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Q&A: Impact on Women


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This is the first of a two-part blog series from Global Partnerships about women and impact investing.

Interview with Tara Murphy Forde, Vice President of Impact and Research, Global Partnerships

 

What challenges do women face in the developing world?

Let me start by saying that poverty and the way that it is experienced by women is highly contextual. The challenges faced by a woman in rural Bolivia are quite different than those faced by a woman living in a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. That being said, millions of women across the globe lack access to the products, services, and information they need to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. In other words, gender inequality is both a root cause and a consequence of poverty. Ironically, studies have shown time and again that when you put resources in the hands of women, not only do those women benefit, they invest those resources in the wellbeing of their families and communities.

How can impact investing be part of the solution?

Impact investing seeks to harness the positive power of markets to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. In the case of Global Partnerships, we invest in enterprises that are overcoming critical obstacles like lack of infrastructure or financial incentive, in order to deliver high-impact products and services to people historically excluded. To do so successfully and sustainably, our partners need to develop a deep understanding of their clients and tailor their offerings to better meet their needs. This focus on inclusion and client-centric design lends itself to a gender sensitive approach. For example, our partners looking to deliver health services to rural women need to understand the current options, why they are failing women, and what it would take to improve not only access, but use of health services. You can’t answer these questions without applying what many call a “gender lens.”

How does Global Partnerships apply a “gender lens” in its investment strategy?

First, we conduct in-depth research to better understand not only whether a certain product or service works, but why that intervention works, for whom it works and under what circumstances. Through this rigorous research, which defines our investment initiatives, we gain a better understanding of whether a given intervention is targeting women living in poverty and, if so, how. We analyze how various aspects of a potential investment, such as payment terms, education curriculums, delivery mechanisms, and the quality of the product or service help women overcome gender barriers that have traditionally kept them excluded. We then look for partners that not only deliver the intervention outlined in the investment initiative, but do so in a way that we believe can reach more women living in poverty.

What do we measure and how do we know whether or not women are benefiting?

We, of course, ask our partners to report on how many clients they serve and what percent of those clients are women, but we also work alongside a select set of partners to better understand whether those clients experience the desired results. For example, in our Women-Centered Finance and Education Initiative, we work with partners like Friendship Bridge and CRECER, who use frequent feedback surveys and targeted studies to better understand their impact on women. By doing so, we can gain a better understanding of whether or not the women they serve are in fact feeling truly empowered, changing their income and consumption patterns and demonstrating stronger resilience in the face of economic shocks. Applying a gender lens in impact investing is about more than just a screening checklist or a set of quantitative data points. It is about using a variety of methods and frequent feedback to gain deeper insights into what women want and need in order to change their lives.

How has GP’s work evolved to better serve women?

As an impact-led investor, we have been focused on what products and services to invest in and why they are impactful. Over the years, we have learned that in order to answer these questions we need to also understand who is being served. By reframing the question, we have gained deeper insight into how women transform resources into economic opportunity. For example, we now understand that in order to capture the impact of financial services and education, we need to go beyond simply measuring changes in income and evaluate things that demonstrate economic resilience, like changes in how women decide to spend their income and how households deal with crises such as illness.

What about GP’s efforts to impact women most inspires you?

Throughout my career, I have been inspired by the women I have met and believe that their fortitude and ingenuity can move mountains. That being said, the systemic barriers women face remain real and will not be overcome until we tackle the link between poverty and inequality. But let me be clear, focusing on gender in impact investing isn’t just about making sure women benefit. The Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article entitled, “The Rise of Gender Capitalism.” The authors assert that by using a gender lens, investors can “gain new perspectives, highlight inequalities, uncover new opportunities, and find value where none was found before.” I am encouraged by the ways in which GP is applying a gender lens to challenge previously held assumptions, push for more client-centric solutions, and ultimately put resources in the hands of those who need them most.

Tara with Crecer Clients in Bolivia
Tara Murphy Forde with clients from GP partner CRECER in Bolivia.

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