Published in


Voices from the USAID Finance and Investment Network: CARE Enterprises

Virginia Schippers, Principal at CARE Enterprises discusses the unique partnership behind the CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund, the opportunities and barriers facing women in South and Southeast Asia, and how USAID INVEST is supporting CARE in its work to address the root causes of gender discrimination.

By Carolanne Chanik, INVEST Communications Coordinator

Consider your clothing. Where was it made? And by whom? The average consumer who has glanced at his or her tags is likely aware that, apart from China, a large percentage of the world’s clothing comes from South and Southeast Asia — countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia. While the garment industry provides an important source of income in Asia, working conditions remain poor, especially for the women who represent 75% of the global industry’s workforce and continue to be the most vulnerable, marginalized, and lowest-paid workers.

“A CARE report on the Cambodian garment industry found that one in three female employees had been sexually harassed at work,” says Virginia Schippers, Principal at CARE Enterprises, a for-profit subsidiary of the global NGO, CARE. “As a result, the Cambodian garment industry is losing over $89 million per year in productivity.”

Of course, the vulnerability of women workers is not limited to just one sector. “Apart from sexual harassment and discrimination, women across the workforce face structural and systemic inequities in the marketplace,” says Schippers. “Women in South and Southeast Asia specifically lack decent job security and career advancement opportunities, and often face double and triple workload burdens due to a lack of a functioning care economy.” Access to capital remains a persistent challenge for women entrepreneurs and small business owners. CARE Enterprises in working to harness the power of the private sector to reduce poverty and empower women, and seeks to finance business models that actively target and reach such underserved women.

Through a partnership with Bamboo Capital Partners and the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative, CARE Enterprises has begun its first initiative — the CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund. This $75 million impact investment fund is designed to tackle the root causes of gender discrimination by providing capital and technical assistance to impactful enterprises operating in emerging markets in South and Southeast Asia. “The CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund allows us to invest in, and provide technical assistance to, businesses that want to improve conditions for women employees, consumers, and supply chain business owners,” says Schippers.

Through a $500,000 catalytic funding contribution from USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and support from INVEST, CARE Enterprises incorporated a first-loss investment layer into its Fund to reduce risk and attract senior investments. “We’re happy to report that so far this catalytic funding has already helped us to raise an additional $2 million in commitments to the Fund. USAID’s support has been well received,” says Schippers.

Additionally, USAID’s catalytic funding is helping CARE Enterprises deploy gender-smart technical assistance to the Fund’s portfolio. Through a network of on-the-ground business and gender experts, the Fund offers a variety of business-specific technical assistance.

“Our experience has shown that this deeper level of gender engagement through technical assistance is critical to ensure the Fund’s portfolio companies can really generate meaningful gender impact, since small and growing businesses don’t always have the capacity or expertise to design and apply gender-smart practices on their own,” says Schippers.

The CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund is managed through a unique partnership between CARE Enterprises and Bamboo Capital Partners, an impact investor with a track record of working in emerging markets for more than a decade. While CARE is raising capital to seed the fund with an initial $10 million first-loss investment, Bamboo Capital is the Fund’s formal manager and leads the investment process from deal origination to exit. CARE Enterprises and Bamboo co-govern and co-manage the Fund, sharing an equal amount of seats on the investment committee and board. CARE Enterprises is leading the design and implementation of the impact strategy as it relates to all aspects of the Fund’s investment into portfolio companies.

The Fund’s third partner is the International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, and its SheTrades Initiative. SheTrades is a unique platform for women-owned businesses, organizations, and companies. It allows members to learn new skills, sell their products and services, source from women-owned business, and participate in workshops, trade fairs, and other events intended to connect the platform members. ITC leverages its extensive SheTrades Network of more than 300,000 women-led business to help identify a suitable pipeline for the The CARE-SheTrades Impact Fund in target countries.

“Together we aspire to influence the impact investment industry toward adoption of essential gender-justice principles. Our partnership makes us well-primed to do so,” says Schippers.



INVEST, a USAID initiative, mobilizes private investment for development goals. It drives inclusive growth and sustainable development in emerging markets.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

INVEST, a USAID initiative, mobilizes private investment for development goals. It drives inclusive growth and sustainable development in emerging markets.