Investing in Female Entrepreneurs: A Social Issue or an Economic Opportunity

StartingUpGood Magazine
9 min readDec 4, 2020

By: Brady Press

This post is part of a series highlighting sessions from the SOCAP 2020 Virtual Global Impact Summit. Continue reading for information on female entrepreneurship and investing in women.

Key Takeaways

  • Investing in diversity and female entrepreneurs is not just a “nice thing to do.” By investing in women you create economic value and succeed as a business. It’s an economic opportunity
  • Gender lens investing can help address challenges women have as consumers, employees, entrepreneurs, etc., which stem from lack of access to finance, social biases and inequality in opportunities
  • There are ways to move capital more directly to women, and women networks are crucial to achieving this. We don’t need to rely on banks for women helping women
  • We should consider broadening the scope of gender lens investing to “feminine investing,” and stop investing in entrepreneurs who are operating traditionally. Rather, we should carve out space to invest in women and men who are doing business differently. The rise of ESG investing is evidence of the feminine making its way back into capitalism


Despite several studies showing how advancing women’s equality can unleash unprecedented global growth, gender balance and gender lens are still not widely implemented as a practice, even among impact investors. This discussion, which offers perspectives from different geographic areas globally, covers this topic and sheds light on:

  • Practical approaches to increasing female representation among investors,
  • How to include more female entrepreneurs into investment portfolios; and
  • How to develop impact solutions that work both for men and women.



  • Panelists all know each other from the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network, the Gender Alliance and Ella Impact

Andia Chakava, Investment Director of Graca Machel Trust

  • Founding chairwoman of New Faces, New Voices (Kenya chapter) — a women’s finance network; is creating a pan-Africans Women Investment Fund

Aarti Wig, CEO and Co-Founder of Yunus Social Business India

  • Lead India Corporate Action Tank — India’s first incubator for large companies to do in-house social business innovation. Is focused on building an enabling ecosystem for large corporates to transform into purpose-driven companies

Kimberly Gire: Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy

  • A strategic philanthropist and Chair of the Center for Global Equity at Cambridge, which is contributing to the SDGs

Session Notes

Julia Johansson (JJ): Why is it a good business idea to invest in women?

Aarti Wig, CEO and Co-Founder of Yunus Social Business India

  • The definition of gender lens investing today encompasses various perspectives: investing in women-led businesses and including women in value chains and investing decisions
  • Grameen Bank is one of the earliest examples of gender lens investing and a good example of the business case for investing in women. It was set up as an impact investing company with a focus on alleviating poverty that invests in women-led businesses. The decision making is in the hands of female borrowers, and it has brought 9 million borrowers out of poverty
  • What’s talked about less is how successful Grameen Bank is as a business; it’s disbursed $24 billion to the world’s poorest women and has a 94% repayment rate — higher than that of the less-risky banking sector. For Grameen America, women have repaid their loans at a 99% repayment rate
  • McKinsey research suggests that India could add over $770 billion to its GDP by ensuring equal opportunities for women
  • India currently has one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce; 1 million people are added to the workforce each year — only 13% of which are women, and female participation has declined sharply over the past 10 years
  • Even at the top of the pyramid there are only 14% of women in leadership positions and 12% of the funded startups in India have a female co-founder. The flip side of these problems is the business opportunity

Andia Chakava, Investment Director of Graca Machel Trust

  • We’ve seen more than $4.6 billion in debt and capital being deployed through a gender lens strategy across the world, but a lot of it has been confined to North America. Only 6% is being deployed in Africa
  • Africa is the only country where women have chosen to be entrepreneurs more than their male counterparts, and women are prevailing in chosen entrepreneurship
  • That said, most entrepreneurs in Africa site the lack of access to finance and markets as key impediments to growth. The lack of finance probably accounts for twice the proportion of business failure among women when compared to men. Women struggle to get loans of the same size as men, which fuels the capital investment gap
  • Additionally, most female-owned businesses are smaller and less productive than male-owned businesses; 63% of female entrepreneurs in Africa struggle to find a mentor
  • These are problems that need to be solved and can be solved by women entrepreneurs but are not represented in the male entrepreneurial market. If given the resources the same access to resources that men have, women can be really efficient
  • Half of Machel Trust’s female entrepreneurs have products and services that cater to the underserved female segment, such as issues to do with maternity, biodegradable sanitary towels, baby products, advice to moms, wholesale online shopping, early childhood education, skin/haircare products, etc.

Kimberly Gire, Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy

  • We need to make it easier for women to access finance and markets; we often leave them on their own
  • We aren’t investing in the pipeline systems that are going to see these women actually supported. Women need to step in and create these structures, take the initiative as female philanthropists, investors and pipeline creators to help bring these products and these women to a point where they are investable
  • There are different stages of development and we need capital for each
  • Sep Jordan is a social enterprise working with refugee women to make high-end embroidered products — good example of how crucial access to markets is in addition to finance

JJ: What are the different perspectives of the different kind of investor profiles on gender lens?

