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Innovating for Gender Equality

Since its founding in 2015, GIF’s portfolio has included investments that disproportionately benefit women and girls. These include, for instance, innovations related to anemia prevention, women’s key role in agricultural supply chains, and the promotion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. A commitment to gender equality was made explicit and strategic in 2019 with the organizational goal of “Being Effective Investors in Low Income Countries and for Gender Equality” (GIF’s five-year strategy, 2019-2024.) GIF implements best practice in applying a gender analysis to all potential investments, monitoring its entire portfolio on women’s leadership, staff, gender of beneficiaries and ensuring investees’ compliance with ESG Action Plans that relate to quality of roles and diversity. Alongside ensuring all investments collect sex-disaggregated data, GIF incorporates gender deliverables where necessary in relevant investments.

Now, through its Innovating for Gender Equality fund, made possible by Global Affairs Canada, GIF seeks innovations that address a wider range of outcomes, such as greater participation by women in decision making, prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG), and greater control over assets. With this fund, GIF has accelerated strategic and coherent action on gender, widespread across the organization. The Innovating for Gender Equality fund fills a gap in the global landscape at the intersections of gender equality, innovation and impact-first financing.

Through investments in innovations from this fund, GIF seeks to contribute to shifting the structures that make gender equality possible. These innovations operate differently from ‘standard’ development interventions: they seek to change social structure or social norms. Remarkable innovations hailing from sub-Saharan Africa to the Indo-Pacific tackle the structural constraints to gender equality by promoting shared power, women’s control of resources, and increased agency of women and girls so that they can make decisions and pursue their own goals free from violence and retribution. Through inclusive collaboration with a wide-range of stakeholders, a strengthened pipeline of gender innovations, and adopting and evolving best practice, the Innovating for Gender Equality fund seeks to strengthen the broader fields of impact investing, gender-lens investing and innovation in international development.

The case for gender equality and empowerment-focussed innovations is even more apparent with COVID-19. Women’s vulnerability increases in roles as unpaid care-givers, and safety decreases under stay at home orders. Women are more likely to be excluded from the formal employment market and so work as street entrepreneurs, selling food and non-food items. According to the Global Protection Cluster, the COVID-19 crisis heightens the risk of physical and sexual violence and abuse; psychological distress; social exclusion, stigmatization, discrimination, and limited and/or discriminatory access to health services. GIF is responding to the pandemic including by sourcing innovations that address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic borne by women and girls.

Application of a gender-lens to all GIF investments

In addition to its growing portfolio of gender equality focussed innovations, GIF applies a gender lens to all investments. The GIF Team first applies a gender lens to all GIF deals using a lighter-touch review and coding system. The innovation is scored on whether and how gender considerations have been incorporated into the design, implementation and scaling plans of the innovation and on whether the innovator collects sex disaggregated data. Innovations in the Innovating for Gender Equality fund and other GIF innovations focussing on gender equality go through a second-stage and deeper gender analysis using GIF’s “gender dive” tool. The “gender dive” tool helps the deal teamwork with the innovator to take a much deeper look at gender issues rife in this innovation at the individual, household/community level, business, and structural level and to develop a gender strategy.

Alongside ensuring new investments collect sex-disaggregated data and include other gender deliverables, GIF continues to monitor the portfolio on women’s leadership, staff, gender of beneficiaries and compliance with ESG Action Plans that relate to quality of roles and diversity.

Advancing Gender Data and Measuring Gender Outcomes

The Innovating for Gender Equality fund is deeply-rooted in evidence, cost-effectiveness and scale. GIF seeks to maximize the benefits it creates by forecasting the long-run potential impacts of candidate investments, and tracking and managing impacts as they are realized. For this fund, GIF has adapted its Practical Impact methodology to interventions and outcomes relevant to gender equality. This takes GIF into relatively uncharted territory as it tries to quantify results in empowerment, agency and changing norms. GIF’s vision is that, by doing so, it can encourage learning on how to effectively make use of the scarce resources devoted to gender equality. Equally, it will allow innovations to demonstrate empowerment is both a means to an end and an end in itself, from better jobs, a larger share of household resources, and better security, to improved sense of agency and access to rights.

Despite concerns that gender equality ‘cannot be reduced to a single number’, or that attempts could create perverse incentives for grantees, we believe that the benefits of a well-designed gender equality yardstick far outweighs concerns. Quantifying gender equality guides investment, promotes learning, and directs more attention and resources towards women’s empowerment.

This detailed methodology and approach was shared with gender experts and development economists as part of a robust consultation with the stakeholders for the gender equality sub-fund, resulting in expert reviews through written feedback and direct conversations. GIF received overarching support to pursue Practical Impact expansion for gender equality and is committed to sharing the expanded Practical Impact methodology with other investors and innovators to support the efforts of those tackling gender inequality issues in development contexts.

Effective Partnership and Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement supports the development of the strong relationships that are critical for sound fund design and implementation, while also upholding the rights of stakeholders in decisions that may affect them. Stakeholders, including gender equality innovators from multiple low and middle income country contexts, offer differing points of view that can strengthen GIF’s perspective and processes. This is consistent with the inclusive approach that GIF requires of each innovation in the Innovating for Gender Equality fund.

The importance of external expert, objective review of innovations is also core to the GIF model and a key part of this fund. External reviewers, including experts in specific areas (e.g. violence against women and girls) are engaged prior to any funding decision for each deal; the expert review ensures appropriate issues are addressed and this engagement also builds the GIF investment team’s understanding and capacity as gender-lens investors.

GIF is a learning organisation and this extends to GIF’s gender work. The partnership with Global Affairs Canada is a prime example; acting as a ‘pilot,’ adaptive learning and reflection processes form the basis of reporting to the donor. Equally, GIF holds on-going capacity-building for GIF staff and improvement of GIF processes to invest in innovations that explicitly aim to improve gender equality and/or empower women and girls.

GIF will continue to pursue ambitious gender equality aims through effective partnership with innovators, donors and other stakeholders.

GIF Gender Equity Fund Investments 

No Means No Worldwide

A $225,000 grant to No Means No Worldwide to support the expansion of its successful Impower curriculum, which is taught to both girls and boys aged 10-20 years in schools and clubs. The curriculum aims to reduce violence against women and girls, and empower girls to stand up for their rights. (Photo by Nadja Wohlleben, Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer)


A charity that aims to treat depression in women in Africa with less than $2 per day to spend on their families.

StrongMinds currently operates in Uganda and Zambia and addresses depression by delivering facilitator and peer-led courses of Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (or IPT-G), a cost-efficient, community-based model of depression treatment that has been created and validated by mental health experts.