Systems Mapping as a Tool for Systems Change in Gender Finance

Image : Gender Finance Ecosystem Map Photo Credit Rita Abreu @ARAphotoUK

As a connector and catalyst in the gender finance space, I know that moving more capital, more strategically, in a gender-smart way requires not just influencing individuals and institutions, but shifting systems: of government, state finance, civil society, banking, shareholders, information, public discourse, and more.

I also know that if you want to change a system, you first need to understand how it works: who the players are, what the obstacles to change are, and where the opportunities and leverage points lie.

That’s why, along with Tara Health Foundation’s Ruth Shaber and Nexial’s Marshall Clemens and Alexandra Kanitz, we co-created the Gender Finance Ecosystem Map.

Ruth and I were aware that many people working in the gender-smart investing field were working in silos: deeply knowledgeable in their own fields of finance, philanthropy, development, research, entrepreneurship, and more, but disconnected from the other parts of the system. We wanted to create an interactive tool that gave users not only a holistic understanding of the gender-smart investing field, but an understanding of how gender-smart investing fits into the global finance system more broadly.

I knew that Marshall Clemens had created a similar tool for the climate change space four years ago, and serendipitously met Alexandra and John, the co-founders of Marshall’s new company — Nexial. We teamed up with them to use that work as the basis for a map of the gender finance space.

The interactive map we’ve created presents a comprehensive picture of the actors, tools, initiatives, and types of capital that comprise the gender finance system, as well as the barriers to and leverage points for systemic change. Users can zoom in, zoom out, drill-into more detailed information and links, and explore the map through an array of different layers: from the role of individual financial life and community roles, to sexual and gender-based violence, to “Womenomics.”

The goal is that you can take anything you’re trying to shift in the system and use the map to identify players, relationships, and what needs to change in order for that shift to happen.

We also wanted people who don’t typically think of themselves as being part of the gender finance ecosystem — journalists, philanthropists, civil society actors, individual investors, pension fund holders, alumni who donate to their university endowments — to see where they fit into the picture.

One of the things people have been saying to me as they look at the project is that it really helps to see themselves as part of the finance ecosystem. Being able to visualize themselves as part of that system gives them a starting point to think about how they’d like to influence the system — and who they’d need to reach out to and the leverage points they’d need to use in order to do that.

There is much more work to do. We’ve just launched at the Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London earlier this month. The global finance system is by definition global, and the actors and institutions featured in the first iteration of this map have a Western-centric slant. We’d like to change that. We’d also like to use the map to tell even more stories of the challenges, opportunities, and systems at play within the larger gender finance system. Making that happen will require further funding and engagement.

We all have a stake in the finance system, because financial capital is fuel that, along with human, intellectual and social capital, drives economic activity — and consequently, the kind of world we end up building.

And systems change work matters. If we limit our actions to investing in one more good company, one more good fund, or one more good investment strategy, that may achieve a financial return and an impact on specific businesses and their stakeholders. But it won’t change the bigger systems that create and reinforce gender inequality. It won’t change decision making in finance overall. It won’t necessarily change market based systemic issues.

If we want to affect the complex problems that are facing our world, we need to be aiming to solve for them at a systems level.

A map doesn’t change things — people do. We hope the tool that we’ve created helps you to educate yourself and others, engage, and communicate more effectively about what you’re working on. We invite you to take a look at it and find where you sit on the map — whether you consider yourself someone who works in gender finance or not. See how your work connects to other players, and think about how you might be able to work with them to help each other achieve your common goals.

Please let us know what you think, or if you have comments or thoughts on how you might use the map, by shooting us an email at gendersmart@nexial.com