Can we create an economy that works for everyone?

The Gender Lens Investing Approach

This question has been part of a global discussion between civil society, academia, social movements, investors, financial institutions, governments and capacity developers. Creating more inclusive power structures, such as a financial system that makes women's participation and contribution visible, are very relevant pieces within this discussion. Many solutions are emerging to address the diverse needs of both women and the same financial and intermediary organizations that provide services and products for women. A great example of this is the work developed on the one side by the Criterion Institute and by Value for Women on the other, both working towards to improve access to greater and more adequate financial resources for women.

Criterion Institute has positioned itself as one of the leading institutions in bringing together relevant stakeholders from different sectors to have in-depth conversations about how gender affects business and finance. In 2009, they adopted the term "gender lens investing" and since then it has been an innovation laboratory around this topic. Recently, they have produced the report "The State of the Field of Gender Lens Investing. A Review and a Roadmap" that brings together the history on this field, some key approaches and recommendations on how gender lens investing is an innovative entry point for changes in the financial system -a power system traditionally dominated by men-, and how it is possible to use it as a bridging tool to link finance to gender equity, two worlds that until recently were not very well communicated.

Value for Women, since its inception in 2012, has been working globally with different actors in an equally innovative spectrum where gender, business and financial issues are linked with the aim of improving social and women's inclusion in value chains, business models and in the products and services of multinational companies, banks, impact investors, NGOs and SMEs. One of the main objectives of our work at Value for Women is to demonstrate that the economic empowerment of women and their inclusion in the business models of companies generate not only positive social impacts but also economic returns for companies that promote and promote women. The report "Creating Opportunities: Strengthening the Ecosystem for Women Entrepreneurs in Mexico" was carried out with the purpose of analyzing and identifying opportunities to strengthen or generate favorable environments for women entrepreneurs, for access to financing, public resources and the development of their capacities, as well as strategies to minimize the barriers they face in the context of Mexico, seeking to influence the business sector to adopt approaches to inclusion and collaboration with women.

Historically, women have not been well viewed within the business world. The words of a friend of mine, a young entrepreneur woman, owner of a small Mexican bakery, echo inside my head when I think about this subject: "When I arrived in the neighborhood with my bakery, the men who owned the businesses around mocked of me, they said that my business was not going to last because women do not know how all this business world works, that my bakery was just a girlish whim. Now I have been in the market for 4 years and it has not been easy, but they respect me a little more". Currently, she employs another young woman who supports with the operation and attention to customers. Together they have developed a more solid marketing strategy, have a presence in social networks and managed to expand the place where their business is.

There are many reflections and readings we can make about the trajectory and experiences of women entrepreneurs. The richness of the report "Creating Opportunities: Strengthening the Ecosystem for Entrepreneurs in Mexico" is that it has identified and disseminated the areas of opportunity to make financing, capacity building and public resources more appropriate and accessible to women, in order to unleash their potential to develop businesses and contribute to economic growth.

This study and its recommendations fit well into the conceptual framework of gender lens investing by contributing directly to the construction of a more inclusive financial system and making women more visible using gender analysis. This is concretely translated into considering how are the power relations within this system and promoting women’s participation from the diagnostic phase of their own needs and motivations, to then move on to a stage of designing financial products and services, capacity building, public policies and support networks tailored to these specific needs. The constant and direct involvement of women during all stages of the process is a response to the problem of impact measurement that counts only the number of women instead of seeing the gender analysis as a central factor for the construction of a more inclusive financial system and as a generator of social changes.

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