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18 Aug 20

Who are the top investors in gender-related blended finance deals?

Who are the top investors in gender-related  blended finance deals?

Building on how gender is integrated in blended finance and what tools can be used, we now ask, Who is applying a gender lens successfully?

With investors increasing their focus on gender lens investing, we recently explored which institutions and investors have most commonly participated in gender-related blended finance transactions to advance gender equality. To this end, we broke down the 127 transactions aligned with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 in our database (24% of all transactions) into over 1,000 individual investments. Here, we share what we learned about the organizations deploying these grants, guarantees, debt and equity investments.

Gender is cross-cutting, regardless of organization type


The above pie chart indicates that gender lens investing has not been concentrated amongst one group of actors in blended finance. Public sector entities, including development finance institutions (DFIs), multilateral development banks (MDBs) and development agencies, are the most active in applying a gender lens to their blended finance transactions, accounting for 44% of financial commitments overall. However, private sector investors have also shown a healthy appetite for gender-related blended finance transactions, accounting for nearly 40% of financial commitments, with impact investors playing a particularly active role. Impact investors have accounted for half (50%) of private sector activity in gender-related blended finance transactions, making them more active in the gender space compared to their participation in the overall blended finance market (~37% of private sector activity.)

Which organizations are paving the way?

Top Organizations in Gender-Related Blended Transactions

Of the top 10 investors in gender-related blended finance transactions, seven are MDBs or DFIs, including the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO and the French development bank Proparco, and Convergence members, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). It is no coincidence that these institutions are paving the way, given their commitment to the 2X Challenge, which calls on the G7 and DFIs to mobilize USD 3 billion in investments focused on women’s economic empowerment. In October 2019, European Investment Bank (EIB), another Convergence member, followed and became the first multilateral development bank to endorse the 2X Criteria.

IFC is the most active MDB in the blended finance market overall and has taken significant strides to address gender equality through its investment activities. One example is through the IFC Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (IFC We-Fi). We-Fi uses blended finance to fill financing gaps in investments to enable women entrepreneurs to start and grow their own firms. In response to COVID-19, IFC’s Banking on Women business has pledged USD 2.4 million for performance-based initiatives to financial institutions that agree to earmark at least 20% of working-capital loan proceeds for female customers and women-led enterprises. These funds will be provided by the We-Fi, Global SME Finance Facility, and the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility–a partnership between IFC and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), another Convergence member, is the most active government aid agency in the gender-related blended finance space. Almost half (46%) of its overall commitments involved gender-related transactions. USAID has participated in 36 gender-related blended finance transactions, more than any other blended finance investor. Around 26% of these deals are concentrated in the agriculture sector. Examples include repeat investments in the Small Enterprise Assistance Funds’ (SEAF) Peru and Colombia agribusiness funds. Other examples of gender-related deals in USAID’s portfolio include Women’s World Banking Capital Partners Fund II, which achieved financial close at USD 75 million in 2020. Here, USAID provided first-loss capital to catalyze commercial investors as well as technical assistance to advance the use of digital financial services for women.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has funded 12 gender-related blended deals to date. It is the first climate finance mechanism that mainstreams “gender perspectives from the outset of its operations as an essential decision-making element for the deployment of its resources.” The GCF guides the entities submitting funding proposals on the gender documentation they must incorporate at a project planning, preparation and development stage. In 2019, it published its Gender Analysis/Assessment and Gender and Social Inclusion Action Plan Templates.

Impact investors have most commonly supported gender-related blended finance transactions on commercial terms. Ceniarth LLC and Calvert Impact Capital, both Convergence members, have made the largest number of investments in gender-related blended finance transactions. Ceniarth founder, Diane Isenberg, is a self-declared gender lens investor. Calvert Impact Capital has launched Women Investing in Women (WIN-WIN) initiative, and demonstrated the strong relationship between gender diversity in leadership positions (senior management) and financial performance in an analysis of its own private debt portfolio. Since 2019, it has been leading the private debt strategy of the Equality Fund, a Canadian initiative that brings together investors, philanthropists and government to support gender equality outcomes globally.

