Japan ASEAN Women Empowerment Fund (JAWEF) is a blended fund that provides loans to microfinance institutions (MFIs) that serve female entrepreneurs in the ASEAN region and beyond. Launched by BlueOrchard in 2016, with support from the Japanese government, JAWEF is a three-tiered fund that leverages first-loss and mezzanine tranches to mobilize institutional investors in the senior tranche.
JAWEF achieved its first close in 2016, raising $120.5 million from Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), as well as institutional investors. In 2019, JAWEF underwent a second fundraising round that increased its total size to $241.0 million with repeat commitments from investors including JBIC, JICA, and Sumitomo Life Insurance Company, and a new partnership with The Sasakawa Peace Foundation.
To date, JAWEF has reached 250,000 microentrepreneurs, of which 91% of end borrowers are women. JAWEF presents several insights for creating or investing in blended funds focused on frontier markets or gender equality:
- An experienced fund manager can be a powerful partner for concessional capital providers looking to play a catalytic role
- Concessional capital providers do not need to take a first-loss position but rather a mezzanine position to attract the private sector
- Blended finance can be an effective tool for mobilizing institutional capital towards gender-lens investing
- Successive fundraising rounds may lead to more efficient mobilization
- Commercially-oriented blended finance vehicles can mobilize institutional investors, particularly when positioned for a specific target market