Despite traction in gendered approaches to investment, women still represent an underutilized force for sustainable development and remain underserved in terms of access to capital, market linkages, and resources needed to improve their economic position. Closing the gender gap is not only a social imperative but also a key ingredient in fueling economic growth.
Accounting for half of the world’s population, women play catalytic roles in advancing sustainable development goals by enhancing productivity, fostering economic growth, and improving social outcomes. In emerging economies, in particular, countries that have placed women at the center of development assistance and poverty reduction strategies have experienced stronger growth in their local economies as compared to those countries that have pushed gender-neutral policies. In fact, advancing women’s equality across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors could add an estimated $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Simply put, investing in women makes good business sense.
Thus, as the impact investing ecosystem expands and evolves, how do we elevate the role of women so that they can be seen as investment opportunities to accelerate impact, rather than distinct investment criterion?
Gender-lens investing principles seek to fill this gap in our current investment landscape; at its core, gender-lens investing identifies investment opportunities, business models, products, and market segments that promote the livelihoods of women and girls. This results in a convergence of market-based principles that magnify financial returns alongside women’s empowerment.
As a pioneer in impact investing, IIX has been actively applying a gender-lens since its founding, with women as one of its three pillars of operation. IIX is joined by a broader network of ecosystem players who desire to move the needle forward on women’s role in economic development. Recognizing the importance of women as agents for positive social and environmental change, gender-lens investing serves as the cornerstone of Pacific RISE (Pacific Readiness for Investment in Social Enterprise)—a pilot initiative implemented by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to pioneer and facilitate an impact investment market in the Pacific.
As part of this initiative, IIX has partnered with Pacific Trade Invest Australia and Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) to build the capacity of impact enterprises deemed suitable to attract investments in three high-impact sectors at the intersection point of Fiji’s social progress and economic growth: sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, and fisheries. Underlying the project is a built-in gender lens, which prioritizes entities focused on empowering women to become solutions for sustainable development. Using a gender analysis framework, IIX and its partners are conducting on-site assessments of enterprises and organizing meetings with local stakeholders to determine selected enterprises’ level of investment readiness, analyze their potential to scale, and identify opportunities to attract investment capital. Through targeted accelerator workshops and mentoring sessions with the selected enterprises, IIX and its partners will play active roles to address gaps in Fiji’s investment landscape, as well as provide localized solutions to help women-owned businesses and/or businesses prioritizing women to build their organizational capacity and amplify long-term impact. Working directly with high-impact enterprises, IIX is not only addressing structural barriers to capital access and deployment in the Pacific’s investment environment, but is also promoting inclusive business practices that advance gender equity across the value chain.
Gender-lens investing can help create a more inclusive ecosystem by filling critical gaps in the social capital market that keep women capital constrained, and prevent women entrepreneurs and women-run businesses from attracting investments and scaling impact. Creating an enabling environment for impact investments to thrive can only happen when women are seen as equal players in improving economic and social outcomes.