For three days in Bangkok in mid-March 2015, we hosted a fabulous gathering of leaders in gender lens investing. We planned this event as a culmination of a USAID activity to identify specific actions USAID and others could take to accelerate the field of gender lens investing in Asia.

Getting to inclusive social change via the systems of finance requires that we understand how finance works in the world. Tweet This Quote

We were joined by 47 women’s rights activists, individual and institutional investors, fund managers, donors and other women and men focused on grassroots mobilization and working deep in the finance industry. Participants formed new relationships, contributed to shaping a broader understanding and map of the field of gender lens investing, and moved forward tangible opportunities.

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Participants from the group in Bangkok

The group wanted to keep the definition of gender lens investing broad and not only focus on women led businesses and to certainly not be reduced to a subset of impact investing. For example, in talking to midwife entrepreneurs in the Philippines, how do we not simply get them access to capital to grow their individual business, but influence capital flows to effectively build the industry of midwifery and get to a larger systems change in health care access? How can financing for successful women entrepreneurs in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) not fragment existing collaborative cross-border business relationships through one-off deals, but rather knit them more closely through innovative organizational structures?

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Su-Mei Thompson ?CEO, The Women’s Foundation

Su-Mei Thompson on gender lens investing:

At The Women’s Foundation, all too often, we encounter the assumption that gender lens investing is just about micro finance for women entrepreneurs. But just imagine the potential for change if women’s needs were properly considered in project finance for infrastructure projects like the building of new roads and subways or sanitation systems. After all, men and women use public transport differently. Studies show that women rank personal security and transport costs higher than men, who rate speed as the no. 1 issue. Or consider the new horizons that would emerge for women-owned enterprises if companies were to embrace supplier diversity, driven by consumer demand for products bearing a Made By A Women-Owned Business kite mark. Equally, at TWF, we have been urging institutional investors to challenge companies with all-male boards and all-male management teams given the reams of available research showing that greater gender diversity leads to better business performance. This is why we are excited about being part of an emerging regional coalition working to frame and promote gender lens investing as a field in its own right and working to create linkages between the many players who are already engaged in GLI in many cases without realizing they are contributing to an exciting new movement at the intersection of finance, gender and social development.

Getting to inclusive social change via the systems of finance requires that we understand how finance works within the world. Finance is a system that assigns value to things based on analysis of risk or return (and a few other things). This often reduces the complexity of the world into a series of calculations. In the end, incorporating a gender analysis into a financial analysis means shaping the data used to make decisions, working to overcome what has included patterns of bias and exclusion, and working to get to better decision-making overall.

How do we better use the richness and depth of gender data that we have in non-governmental organizations, women’s rights organizations and other groups of experts to be able to inform decision-making in finance? Tweet This Quote

We know how to count women, such as number of women on corporate boards or the number of women-led businesses, and have some correlations that indicate these data points should be valued for better financial performance. But in finance, these data points are not being used consistently enough. Furthermore, there is need for additional data points, correlations, relationships, and evidence that can help value the richness of what we know about an investing approach and an investment impact with a gender lens that includes not only information from investors and those in finance, but also from women’s rights experts, feminist economists, grassroots organizers and others.

How do we better use the richness and depth of gender data that we have in non-governmental organizations, women’s rights organizations and other groups of experts to be able to inform decision-making in finance? How do you take the rigor of the metric systems Oxfam Great Britain-Bangkok implements to document inclusive social change, to become relevant to calculations and systems of finance? Or be able to use the information Millennium Challenge Account Indonesia is collecting around community landscapes and livescapes to inform decision-making about other climate mitigation investments?

How do we prove the impact of gender lens investing on the lives of women and girls, and the broader inclusive social change we seek? Tweet This Quote

At the forum in Bangkok, USAID formally announced an activity to support data analysis, documentation and dissemination around gender lens investing. Specifically, the goal is to develop and test a hypothesis describing how money flowing into gender lens investments within a limited set of countries in Asia (across asset classes and investment vehicles) translates to tangible social benefits for women and society, and financial benefits for investors.

The design of this activity was a topic of conversation throughout the forum. What kind of data, from whose perspective? At one moment in the Bangkok forum, as a researcher talked about his background in astrophysics, he reflected gender lens investing just might be equally complex.

