How we invest | Part 4 | Playbook: Investing in Gender Equality

Welcome to Playbook: Investing in Gender Equality, a six-part blog series that explores why and how an investment program is an essential part of the Equality Fund’s work to shift power to women, youth, girls, and non-binary people around the world. Through the lens of six “P”s (Purpose, People and Partners, Perspectives, Process, Philosophy, and Products), we will share our approach to gender-lens investing and illuminate the values, strategy, and structure that guide it.


By Bonnie Foley-Wong

The Equality Fund is building an entirely new model to fund feminist movements for generations to come. That means that every aspect of our organization, from our grantmaking+ program to our operations, is being built from the ground up.

This is also true for our investment program. In previous posts, I described the purposepeople and partners, and diverse perspectives that guide us. I know that many people are curious about what the Equality Fund is investing in. However, process is just as important as products. Let me share more about our process, from how we are working with our partners to how we have developed our investment guidelines, policies, and criteria; or, in short, how we invest.

Our structure

As I outlined in our previous post, the Equality Fund’s investment program guides the investment activities and the investment strategy for the Government of Canada’s $300 million contribution to the Equality Fund Initiative, in collaboration with our close partners, the Toronto Foundation and World University Service of Canada.

The Equality Fund’s investment team is responsible for driving the overall strategy and vision of the investment program, including all of its core activities: investmentsfield building and capital mobilization, and exploring future opportunities in asset management.

While these three interconnected activities each serve a different function, all of them help us achieve our overall objective: generating a sustainable source of funding and leveraging capital as a fundamental driver of gender equality in its own right. We can’t afford to sacrifice investment returns, but equally, we can’t afford to invest in a way that is at odds with our values and mission of advancing gender equality.

Below is a little more about our process and how we invest.


The Equality Fund’s Investment Program Strategy and its broader strategy, values, and vision, with input and perspectives from our stakeholders, guide the investment strategies and Investment Policy Statement. As we wrote in our post, People and Partners, the Equality Fund investment team works with Toronto Foundation, our fiduciary partner, and RockCreek to invest the Government of Canada’s contribution into a multi-asset portfolio, in accordance with the Investment Policy Statement.

Investment recommendations from RockCreek are presented to a joint investment committee called the Equality Fund Initiative Investment Sub-Committee, comprised of members of the Toronto Foundation’s and Equality Fund’s investment committees. Ultimately, the Toronto Foundation Investment Committee recommends investment decisions, which are then approved by the Toronto Foundation’s Board in order to be actioned. This process gives us confidence that we have the right combination of diligence, risk management, financial sustainability, and mission alignment to inform investment decisions.

The Investment Policy Statement specifies what we can and can’t invest in, including ethical guidelines, constraints, and exclusions. In future posts, I will outline more about what we are specifically investing in—including our philosophy on asset allocation and other aspects of our strategy, as well as the products and new investment opportunities we are co-creating with our partners.

Field Building and Capital Mobilization

Our vision for leveraging change goes far beyond our own investments. We are also working to mobilize investor capital and to encourage other investors to invest like the Equality Fund. We invite others to invest alongside us in new gender-lens investments—with the ultimate goal of building the field of gender-lens investing and advancing gender equality together.

We’ve started to share our knowledge and insights with key convenings and organizations, and in 2020 we spoke at Responsible Investment Association Canada’s diversity and inclusion week, presented to the National Social Value Fund and participated in the Gender Smart Investing Summit. We look forward to even more knowledge sharing in the future and to collaborating with industry groups and communities focused on impact and responsible investing, gender-lens investing, and much more.

Asset Management

Asset management is an emerging area of our work. Our initial vision includes investment innovation and creating new opportunities to leverage capital to advance gender equality, such as a new gender-lens fund of funds. We are currently exploring the many potential pathways to realizing this vision, including partnerships and building our own organizational capacity. We’re excited to share more as this part of our investment program is developed further.

Risk Management

In addition to our objective of generating mission-aligned investment returns, an investment strategy wouldn’t be gender-smart unless we managed risk as well. We’re employing multiple strategies for risk management, including:

  • Asset allocation strategy to balance returns, impact, and risk, including rebalancing across equities and debt/fixed income opportunities;
  • Diversification across managers and strategies;
  • Monitoring of investment managers, including quarterly and annual reporting and review of performance, annual impact measurement, and management;
  • Benchmarking expected returns, minimum return thresholds (which if not met trigger an automatic manager review); and
  • Identified exclusions and restrictions on investments.

We include the following environmental and ethical guidelines and screens across our investments: UN Global Compact Guidelines; OECD Guidelines; International Finance Corporation Exclusion List; and Norwegian Council on Ethics Exclusion List. The inclusion of these guidelines in our investment policies is not static. It is very clear to us that ethical and environmental risks intersect with gender impacts in complicated and overlapping ways. We’re continuing to evolve our ethical and environmental risk policies to better reflect the leadership we need with respect to these issues.

Gender-lens Framework

Our commitment to using a gender lens is a holistic one, guiding all aspects of our work. We are committed to integrating a comprehensive gender-lens framework across everything we do. This approach shapes, for example, the way we identify, evaluate, and select our partners; manage and evaluate risk; and establish and evaluate decision-making processes. It means taking time for complicated, challenging conversations, exploring such key questions as: Whose voices are being heard? Who makes the ultimate decision and how? Who is facing what risks and how does that impact their lives?

We are continuing to refine our gender-lens framework for evaluating opportunities to invest in, as well as evaluating the gender screens applied by investment managers we will work with. Overall, we will concentrate our efforts towards three critical areas: improve access to capital to create sustainable businesses and investment ecosystems; scale-up businesses that deliver products that benefit women and girls; and address structural inequality by investing in public companies that elevate women into decision-making and investment roles.

In evaluating investment opportunities, our current approach is to ensure that we address one or more of these three critical priorities, while simultaneously applying a gender lens. We will continue to gather input from stakeholders to refine this process further, and we are deeply committed to sharing the lessons of this journey as they unfold.

If you are wondering how to invest with a gender lens and are interested in opportunities to do so, we invite you to contact us to learn more.

UP NEXT, we will share more about the Philosophy that guides our investment strategy. Stay tuned!

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