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Venture Support for Gender Equality

By Katie Carrasco, Environment, Social Responsibility and Governance (ESG) Director  |   Posted 6th April 2021

Previous blogs throughout March have illustrated how GIF looks at the issues around gender equality in international development and the tools we use to support our decision-making, drawing on examples of gender transformative investments in our portfolio. In the latest blog in our series, we want to showcase some of GIF’s venture support to enhance gender work, both with companies in the portfolio as well as for those outside the portfolio.

Let’s start with innovations outside the GIF portfolio. We know that gender-transformative innovations tend to emerge in response to local experiences of inequality or dire needs of women and girls. These innovations may be linked to women’s movements or be dynamic new organizational models or companies with laser-sharp social missions. Innovations with the highest potential to impact structural inequality, however, may not be housed within organizations that have the ability or experience to speak the language of the global development sector or meet GIF’s criteria, especially on evidence.

With support from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), we have now published some tools for gender-equality focused innovators to better understand GIF’s criteria on evidence and position their operational monitoring or evaluation efforts to best capture their advances in gender equality as catalyzed by their innovation. This is important for us because, along with innovation and scalability, evidence-based intervention is foundational for GIF. GIF is committed to channeling assistance to ideas backed by evidence of what specifically works to meet a need, and in this case that need is to achieve parity for women and men in livelihoods and wellbeing.

If you are an innovator seeking to better articulate and contribute evidence of what works to achieve greater gender equality, please review this new toolkit and share your feedback with us. We are keen to know if it is helpful to you and puts your innovation in a better position to garner the support you need to grow your impact.

Turning to the innovations that are already in the GIF portfolio, we have made investments in companies and organizations that sit across a spectrum from gender-neutral to gender transformative. Our role, as a patient and impact focused investor, is to support all portfolio companies to maximise opportunities and minimise risks from a gender lens perspective.

GIF works with our investees to build capacity and consider gender in their work. This is done in a myriad of ways whether through collecting and using data, developing a gender strategy, or providing venture support funding to engage with experts on specific issues.

Here are a couple of examples from our portfolio:

WhereIsMyTransport

WhereIsMyTransport pioneered an open data platform that makes mass transportation in African cities more accessible, more efficient, and safer for poorer people. Since entering GIF’s portfolio in 2017, WhereIsMyTransport has undergone a period of significant growth. Following its Series A raise, WhereIsMyTransport was looking to double its headcount and use this growth as an opportunity to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion.

There is consistent research that shows that diverse teams perform better than those that are less diverse, and it is widely reported that the tech industry has a diversity problem. For example, in the UK where WhereIsMyTransport is headquartered, only 15% of the tech workforce are from non-white backgrounds and gender diversity currently sits at 19%.

Through GIF funding, WhereIsMyTransport was able to bring in expertise to understand what activities and aspects of their culture supported diversity, equality and inclusivity, and to steer change to where there were challenges. We include the detail here because it is important to demystify inclusion strategies, as they can always be broken down into actionable approaches like those of WIMT, which include:

Understand existing cultural opportunities and challenges with a view to creating a working environment which nurtures diversity and inclusivity as the team continues to grow.
Review, develop, and improve processes in the employee life cycle at WhereIsMyTransport, including recruitment, onboarding, performance, and benefits structures, ensuring that all employees have an equal opportunity to be successful at the company.

Grow the team in order to meet strategic needs by sourcing talent from underrepresented groups.

“Women are more likely to be public transport users than men, and are more likely to take multiple shorter public transport journeys, increasing the risk associated with lack of reliable mobility data. At WhereIsMyTransport, diversity is therefore about being inclusive but also about being effective in our work improving mobility understanding in the Majority World. Through the internal initiatives which GIF supported, we were able to increase gender diversity from 32 percent to its current level of 46 percent, while also shaping programmes to support the professional growth of our team.” – Devin de Vries, CEO and co-founder, WhereIsMyTransport

EM3

EM3 has a vision to increase agricultural productivity by bringing tech & mechanization for the farming community on a per-use basis by harnessing the power of tech, mobile telecom services and financial services. Scaling up across India, EM3 is looking to expand its offering to additional business lines and inputs.

