Let’s talk about feminists and investing

4 Questions on the Equality Fund’s Investment Program

We see it every day, across every community: Feminist movements are building solutions to our world’s biggest challenges. But traditional charity models keep money and power at the top, denying our movements the predictable support we deserve to build the futures we need. To shift this reality, we believe we must go to the roots of the problem, with a new strategy to disrupt the funding models of the past and the power brokers who control them.

That’s why the Equality Fund was born. Leveraging a $300 million CAD contribution from the Government of Canada, we’re building a feminist powerbase. We unite global grantmaking, gender-lens investing, bold policy advocacy, and multi-sector philanthropy under one roof to unlock new capital for feminist movements globally for the long-term. If we put every lever we have to work for change, we can grow the pie of resources available for feminist movements and shift lasting resources and power to women, girls, and trans people. As we do so, we can contribute to a meaningful shift in core systems—like our financial ecosystem, global philanthropy, and the international development sector—that were not built by feminists and have never worked for us.

As our model gains momentum, we’re stepping back to break it all down. Today, we start with investments.

  1. Why have an investment program? Why not just make more grants now?

Investment is one part of the Equality Fund model and central to our core goal: to create an independent, scaleable, and sustainable pipeline of resources for feminist movements. As feminist activists, so many of us have experienced funders losing interest in our work just as we gain traction, or governments moving away from funding feminists when a government changes. The work of feminist movements is too important to remain dependent on such a deeply flawed system. So we are building a predictable source of funding that meets the needs of the short-term while planning for the future. 

Throughout, we are very clear that investment is just one tool in an ecosystem of feminist change. We also champion—and actively fund—collective power building and feminist activism that, for example, demands economic and climate justice and holds corporations and governments to account from the outside. 

Overall, our investment program seeks to change the way the existing financial ecosystem serves all of its constituents, particularly women, girls, and trans people. Over time, the returns generated by our investments will finance our expanded grantmaking. The result? More resources, over more time, for feminist movements. If we distributed the bulk of these resources now, we could sacrifice this historic opportunity to catalyze a much deeper systemic change, and the larger pie of resources—and power—that shifts with it.

Just as important, our work to transform the financial system is itself a driver of lasting change for our communities. By changing the system from within, we help shift who makes decisions about capital, and where it flows. The result is more investments moving directly to women, girls, and trans people so that they can build their own sustainable and scalable futures according to their own visions. Together, we’re disrupting how we think about investing for the future, how we put capital into the hands of entrepreneurs, changemakers and system-disruptors, and how we challenge our own ecosystems to make better decisions across the investment process.

  1. How is the Equality Fund’s investment approach different?

The most important difference is that we are engaging feminist activists and visionaries from start to finish. To honour our deep commitment to collaboration and accountability with feminist movements, we work with an Investment Advisory Council, made up of a diverse body of investors, feminist activists, economists, and women’s rights advocates who help ensure that feminist perspectives are incorporated across our investment activities. The Council provides ongoing advice to our investment team on our entire Investment Strategy. 

We also recognize that more must be done to ensure that gender-lens investing is truly accountable and transparent. Alongside other thought and practice leaders in the GLI community, we are actively working on standards, reporting, and meaningful tools to push the field further.

  1. But can investing really contribute to feminist change?

We believe firmly that it can—if we work together to raise the bar of what’s come before. 

Gender-lens investing has come to mean different things to different people with vastly different values and goals. For us, it refers to investing (for financial and social impact) with the intent to address gender equality issues or promote gender equity. In practice, it means taking into consideration the participation, needs, realities, and leadership of all genders, across all aspects of investment decision-making in an effort to address structural and systemic inequality.

As gender-lens investing grows in popularity, some approaches focus only on surface level metrics, like women’s representation. Many traditional approaches don’t go far enough to address core structural issues like power and equity. We are proud to be part of a growing group of investors who are committed to moving further. This is our chance to build on a long history of feminist activism and innovation in gender-lens investing and drive even deeper change within capital markets.

To fuel momentum, we’re building products and tools of our own, and sharing them with investors everywhere. Last year, for example, we launched the Equality Fund – Private Debt Fund, a bespoke gender-lens investing private debt strategy developed with our partners: RockCreek and Turning Rock Partners. It channels early investments into businesses that serve women directly or seek to benefit them, their families, and communities. And there’s much more to come: Next month, we will share the Equality Fund Gender Lens Investing Criteria, a streamlined way for all investors to analyze how investments work for—or against—women, girls, and trans people.

  1. Would it be better to work for change from outside the financial system?

Feminists across the world land in many different places on this question, and we have deep respect for colleagues and sister organizations as they decide on the path that’s right for them. It’s part of what makes our feminist ecosystem so rich, diverse—and effective. We join and encourage a growing dialogue about investments, accountability, and feminist change.

As we’ve grappled with these contradictions and complexities, we have thought deeply about our own role—and responsibility—at this moment in time. We keep coming back to two truths. The financial ecosystem as we know it is deeply outdated and harmful. Built on entrenched practices of exploitation and extraction, it works to strip wealth—of all kinds—from the many to serve an ever-shrinking few at the top

And yet, if we want to shift power and resources to women, girls, and trans people, we believe we can—and must—go to where so much of that power and those resources currently sit. Some reports suggest that the total value of global capital markets—consisting of fixed income and equities—exceeds $250 trillion USD. With such staggering numbers, our values implore us to engage. If we fully leverage our influence, we can help activate the promise of gender-lens investing to move resources to women entrepreneurs and businesses that prioritize equity and better serve the needs and interests of women, girls, and trans people. 

This work is messy and it will always be challenging. But with so much at stake, we choose to engage, with confidence, humility, and transparency at the same time. And we are committed to dialogue, shared learning, and exchange along the way. Together, this is our chance to shift power and resources at a scale that has proved impossible in the past.

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