Top impact investors in gender-related  blended transactions

While commercial investors have accounted for 19% of gender-related investments in our blended finance database, we are yet to see sustained investment activity from this investor set. Nevertheless, Société Générale, Deutsche Bank, and Bank of America have all invested in multiple blended finance transactions with a focus on gender. We have also seen positive momentum along another important dimension of gender equality; diversity in the workplace. For example, all three commercial banks have signed up to the Women in Finance Charter, joining 330 other firms in financial services that have committed to improving gender diversity amongst their staff in the UK. Internal organizational gender policies are not captured in our database but remain an important indicator of achieving gender equality outcomes.

It’s important to keep in mind that mobilizing commercial investment for gender equality does not necessarily require blended finance. As Project Sage 3.0 reports, the number of structured private equity, venture capital, and private debt vehicles that operate with a gender lens is growing significantly. Many of these transactions are not blended – they already yield good financial returns without the need to adjust the risk-return profile through blending.

Foundations and NGOs can do more

Lastly, foundations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are more active in gender-related blended finance transactions than in the overall blended finance market (17% vs. 12% overall.)

Top foundations/NGOs investing in gender-related  blended transactions

A third of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s blended finance investments are gender-related, and the majority are direct investments. Examples include Bridge International Academies, Pro Mujer, ProCredit Holding, Sanergy, and ASA International. Notably, the Foundation’s catalytic Strategic Investment Fund, which aims to attract private-sector capital for innovative companies aligned with development objectives, has funded Root Capital, M-Kopa Solar and the Implant Access Program. More broadly, the Foundation has worked with its partners to develop an empowerment model that may help governments, organizations and individuals design women inclusive empowerment programs, and set up a dedicated web page to women’s economic empowerment and a “Gender Equality Toolbox” to guide its staff and partners when conceptualizing gender intentional programs and investments.

Similarly, 37% of the Shell Foundation’s investments in blended finance structures are gender-related, with a focus on supporting SMEs and clean energy. These investments include the GroFin funds (Africa, Small and Growing Businesses, and Nomou Jordan), Envirofit (clean energy), BBOXX (energy poverty) and M-Kopa Solar (solar energy). The Foundation also focuses on furthering business objectives in tandem with generating opportunities for women, by evaluating business challenges and designing solutions with a gender lens.

This is just the beginning


Our analysis shows that gender is a cross-cutting theme – whether a development agency, an MDB or DFI, a foundation, an impact investor, or a commercial investor, gender is everyone’s domain. Moreover, there are many ways to integrate gender into operations and investment strategies. Some institutions tackle internal inequalities by reducing bias in hiring and promotion processes, as well as by increasing female representation in senior management. Others adopt gender lens investment strategies, moving capital to advance gender equality worldwide. Both processes are crucial to advance women’s empowerment and need to progress simultaneously.

We expect more funders and investors – whether public or private – to strengthen their commitment to gender equality. This evidentially yields both financial and social returns. Gender inclusion enables companies to grow and retain talents, boards to improve their decision-making, and investors to transform local and global markets. Blended finance is one of many tools to advance gender objectives, and most gender lens investment strategies do not require blending. Yet, where donors and private sector actors want to push the boundaries - accelerate the introduction of new models or counteract unequal access to resources - blended finance can be useful. We will continue to demonstrate this and will keep a pulse on developments in gender lens investing within the blended finance market.

For more of the latest research on blended finance, visit our Resource Library.

This blog post, contributed by Convergence Data & Research Intern, Divya Jalan, is part of a new series that will look at gender in the blended finance market, including key opportunities and challenges for achieving, measuring, and bolstering gender equality in blended finance transactions. Blogs in this series include:

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