As the agricultural sector in India is increasingly feminized, with 80 percent of rural women contributing to farming, animal husbandry and associated activities, it is important that players in the agricultural sector are mindful of the role of women in the value chain and consider them in their strategies and operations. In addition to this, in the fallout from COVID-19 there are increased loss of livelihoods for women in rural and urban India.

Teaming up with EM3, GIF has contracted Sattva Consulting to work with EM3 over a period of fifteen months, to not only develop a comprehensive gender strategy for the organisation, but also look to operationalise an impact plan to provide sustainable livelihoods for the women within the rural farming communities where EM3 operates.

The goal for this project is to enhance EM3’s mission of social impact by integrating gender into the company’s corporate strategy – both within the organisation but also in the farming value chain with the aim of increasing the agency of women in the communities EM3 operates in.

This project, due to be launched this month, will follow these key steps:

    • Literature review, diagnostic surveys and conversations with key stakeholders to identify the most relevant opportunities for EM3 within the company and outside in the farming ecosystem it already operates in
    • Consolidate the formulation of a detailed Gender Strategy that is aligned to the vision, mission, needs and strengths of EM3 with social impact at its core
    • Implementation of an Action Plan to deliver key results and steps required to implement EM3’s Gender Strategy with clearly defined milestones and achievements to monitor progress
    • Establishing a governance framework with clear task owners to ensure buy-in of key stakeholders.
    • Setting up a Gender Task Force, headed by the Chairman of EM3 which will provide oversight by guiding and tracking progress.

On the launch of this initiative, Mr Rohtash Mal, Chairman of EM3 said:

“As we modernize farming at scale via technology applications, and by ensuring our focus on women’s empowerment, I can clearly see twin opportunities – on the one hand, develop a gender sensitive culture inside within EM3 that strengthens our leadership capability, and on the other, contributes significantly to enhancing women farmers and agripreneurs’ income. The ripple effects present enormous possibilities. I am keenly looking forward to EM3 leading the way through this massively transformative purpose”.

StrongMinds

As mentioned in a previous blog, through our diligence of StrongMinds we identified an opportunity to deepen the innovation’s links between mental health and gender equality.

GIF awarded StrongMinds a $600,000 grant to institutionalise a gender-lens approach in its work to actively assess gender outcomes and adapt their programmes to empower women and girls. StrongMinds has done this by incorporating a gender lens across its strategy, organisation, operations, program implementation and M&E with the aim of becoming a gender transformative organisation.

Over the last year, in spite of delays and disruptions to anticipated work due to COVID-19, StrongMinds has made considerable progress towards meeting this objective while at the same time providing much needed mental health support at a critical time. Significant developments towards becoming a gender transformative organisation include:

    • Convening of a Gender Working Group
    • Finalisation of a gender workplan that incorporated findings from interviews with staff and a review of key documents
    • Policies related to Gender based Violence and Gender Equity
    • Data collection tools to assess bias and understand gender-related concerns and experiences of StrongMinds staff, and
    • A planned launch this month of quantitative and qualitative program-related research to assess the impact of teletherapy for beneficiaries with a focus on gender outcomes.

On this work, StrongMinds says,

“Our data show that StrongMinds therapy improves a woman’s ability to work, provide her family with regular meals, and send her children to school. However, we don’t yet know the extent to which our therapy improves or exacerbates gender inequalities. By understanding the connection between gender roles and mental health, we can continue to improve the quality of our therapy services.”


 

What is the way forward for GIF as it seeks to increase the agency of women and girls as an investment theme and a strategic goal? We will continue to work on multiple fronts, as the blogs in this series have highlighted, to:

    • ensure innovations that catalyze greater equality in the household, community and societal levels get support to scale;
    • understand and account for the positive and negative gender impact of each innovation in the portfolio; and
    • grow the gender lens in all our investing activities including the way all investments are sourced, due diligenced, structured and measured for impact.

We thank all our partners, grantees and investees and GIF colleagues as we move forward on a journey towards greater parity and equality.