodafone  hosted workshops Monday afternoon in London. Representatives of key stakeholder groups discussed the positive impact on health, education, work, safety, and community that may be had–if we can solve the problem of getting access for the many women around the world who are not able to have mobile devices.

While mobiles are becoming common among men in even the most remote places, women are lagging far behind.  It is important to close this gap because mobile can be used to offer important, even life-saving services for women.  Connectivity to the outside world is rapidly becoming a necessary link to information and citizenship–we must not let the women be excluded.

At the St Pancras Renaissance, Vodafone had mounted huge posters of the women featured in films about the impact of mobile service. These women were also present to tell their stories and answer questions in real time. Their words were incredibly moving, as well as being a dramatic wakeup call for anyone who might think gender inequality is not a problem.

After the workshops was a wonderful evening event, with the walls of the fabulous St. Pancras Renaissance hung with huge posters of women from around the world who have benefited from mobile services.  There was fabulous food and all kinds of interesting drinks–as well as a musical number from Matilda and an interview with Malala Yousafzai.  The crowd was very buzzy and I was delighted to see that many of my friends who have become active in the women’s economic empowerment movement were there.

The strategy of the report was to identify key challenges to women’s freedom and well-being that were common around the world and then look to see whether mobile technology could have an impact.  I sketched out for the team at the first meeting the areas I felt were most important and most difficult:  health access, staying in school, being safe from violence, social isolation (a problem that has uniquely female dimensions), and economic participation.  Using these broad outlines, a team from Accenture, led by Harry Morrison and Caroline Fricke, began mathematically modelling the potential global impact of increasing women’s access to mobile, from both a social and a business perspective.  Then Beckie Herbert, working with the Vodafone team, produced sketches of existing Vodafone programs around the world that could illustrate how mobile might be used to address some of the most intransigent problems (the section on text-to-treatment for obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa is especially moving).

This fantastic assembly represents the graphic notes taken in each of the working sessions at the Vodafone multistakeholder brainstorming.

All the while this was going on, I assembled statistics and examples to show how women’s disadvantages in the domains of health, education, work, violence, and isolation create social problems for all of us, as well as inhibiting growth and prosperity every where.  There are lots of graphs and tables, as well as some personal reflections from my own fieldwork.

I am proud to have contributed to this report, along with brilliant folks from Accenture and Beckie Herbert.  Annette Fergusson, Joe Griffin, Lisa Felton, and Lucia Hayes were great colleagues from Vodafone who help us put the report together and then created this terrific event.

More later on why mobile is important. I just wanted to “get it out there” that this report, which contains a lot of data about challenges facing women around the world, is available.

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We Didn’t Know Until Now

I often explain to my students that our current command of data showing the dimensions of gender inequality in every nation, as well as its negative effects on everything from productivity to conflict, is a recent phenomenon.  It has been only in the past 20 years that data on gender has been collected on a global scale and really only in the last five that we have been able to discern the patterns and infer the causalities.  It has been an illuminating step forward in the on-going effort to know what the past and present of women is, so that we can build a better future.

This wry cartoon was drawn by Isabel Ogilvie-Smith, who is currently an undergraduate at Oxford. It was passed along to me by her mother, my dear friend Elizabeth Paris, who was among the first class of women admitted to University College at Oxford in 1979.

A key project of the Second Wave was to push academic disciplines to include women in their research.  Archaeology had studied the millennia with virtually no consideration given to what half the species had been doing all that time.  Anthropologists went into the rainforests and deserts—and, once there, interviewed only the men.  Even medical research was done only with male subjects.

History was no exception to this patterned blindness.  Amazing as it is to consider now, it has been in my adult lifetime that women’s history has been written.  When I was young, the national narratives were peopled exclusively by Great Men (and, of course, their wars).  We had nothing to help us know who the women had been, what they thought or felt.

The thrilling change in the practice of historical research, which expanded during the late 20th century to include everyday life and ordinary people, recast forever our understanding of the past.  A core element was the careful reconstruction of the history of women, a task that continues to this day.

We are now blessed with a richness of information about women’s lives that has never before been possible.  Yet in many areas of inquiry–including economics and business–the dominant paradigm still asserts that the male bias in the construction of knowledge is “objective,” that their precepts are somehow gender neutral despite a dogged refusal to acknowledge, for instance, the causes of the care crisis, the continued grip of financial exclusion, the pervasiveness of unequal economic treatment.

The last generation of women scholars left us a gift of unparalleled importance by handing us our own history.  The current generation of women (and men) built the data that tell what we look like now, all around the world.  The next generation must focus on eliminating the gender bias in our economic concepts so that we can, at last, figure out where we want to go and how to get there.

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