Kimberly Gire, Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy

  • The power of convening other women — what can we donate/give beside pro bono legal work?
  • Female philanthropists and investors can kickstart this
  • SheEO is a great example of a scalable hybrid model where it’s not philanthropy, it’s a loan where women pull their catalytic capital together and choose female education ventures to support

JJ: Women are going to be the largest inheritors of capital in the coming decades, so it will be interesting to see what they do. What’s your perspective on the gender lens across family offices, fund managers, banks, etc.?

Andia Chakava, Investment Director of Graca Machel Trust

  • In emerging economies, women are 1/5 less likely than men to have a bank account; globally, women in these countries represent 56% of the financially excluded
  • There has been high female participation with digital loans, but these have their own limitations because the credit offered is really expensive if you try to extend it beyond a month (it works well for daily traders)
  • Women are celebrated to be good savers but when it comes to the makeup of aggregate credit portfolios considered, women make up only 18%
  • Loan approval rates are 20% lower for women; loan sizes are 58% smaller. This issue is something the banking industry has realized and started tackling by giving women more decision-making power in the industry, but more progress needs to be made
  • Nearly 70% of senior investment teams are all male. This is where some of the biases lie; these are the capital allocation decisions. The fund managers industry needs a lot of work — very few women

JJ: Is the gender lens just about what we’re investing in, or is it also a way of thinking?

Aarti Wig, CEO and Co-Founder of Yunus Social Business India

  • Consider expanding the scope of the reimaging capitalism discussion by broadening gender lens investing to feminine investing. One could argue we’ve lost our way because of too much male thinking, growth for the sake of growth alone
  • The masculine and feminine perspectives do not sit in a male or female body alone; we need to stop investing in men and women who are doing things the old way but rather carve out space to invest in men and women who are doing business differently
  • The rise of ESG investing is evidence of the feminine making its way back into capitalism
  • The global impact investing market is about $750 billion, $5 billion of which is gender lens investing
  • There is also a business case for feminine capitalism — companies that encourage purpose-led business projects did better on traditional business parameters as well, had better employee engagement and had improved customer perception, brand perception, etc.

Julia Profeta Johansson, Co-Founder of ConsciousGrowth / Remagine / Ella Impact

  • We are going backward in terms of gender lens. Pitchbook released data that there has been the least investment in women-led businesses since 3 years ago, as a result of supporting existing portfolios rather than looking at innovation

JJ: What impact has COVID had on fundraising for women-led businesses across the globe?

Andia Chakava, Investment Director of Graca Machel Trust

  • Women have had to take on more homecare responsibilities during COVID
  • We were making a lot of progress and expecting some of the biggest commitments to women, but governments are redirecting funds because of COVID and it suddenly switched to predominately male leadership
  • Institutions like Mastercard and Opus are doing COVID rebuild loans, which is great. We’re looking at how do we stabilize the businesses and keep the lights on and then we will look at where to put capital

Kimberly Gire, Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy

  • The flip side is in terms of collaborating, there are more people watching this SOCAP session than would’ve been able to attend in-person
  • COVID has diverted capital, for valid reasons
  • Let’s build some pools of capital that can carry women through this and think about new ways of doing things

Aarti Wig, CEO and Co-Founder of Yunus Social Business India

  • COVID has impacted women disproportionally in India
  • 80% of employed women in India are employed in the informal sector; there’s very little data on this large portion of the workforce
  • Government support has not been enough; some of it has been government guaranteed work, but much of this is manual labor that is not suitable for women, like digging wells
  • Healthcare and school disruptions have again disproportionately impacted women — we already have a very high dropout rate in India pre-COVID
  • We have put together an alliance to raise money for social businesses, many of which we have been able to create emergency funding


Andia, what has it been like for you doing this work as a woman of color?

  • Being in Africa, I dealt with the sexism and ageism much more; color became a factor when I started dealing with international investors. I realized there aren’t that many women out there directly fundraising and there was certainly a bias against Africa as a continent as well as who the ask was coming from (faced difficulty not being married to a politician or royalty)
  • It’s important to have different women of color speak to investing around the globe so people take away the unconscious bias of what an investor looks like

Aarti, how can women be taken seriously when championing a compassionate economy?

  • Who do we want to be taken seriously by? So often as women or people who embody the feminine we try to be taken seriously by people with different perspectives, and we glorify their perspectives/think our perspectives are not equally deserving. We need to change our view of what being taken seriously means and need recognize our worth
  • If you’re trying to convince those who are still using the old/traditional ways of thinking, use some of the points we’ve made about the business case

Kimberly Gire, Founder of Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy

  • The term “compassionate economy” should never be used in a negative light

How can we really build leadership and set a movement?

  • Having more woman on investment teams and in leadership positions
  • We have to do the work to put the infrastructure in place/have to build this

Want to know more?

For more SOCAP content, visit full session recordings on YouTube or see here for other Starting Up Good summaries of our favorite recordings.



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