Understanding gender lens investing probably isn’t really as hard as astrophysics, but we don’t yet have a full network of the data points, pathways and bridges that allow us to make logical connections between gender, finance and inclusive social change. How do we prove the impact of gender lens investing on the lives of women and girls, and the broader inclusive social change we seek? How do we prove that data patterns about gender matter in the decision-making within finance? How do we ground that in industries, sectors, and community contexts that make the analysis tangible to an investor and women’s rights advocate?

How do we prove that data patterns about gender matter in the decision-making within finance? Tweet This Quote

How can we translate these understandings into data patterns of analysis that can shift the logic of finance? Shift the priorities, the patterns, so that smart money moves in the right ways. And how do we make sure that in making finance smarter and investments better, we are also valuing the voice of people who have expertise in gender issues and the individuals that we are striving to support?

As fund managers, advocates, gender experts, investors, international development supporters, and others, what evidence do we need to make the case for more investments with a gender lens, i.e., to see finance as a bridge to help scale inclusive social change? As USAID designs its data activity in the coming months, your input is incredibly valuable!


Editor’s note: Click here to see the rest of Joy and Patty’s series exploring entrepreneurship and investing in Asia through a gender-lens.

About the author

Patty Alleman & Joy Anderson

Patty Alleman & Joy Anderson

Patty Alleman is the Senior Regional Gender Advisor for USAID's Regional Development Mission for Asia, and Joy Anderson is the founding president of Criterion Institute, a research and education nonprofit that broadens who and what matters in reinventing the economy. Their writings are on their travels in Asia as they seek to map the landscape, meet the players, and build a foundation for gender equality by investing in women and girls.

  • Mallory Benham

    Gender lens sounds like a great investment. It seems like a great way to get deeper into many of issues, beyond women, and make a change for the greater good.

  • storres001

    Investing in gender lens sounds like an awesome opportunity. A major thing to consider, especially in businesses in less developed countries, is the culture of business. Women may be doing the work in a lot of businesses, but its men who are in charge and there for get the big bucks, I can see this happening a lot in artisan sort of businesses. You need to invest in educating women on being financially savvy and independent. There is such a small percent of women who can actually hold their own in a local business, which is why men have to be “in charge”, if you work to change that you can work to boost those numbers you’re looking for.

  • pcutinelli

    This was such an interesting unreasonable post because it shows how these changes to less-advantaged women can change the quality of life for so many of them.

  • pach8453

    I really enjoyed reading this Unreasonable post. Women will now have more opportunity due to the Gender Lens and overtime we will see a social shift in the employment and management trends. Aside from just helping women, it will open the doors to allowing different types of people the same opportunity as the current business managers.

  • Erin Todd

    I agree so much to this. I think that gender is just the door to a huge room of different types of people from the same community. a social shift needs to happen but small groups are harder to achieve than bigger groups. Women as a group is huge and thus would bring more attention to employment.

  • kgallaher

    Learning about the Gender Lens was really interesting. I think it’s great how it will open many doors for unprivileged women. Both men and women should have equal opportunities in all countries. I think it’s something we often take for granted here in the states. I think this is a great step for women internationally.

  • sadeakindele

    This seems like quite a difficult task to undertake, moving statistics regarding gender and finances to a causal rather than correlative conclusion. I think that gender lens investing makes sense for a wealth of reasons, even if purely just economical, so having data backing up this claim would be nice.

  • Katie Larson

    I agree, understanding the impact of all actors in society in not only a sociological context but a data-based context can only help to understand more deeply, the problems of society and their roots. Bringing data into the gender-lens shift is another way to explain the inequities between genders and the benefits that can arise by ending these inequities.

  • Gaby Perez

    Yes! I completely agree with your point. I think that if we were to use some of the investing techniques on other global issues with oppressed populations we would be able to make a greater change–are Mallory said, for the greater good.

  • Brooke Bower

    I believe that it is a great thing that they are trying to look into this. It’s important to learn about the gender lens, and it is even more important to have equal opportunities for men and women. Women and men may think differently, and have different concerns. From a business stand point, both men and women should be able to equally share ideas. For example, women may have a different view on something, and by sharing their view with men, they could improve on a product that they are selling/ creating. Working together is key.

  • dannyjoseph14

    I have never considered gender bias in this context, much less heard of gender lens investing. I guess that’s just a testament to how deeply rooted gender bias is in our society. I definitely agree that more women in decision making positions would make financial investment more gender neutral and reduce bias.

