Women’s History Month may be over, but as the many events and panel discussions held at the United Nations on and around March 8 to celebrate International Women’s Day showed, not only is there much work yet to be done, it’s getting done.
One of the day’s many panel presentations, hosted by the UN Office for Partnerships and the US Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center Forum as part of the conference “The Role of Business in Empowering Women,” introduced an innovative new program called “WIN-WIN,” the Women INvesting in Women INitiative, a Calvert Foundation project that was created to raise $20 million “from women and those who care about women” to invest in organizations and projects that create opportunities for women across the globe.
The panelists were Lisa Hall, president and CEO of Calvert Foundation, a $200-million leader in impact investing, working in 100 countries and guided by a mission “to maximize the flow of capital to disadvantaged communities in order to create a more equitable and sustainable society,” and Pam Flaherty, CEO of the Citi Foundation, which “supports the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of low- to moderate-income people in communities where Citi operates.”
A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY: INVEST WITH JUST $20
It’s a simple financial proposition: If you invest $100, every dollar will go directly to flexible and affordable loans for women, and you get up to 2% interest on your investment, plus the knowledge that you’ve helped to empower women. You can invest in the program by purchasing an online note for as little as $20 through the Calvert Foundation’s partner www.microplace.com or invest $1,000 or more directly or through a brokerage account. You can also donate $100, which will be leveraged to create $500 in loans to WIN-WIN portfolio organizations and projects.
Flaherty was there to announce a $1 million Citi Foundation grant to support the project. She called WIN-WIN an “innovative model for financial inclusion that mobilizes resources in new ways to improve the lives of women.” The grant was made to expand the Calvert Foundation’s capacity to underwrite the investments that will be part of this initiative.
IMPACT INVESTING: A DOUBLE-EDGED RETURN
Unlike socially-responsible investing (SRI), which may simply mean avoiding investing in certain industries that are considered harmful or unethical, such as tobacco, firearms or factory farming, impact investing seeks to specifically create both financial and social returns, something that Hall said the Calvert Foundation “pioneered more than 16 years ago with a goal of ending poverty.” More than 2.5 billion people live on less than $2.00 a day, according to the World Bank. And even more are unbanked.
“If you look at the unbanked around the world—and there are 2.7 billion of them—70 percent of those people are women,” said Flaherty.
“I like to think of [impact investing] as a virtuous circle of empowerment, opportunity and engagement by connecting investors with underserved communities here in the US and abroad,” said Hall. “WIN-WIN carries a very simple message: Investing in women is smart investing.”
Study after study has shown that this is consistently the case. For example, an oft-quoted 2007 Catalyst study, “The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards,” found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors outperformed those with the lowest representation by at least 53 percent on return on equity. At last year’s launch of UN Women, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, quoted the findings in the report.
IF YOU WANT THE BEST TALENT, YOU CAN’T EXCLUDE HALF THE WORLD
“WIN-WIN is a particularly innovative twist on all of this,” said Flaherty. “They’re going to be expanding their capital, raising money, but this is not philanthropy. They are engaging in raising capital which will then enable them to invest in community development, financial institutions in the United States and microfinance institutions globally…These institutions are what people refer to as ‘the last mile providers.’ These are institutions that are actually in the field, in the community, that can actually reach these underserved women.”
Citi’s desire to help the WIN-WIN initiative was a “strictly business decision,” she said. “We have 142,000 women who work for Citi around the world in over 130 countries. Our employee base is well over 50 percent women. Our clients are women, the companies we serve are led by women, they have women employees and they target women as their customers…This is the 200th year anniversary for Citi, and we’ve been successful for 200 years because we have access to the best talent. And you can’t have access to the best talent if you exclude half the world.”