Highlighting the role of funders and financing innovation to accelerate achieving SDG5.

Mar 26, 2024

GIF's Alix Peterson Zwane recently joined a panel at the United Nations 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW68) in New York. We share here an excerpt from her opening remarks.

It’s wonderful to be sharing this platform with you today - and to have the opportunity to share our experiences of how investing in innovation is transforming women’s lives and accelerating progress towards gender equality.

At the Global Innovation Fund, we find and fund innovations that improve the lives of people living below $5 a day.

Like all of you, we recognise that prevailing issues in the developing world, such as food insecurity and malnutrition, global health crises, and climate change and forced migration, disproportionately affect women and girls.

And that’s why we apply a gender lens to all of our investments.

We seek out innovations that increase the agency of women and girls, addressing challenges such as gender-based violence, greater participation in decision-making, access to education and employment, and greater control over assets.

However, five years ago, we decided to dig deeper, partnering with our friends and colleagues at Global Affairs Canada to launch our Innovating for Gender Equality Initiative.

We wanted to better understand the role that innovation can play in accelerating progress towards gender equity and women’s agency in poor communities, setting out to answer two critical questions:

First, Is it possible to quantify gender equality impacts - and what are the benefits of doing this?

And, secondly, what does innovation in gender equality look like and what does scaling innovation mean in this context?

To date, we have committed over $16m to innovating for gender equality and partnered with 14 ambitious and diverse innovators driving positive outcomes for girls and women.

And we’ve learnt that it is possible - and advantageous - to place a value on gender equality, both as an end itself but also as a means for achieving other development outcomes.

This week, GIF launches its latest impact report, proving once more that backing innovation in global development pays.

We expect that, within 10 years, our innovations will generate $3.7 billion in net economic benefits for people living under $5 a day. These benefits include higher incomes, better health, and improved education.

We estimate that this equates to $43 in benefits for each dollar invested.

By placing an explicit value on women’s agency, however, GIF has successfully pursued transformative investments in empowering women and girls.

We have purposefully built a diverse portfolio across sectors, geographies and scaling pathways. We have funded programs which

  • train women to enter the construction sector in Kenya;

  • provide mental health assistance to women suffering from depression in Zambia and Uganda, and

  • work to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh through teaching women about their legal rights.

And we have learnt that gender-transformative innovations can and do scale. We expect this portfolio of innovations to benefit 44 million women and girls by 2033.

So what does this look like in practice?

In India, one of our investees, Breakthrough, is successfully scaling through working with the government. Breakthrough’s school-based program to change gender attitudes, aspirations and behaviours that sustain gender inequalities, has been integrated into existing curricula delivered by teachers in public schools.

We anticipate that over the next 10 years this will have measurably changed the gender attitudes of 8 million girls and boys.

Similarly, our investee, No Means No Worldwide has successfully scaled via a franchise model. Their flagship sexual violence prevention program has grown rapidly, with over 490,000 girls and boys reached in 2023.

Ten years on from our initial investment, we anticipate that it will reach 1-3 million girls, preventing 80,000 - 120,000 sexual assaults.

Before I hand over to Karlee to moderate the panel, let me reflect on the questions I posed earlier:

Through our work, we have demonstrated that it is not only possible to quantify gender equality impacts, but the compelling benefits of doing so.

And we have learnt that when funders, like GIF and GCC, are willing to take smart risks on early-stage innovations, that investment pays off.

I am delighted that the innovations on our gender portfolio are now rapidly scaling: against that initial investment of $16m, additional capital of $135 million has been mobilized for scaling impact.

What’s more, we have evidence of the benefit of investing in locally-led and driven innovations - a move which is pivotal to achieving sustained impact. GIF has committed that at least 50% of our investments should be in locally headquartered organizations. Within our gender portfolio, these figures are already higher: 60% of organizations are locally headquartered, and 50% are locally led.

We’ve learnt we should invest not * just* in women impacted by innovations but in female-led organisations. 100% of innovations we have funded under the initiative have at least one woman listed as a ‘key person’ in our contracts.

And finally, we have learnt that collaboration and partnership is key.

GIF has made all our gender toolkits and resources open source.

We value opportunities to exchange learning with fellow funders, researchers, advocates, practitioners and partners throughout the development ecosystem, and to engage in forums and events such as this.

Of course, none of these outcomes would be possible without the generous support of our donors, in particular Sweden’s SIDA, the UK’s FCDO and Global Affairs Canada, the latter two who have both kindly co-sponsored today’s event.