  • nedroche

    I think in todays world, the social push for gender lens for women is critical and may be overdue in western culture. I will be interested to see how this unfolds in Asia among other parts of the world where business is conducted differently and gender equality may not be on the same page. Showing support to women and letting reassuring them that they are just as capable as men is also critical.

  • karnold001

    I agree. It is easier for me to imagine gender lens investing unfold in the familiar western culture, but I am curious to see how it would be conducted in other parts of the world where business cultures differ.

  • JuanFonseca1995

    Its 2015 and there should be equality throughout every phase of business, if you have the brain to change the world, money shouldn’t be the barrier to make an impact on the world. Think about it, any human can change the world, as long as there are people that support the vision of that human being. Women entrepreneurs have the ability to change the world, investors must believe in their dream because all these women will contribute to society in a positive manner. The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

  • phoebeelisa

    I agree. If women are taught how to run a business, I think it could benefit all of us in lots of ways. for example, like stated in the article, women and men think different things are a priority so therefore they could improve things an all-man business would have never thought about changing. Articles like this make me happy, since I am a woman and love to see more opportunities open for my gender. (I dont hate men but I just relate to women better)

  • alexisprine13

    I too believe that this is great that they are looking into this. I agree that men and women should have equal opportunities. Like you said women and men have different perspectives and concerns that could make business better. I also think as people we have different experiences through out life. A women’s experience in her life might bring better light to a project or business.

  • Jack Strader

    I’m interested to know what a feminist economist is. I have never heard that used before. Good article, I enjoyed reading it.

  • Arnthor Kristinsson

    I was actually wondering the same thing Jack, what is a feminist exonomist? Otherwise it was a decent article to read, thank you.

  • Katie

    Although we are making progress towards gender equality, there is still a big shift that needs to happen. Gender Lens would open many doors and would bring us one step closer to our goal. This equality needs to happen for all countries, but I feel like it will be harder to convince some than others.

  • kschwein

    I agree with you here and believe that many doors will open after this. This is a big step in the right direction if you ask me. I do agree in thinking we take it for granted in the U.S. and at the same time I would like to see how this helps women outside the U.S. in different cultures.

  • Halea McAteer

    When talking about the need for social change in our world, and the great role that women have to play in it specifically, I think it is really easy to miss the connection. Even some of my friends think that focusing efforts on women is hindering the progress of the issue by narrowing the scope of people who can help make a difference. While this might be a point that could be argued by some, I think the connection is clear. Women that live in impoverished areas are some of the most oppressed people in society today. When thinking about this issue, I can’t help but think of the ethicist Paulo Freire and his “Pedagogy of The Oppressed”. He speaks of how in our world, there is this constant cycle of having people that are oppressed, and those acting as oppressors whether they know it or not. He says the best way to liberate these people is not for the oppressors, or the more privileged, to come in and give them the help they think they need, but rather the oppressors must work in solidarity with the oppressed to liberate them and change their situation for the better. Though this is a rather simplified version of his ethics, it most definitely applies to this topic and has helped me better understand it. These women need to be at the head of this social change because of the fact that they are the ones most affected and they are the ones who know what they most need in order to make their lives better.

  • kmwilliams52

    I definitely feel like this is something that will always be a problem, I mean, I hope I am wrong, but it is hard for me to see this going away. I am all for equality, as I feel everyone is equal, but at the same time, some people were brought up in households where this kind of thinking was okay, which it isn’t. Also, every culture has a different take on this as certain things are okay in one culture, while it is completely not okay in others. This is an extremely tough issue to tackle, but if it can be solved, that would be amazing.

  • John Mulhern

    Gender Lens provides a new platform for this issue that will one day change the world. Gender equality in management and really in business will be the key to changing the way we operate. I applaud Gender Lens for their efforts and ideas! Hopefully we can take those and make a true difference.

  • CamilleYip

    I think that it is very important to have equal opportunities for both men and women and although I think we are taking steps to create more opportunities I think that there is still lots of room for improvement.

  • AHuisinga

    This was a fantastic article, as is any piece that can show me that I have been viewing a subject the wrong way. I have not put as big an emphasis as I should have on the view of women on product development. As much as it pains me to admit, I just assumed that everyone’s number one priority on their commute was time, not safety, as the article proposed it is for many women.

