Women entrepreneurship: Push for gender lens investing

The burden of COVID-19 pandemic weighs disproportionately on women. It has reduced their economic independence and added to their workload, resulting in long-term socio-economic consequences. But, at the virtual edition of the Third Impact Investors Foundation (IIF) Annual Convening on Impact Investing, themed “COVID-19 and gender lens investing in Nigeria”, experts brainstormed on how gender lens investing could help address systemic vulnerabilities and inequalities affecting women and their businesses. DANIEL ESSIET reports.


AS a woman and Projects Lead for Impact Investors Foundation (IIF), a non-profit organisation that promotes the growth of impact investing in Nigeria, Ms. Maria Glover understands when businesses in Nigeria, particularly women-led businesses, are hurting. She also knows what hurts them and, of course, the best response approach to providing them long-term succour.

So, when Ms. Glover, last week, said the COVID-19 pandemic had affected women entrepreneurs, and stressed the need to address systemic vulnerabilities and inequalities affecting women, which have been amplified by the global pandemic, she sure spoke the minds of women entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

The occasion was the virtual Third Impact Investors Foundation (IIF) Annual Convening on Impact Investing, themed “COVID-19 and gender lens investing in Nigeria”, where Ms. Glover said the pandemic affected women in two ways. She said the pandemic reduced their economic independence and added to their workload, giving rise to long-term socioeconomic consequences.

The IIF Projects Lead, therefore, threw her weight behind the growing push for gender lens investing as a viable and long-term recovery response approach to bringing succour to women and galvanising their businesses. She also made a case for governments and multilateral organisations to provide targeted capacity-building initiatives for women.

Gender lens investing is one of the most-rapidly growing segments of sustainable investing. Specifically, Gender lens investing is an investment approach that seeks to integrate gender-based factors into investment decisions with goals ranging from enhancing risk-adjusted returns to driving gender equality.

It is the practice of investing for financial return while also considering the benefits to women, both through improving economic opportunities and social well-being for girls and women. It includes funding women-owned businesses, businesses with a strong track record of employing women, or companies that improve the lives of women and girls with their products and services.

Proponents of gender lens investing argue that firms with a higher-than-average proportion of women in executive roles tend to perform well, possibly because of an increased diversity of viewpoints, or because not discriminating against women allows companies to hire the best available talent.

The belief is that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the existing inequalities and obstacles to women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, and further endangered progress on a host of international development frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It was against this backdrop that an expert panel drawn by the IIF’s virtual ‘Annual Convening on Impact Investing’ agreed that applying a gender lens approach to investment can both accelerate gender equality and provide significant returns on investment.

The speakers included the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), Yewande Sadiku; Chief Executive, Intellecap, Vikas Bali; Principal, Cross Boundary, Nneka Chime; Partner, Dalbery Advisors, Nneka Eze; and Executive Consultant, GIZ-NICOP, Adrianne Martin Rodriguez.

Others were co-founder, Rising Tide Africa, Yemi Keri; Social Impact and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Manager, Alitheia Capital, Temilade Denton; Social Entrepreneur, Thelma Ekiyor; Director, Value Creation Strategies, CDC Group, Jen Braswell; and  Associate Partner, Dalbery Advisors, London, and Jesse Baver

At the online meeting, which was attended by The Nation, IIF Chairman Mr. Afolabi Oladele aligned with Ms. Glover. He noted that the burden of COVID-19 had fallen disproportionately on women, calling for gender-responsive approaches such as gender lens investing as a longer-term recovery response.

Oladele said many of the COVID-19 frontline jobs such as healthcare occupations employed mostly women, noting that it was important to address systemic issues in this regard.

For Nneka Eze of Dalbery Advisors, capital providers needed to examine their lending practices to ensure that women entrepreneurs are targeted or that women are well-represented in the businesses the capital providers support.

Stating that gender lens investing seeks companies that not only embrace gender female representation, but also offer products and services aimed at improving the lives of women, she said investment portfolios needed to be broadly diversified and represented with gender-focused funds.

NIPC Executive Secretary Sadiku said there was need for women focused investments to bolster growth and prosperity. She said attracting gender lens investment will play a vital role in driving Nigeria’s economic diversity that is needed for the country’s economic sustainability.

Denton could not agree less. Specifically, he said gender lens investing is a crucial tool for achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Denton pointed out, for instance, that SDG 5, which focuses on gender equality, is gravely underfunded in comparison to the other goals.

However, for these to happen, the founding Partner and Managing Director, Aruwa Capital Management, Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, said there is a financing gap that needed to be closed, noting, however, that the firm has been investing in Nigerian and Ghanaian firms.

Aruwa Capital Management is a private equity fund focused on meeting the unmet demand for equity investments in Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs) in West Africa. Rhodes, however, said the Fund only invests in firms that either provide employment opportunities to women or make products that empower women.

Incidentally, the Fund’s first investment, Wemy Industries Limited, happened to tick both boxes, with Rhodes pointing out that if female-led funds have access to more capital, they will allocate more of it to women.

According to her, this’ll guarantee better return to the fund and also increase the ability of that fund manager to attract more capital, thereby continuing the cycle. “It is my point of view that until we change the balance in terms of the capital allocators, I don’t think much is going to change,” Rhodes said.

Baver said there are funds supporting women-led enterprises. He said, for instance, that Aceli Africa has increased lending to underserved agricultural SMEs, thereby improving livelihoods for farmers and workers, creating opportunities for women and youths, strengthening food security and nutrition, and promoting sustainable environmental practices.

Aceli Africa is a market incentive facility that unlocks capital for agricultural SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa. Through its work, its hopes to address the region’s $65 billion yearly financing gap for agricultural SMEs. And Baver said Aceli Africa has been working with a range of capital providers to build an inclusive and resilient financial market.

However, Aceli Africa is not alone in supporting the growth of agricultural SMEs in West Africa. Ténemba Anna Samaké of Mobile Business Clinic (MBC) Africa also said the organisation was conceived to address the technical and managerial constraints affecting the growth of agricultural SMEs in the sub-region.

She said MBC Africa’s mission as to assist African entrepreneurs and small businesses build competitive ventures by providing training, tested solutions and support services, especially access to market.

Samaké also said MBC Africa has done a lot to empower small businesses in the agribusiness segment and later expanded to other forms of training within the agricultural sector. She added that the organisation has also developed skills in technical assistance delivery among promising women businesses and in business development and SME financing.

Bali stated that analysing gender patterns and gender biases will allow women-led businesses identify undervalued opportunities, resulting in better investment and portfolio management decisions and improved returns for investors.

He also the SDGs encourage partners in the private sector, particularly those in Financial Technology (fintech) to actively reach out to women, foster financial inclusion, and yield better financial investment for women.

On her part, the Chief Executive, Funding Space, Thelma Ekiyor, urged business owners and other stakeholders to emphasise the impact investment, and supporting women as part of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery process. This, she said, would fast-track growth and development.

Thelma, while highlighting the opportunities of impact investing in Africa and the need for investors to operate with high standards, stated that SMEs should be viable stakeholders in the capital market, as this would go a long way to boost their performance.

The gender lens investing approach, as well as other options proffered by experts at the IIF online meeting to help women navigate the COID-19 crisis have become necessary in view of Keri’s observation that women have more responsibilities and other lifestyle issues that affect their business decisions.

She, however, said Rising Tide Africa (RTA), which engages in educating and training women to become sophisticated angel investors, has been investing in male and female-led firms.

RTA, through its programme, offers women the opportunity to build a diversified portfolio of investments and receive mentoring from women who are experienced angel investors.


Source: The Nation

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