At the Global Innovation Fund, we are committed to providing women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed. One of our core objectives is enhancing the agency of women and girls and we see applying a gender lens to all our investments as a strategic priority.
In 2018, we partnered with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) on a new fund specifically and exclusively focused on finding and funding scalable innovations to transform unequal gender relations and empower the world’s poorest women and girls. Our Innovating for Gender Equality fund aims to demonstrate how innovation can address gender power imbalances, filling a gap in impact-first financing.
GIF takes an evidence-based venture capital approach – not to maximise our own profits, but to maximise the social benefits innovations in our portfolio create. Consistent with GIF’s overall approach, our partnership with GAC saw us support gender transformative innovations that benefit those living on less than $5 a day and can demonstrate or develop rigorous evidence of impact.
So how are we doing? At the end of 2021, we commissioned leading innovation and investment firm Altamont Group to conduct an evaluation of the first three years of our Innovating for Gender Equality fund. They were tasked with providing an independent analysis of the impact, outcomes, opportunities for growth, quality and scope of the fund, as well as comparing it to similar initiatives in the market and understanding specific opportunities created by the partnership. This is what we learned:
One of the most significant value-adds of GIF in the sector of gender outcomes has been to develop tools and frameworks that enable the fund to assess potential innovations. Altamont’s evaluation described these new tools and methods as ‘inspirational’ to other organisations, with GAC stating that these could be duplicated for its own investments and its work with other partners.
An example of this is how GIF developed a Gender Equality Framework to identify innovations that enhance voice, participation, and decision-making amongst women and girls; increase control over body, health and freedom from violence for women and girls; and provide women and girls access, control and ownership of assets. The impact measures of this framework are translated into scores for arriving at the Practical Impact, our in-house methodology which provides a structured way of forecasting the long-term impacts of early-stage innovations across all investments, including health, education, and livelihoods.
2. Deliberately creating a diverse portfolio holds great learning potential both for us and for development funders, including government aid agencies
GIF and GAC agreed that the sub-fund would use GIF’s existing processes for sourcing, evaluating and investing to generate quickly a high-quality portfolio of gender-equality promoting solutions. GIF would also actively promote its innovations in methodology and the lessons of its gender investments to the wider development community.
With this in mind, we have built a portfolio of five diverse gender transformative innovations that are set to increase the agency of between 4.3 million and 12.8 million women and girls in the next ten years.
StrongMinds operates in Uganda and Zambia, providing mental healthcare for women living with depression through Group Interpersonal Therapy.
Buildher improves gender equality outcomes in the labour market in Kenya, training and placing women in the construction sector and developing partnerships with employers to create more gender inclusive workspaces.
No Means No Worldwide reduces agency constraints for women and girls in Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s a dual gender programme to end sexual violence against women and children.
Breakthrough operates in the states of Punjab and Odisha in India, integrating a life skills-based curriculum embedding gender equality principles into the existing curriculums of government schools.
MTV Staying Alive Foundation produces gender transformative, behaviour change media and develops local partnerships to advance local capacity to create such content. It works in Kenya and Nigeria.
The sub-fund was mainly intended to focus on the pilot, test and transition stages of innovations.
3. Investing in our staff has had a catalytic impact on GIF’s work
To ensure GIF’s evaluation and due diligence process was rigorous and met GAC’s goals, we expanded and strengthened our investment process to integrate gender analysis in a comprehensive manner. We brought-in in-house gender expertise and external gender experts as senior advisors.
This partnership has changed the way we invest. We have crystalised how we think about the agency of women and girls, with the GIF team of investment analysts now trained to apply a gender-agency lens to all our due diligence assessments. The pilot project didn’t just show that we are serious about incorporating gender into our analysis tools; it demonstrated how putting agency at the centre of our approach also achieves different development outcomes.
4. We need to make it easier for potential grantees to apply for funding
We need to balance better our need for rigour in our investment process with the burden this can place on potential applicants. Innovators appreciate our intention and how it develops their thinking in terms of mitigating against risk and applying a more systematic approach to collecting data and evidence. Nevertheless, they fed back that they would like more clarity on what was expected of them.
Similarly, for successful applicants, data and reporting requirements can be heavy and can take between 10-20 hours a month. Detailed reporting can leave less space for innovators to provide a big picture view of their project’s impact.
The applicant journey is important to us, and we have sought additional feedback across the wider portfolio to understand where we can improve the user experience. We are committed to improving our communication and continuing to work towards streamlining our investment decision-making processes and reporting obligations. GIF is nothing without the impactful work of our portfolio and we do not want to detract from what they are doing.
5. We are only just beginning to understand the potential of gender transformative investing
GIF recognises that gender transformative investing is still at a relatively nascent phase in the development sector and needs further investment to deliver outcomes and generate evidence. But our partnership with GAC has given us the opportunity to bring gender transformative innovations into our pipeline and portfolio – and improve how and what we learn from them. Our pilot project, to date, has achieved its objectives, increasing the number of innovations working to advance gender equality.
Several new areas of focus are emerging for GIF, inspired by the work and approach of this partnership. For example, a new vehicle is being launched under the GIF core fund that can take on returnable capital and social impact while generating a modest return for investors. We have set out a roadmap which prioritises gender equality outcomes for the longer term, well beyond our current strategy mandate.