    With the world shrinking with each passing day, many more markets are emerging, each one serving a newly uncovered economic niche. It is now possible to market and spread the word on new products instantaneously, so consumers can find the products and services that fit their individual needs easily and seamlessly.

  • AHuisinga

    The good thing about this new age of connection is that it doesn’t really matter if some will be difficult to convince. The world and the technology that propels it is changing so incredibly quickly that those who refuse to change with it will simply be left behind. Those who attempt to slow down progress will only hold themselves down.

  • AHuisinga

    A feminist economist is simply a conventional economist, but with an emphasis on feminist issues. For instance, most economists will have one particular area of expertise, such as finance, business, or even sports.

  • AHuisinga

    Exactly. With the hyper-innovation the world is undergoing, every niche is going to be filled, and unless halted by government bureaucracy, the economic captivity of certain groups, like many women, will continue to dwindle.

  • Anniep1023

    I love to read articles that show all of the wonderful things women are doing in the world! What I liked most about this article is that it focused on many areas women are working and succeeding in all around the world. However, the article also points out how much work still needs to be done in order to close the gender gap in many different markets. Hopefully, because of many advances over the past few years, more and more progress will be made in order to get gender equality.

  • Marcy Glad

    I applaud the efforts of those focused on the needs of the female entrepreneurs themselves discussed here in the article. Giving a decision-making stake to those that are being assisted rather than presenting the aid without consulting members of the target group does seem to be a superior way to go about resolution. For instance, when people get to help formulate the decisions that affect them, they are generally more committed to participating. Additionally, the solution is likely to be more effective if those that are mostly deeply involved help create it.

  • mleano

    Greed, for lack of a better word, should follow where the best investments are. Gender bias is probably going to be in place for a long time but steps are being taken to alleviate it.

  • Mabel

    Social change in impoverished is difficult i feel at times due to the huge difference in cultures. I feel that the majority of the it is one culture imposing their cultural views on women’s role in society. I am taking a class that deals with just and sustainable development and we had some guest speakers that brought up an amazing point . It was that dealing with a different culture it is best to implement LOLA (learn, observe, listen & act). Using this one can make an impact in introducing new ideas while being mindful of the other culture.

  • Sabrina Ehlert

    I believe the there is an importance in involving a female perspective in a business that is often overlooked. Like the article mentioned, women have different priorities and thought processes than males, and therefore can provide valuable input. By giving women the power they need to lead, I believe we can spark social change.

  • Jack Strader

    Thanks so much for the feedback. It was very informative and eye opening

  • mpierson19

    Why do they feel the need to have to “count women”, I don’t hear about people counting men. If we are trying to provide social change in the world, there is no need to point out women in the workplace. They are no different than men in the workplace and people need to understand women are fully capable of doing everything the men can do in the workplace.

  • Matthew Montoya

    I definitely agree with your points! I think when we look at the issue of gender inequality, the common understanding is promote more women, provide better job opportunities, etc. Although this is helpful to an extent, I think like you mentioned, it places a stigma that the oppressors should be the one to make the decisions that bring the oppressed up. However, I do not think it is understood well enough that women are AMAZING already in all aspects of life, the professional world included and we should highlight and provide a platform for them to show just how incredible they are, rather than simply promoting that more opportunities were “given”. The discussion should change to those opportunities were earned! I really liked your points and the efforts made in the article!

  • mrschatham

    I also had not considered gender bias when it comes to other countries so it’s nice to see this being addressed. I believe there is room for women everywhere to be involved. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine encouraging women to take courage and step out to follow their dreams of being successful so investing in women and girls would be another stepping stone to help female entrepreneurs reach their goals with confidence. This is a great move forward to help create more opportunities for women in all countries. Someone has to be the leader and economically speaking I think it’s a move in a positive direction for everyone.

  • Jacob Palmer

    This is another gender equality issue. Women and men are different, but that is no reflection of value. Women and men have great things to offer, but due to rampant gender inequality especially in developing countries it has forced or coerced women to stand on the side line.

    At least 3 things must be addressed to minimize gender inequality. (1) Women must have full and equal access to education. This sounds easy, but requires some culture changes as well. Too often we as parents, friends, and acquaintances reinforce stereotypes about at what women and girls excel. Yes, I’m talking about math and science. (2) Family planning. Since women bear the socio-economic impacts of child bearing and birth we need to give them options. Regardless of your thoughts on birth control, the data is clear. When women have control of their reproductive health they, their partner, their children, and society are better off. (3) If a couple decides to raise a child, the equal dispersion of child-care responsibilities is paramount. The countries that successfully institute an environment conducive to sharing responsibilities have better levels of gender equality.

  • mni624

    I see what you are saying. I also have wondered if statistically knowing the differences between men and women has hindered any one from making a change. As people we are all capable of doing whatever it is we want to do. Yes, there are places where females are truly treated different from males due to their culture. However, they can speak up and create change. For example, football has always been a male’s sport until a female decided she passionately wanted to play, spoke up about it, and became a football player.

  • ChaiseSheldon

    This is one of the only gender related articles I have ever enjoyed reading. Most suggest that women should get to the metaphorical front of the line. I liked that this article wasn’t trying to force the women into the fabric but rather weave them in without disrupting everything. All people have a place in the entrepreneurial world the problem is finding where you fit in.

  • scsmith2

    It is absurd that someone would have to “count women” as they say however with the gender stereotypes that have always surrounded women in the work force it is a necessary component for change. They have to statistically show that women can be a driving force in the finance industry. They must prove that allowing women a chance to excel, outside of the home, will increase the profits of the company and the industry. No one really likes change so proof is needed to ensure that the new course of action will be a profitable one.

  • scsmith2

    I am delighted by this group. We need more industries to recognize the importance of equal opportunities for women. Feminism is all about equality and freedom of choice for everyone so it is important that women as a whole stand up and try to make a change in how everyone in the world is viewed. Every person has a unique perspective and something to add for the overall well being of the world and it is time more industries recognize that diversity is important to stay in business or to even excel.

  • Alysullivan

    I agree and love your post! “any human can change the world”, so why in the hell do people exclude women? We think in a lot of different ways than men, so why wouldn’t you want to include all possible ideas?

  • Lqurent

    I don’t stay up to date with a lot of the celebrity gossip, but recently Charlize Theron found out she was being paid 10 million dollars less than her male co-star in a role that had less experience than her. It’s crazy to think that even in Hollywood this can exist.

  • kbell003

    When we look at data on human beings we forget that not everything fits nicely into the little boxes that we want them to fit into. What happens when their is biological man who identifies as a women or someone who doesn’t want to be limited be their biological sex. I understand why we need these statistics, but I also think that we need to create a society where those statistics are less important and our work is more important.

  • Rik Williams

    Really engaging and informative discussion here in this comment section. I’m the researcher referenced in the post, and I was only half-joking when I said that gender-lens investing is a more difficult and complicated problem than astrophysics. Human beings and their institutions don’t follow well-defined laws of physics; as others here have pointed out, we can’t just define them within nice “little boxes,” and data can be notoriously difficult to collect and interpret. Moreover, there are endless variations on what can constitute a “gender-lens investment” and how such investments can affect society (both intentionally and unintentionally).

    As we move forward with the data activity, one of the biggest challenges will be to choose, from these endless variations, one or two simple chains of cause-and-effect that can be tested with data. In other words, rather than attempting to “solve” gender-lens investing (which we recognize is unlikely if not impossible), we want to quantify the effects of a specific gender-lens investment vehicle (equity in women-owned small businesses? bonds?), in a specific sector, in one to three countries in Asia.

    About a dozen of us will be putting our heads together in a two-day meeting next month to think this through a bit more, and we’d love to have your input. Which investments, sectors, etc. do you consider most interesting, promising, or effective? Which do you think can be most effectively demonstrated with data, and what data are needed?

  • milkienr18

    I defiantly agree with you. I don’t think it should matter anymore if someone has a good idea we should listen to it and give it a chance. Women can bring a lot to the table and can think in many different ways that not all men can. That’s why I think that women should be able to be in higher up positions. I also agree with that the future belongs to those that prepare for it!

  • keyser03

    Powerful article! We need to raise more awareness on this subject. It’s 2015. Let’s see where it will take us.

  • Leah Renee

    yes! i agree with all of this. so many need to realize that feminism is not “man hating” but about equality!! all industries to provide equal opportunities for all