Suzanne Siemens of Lunapads International

Social Impact Investing for Women

This is a copy of the guest blog post I wrote for the Social Venture Network blog:

Jackie Vanderbrug of Criterion VenturesSocial Venture Network conference organizers have always been mindful of ensuring emerging issues from it’s members get a voice during the conference. After meeting Jackie Vanderbrug of Criterion Ventures at the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock (a Canadian based offshoot of SVN) and briefly learning about Criterion’s work towards “Bringing a Gender Lens to Investing” I felt the SVN community would benefit from a deeper conversation on the topic.

So, I helped organize a Call to Action Roundtable with Joy Anderson of Criterion Ventures titled: “Investing in Women: how to increase women’s access to capital and invest in social entrepreneurs focused on improving the condition of women”. Much to our delight, over two dozen participants gathered over lunch to join in the lively conversation. With several other Roundtable conversations going on concurrently in the same room, we often had to raise our voices out of necessity (and perhaps passion!)

Suzanne Siemens of Lunapads InternationalMy own interest in the topic stems from my passion for advancing issues which affect women and entrepreneurship. It was over a decade ago when Lunapads learned that a progressive investment fund, Renewal Partners, was looking to invest in socially responsible businesses that were led by women and focused on women’s issues. I wanted to share with the SVN group my positive experience obtaining capital and dealing with our investors (Joel Solomon and Carol Newell, both long time members of SVN) and working with Vancity Capital for debt financing.

Joy Anderson of Criterion VenturesAfter Joy introduced her framework for the conversation, the group engaged in an enthusiastic conversation that centered around three common themes:

Make it easier for women to access capital: While all of the women entrepreneurs who attended the session had successfully attracted capital to finance their business, their experience and degree of ease in obtaining that capital varied.  It was positive to learn that the social capital market is growing rapidly, but very few funds are targeted to women, and fewer still target women within community development. “Providing women equal access to capital is both a question of equity and an untapped/under invested opportunity” emphasized Joy. Others expressed frustration with the archaic legal regulations that hamper the ability for the average person or groups of people to make small investments in women run businesses.

Increase the number of women represented on corporate boards: Despite research that shows having women on boards will improve a company’s performance, the number of women represented on boards has not improved in the past decade. Putting more women on boards makes sense on so many levels (beyond equity and demographics). We need to emphasize that putting more women on boards is not a “women’s issue” but can actually have a measurable impact on the bottom line. We also need to encourage and nominate more women for board leadership positions. And they don’t have to be CEO’s of big companies! The Women Corporate Directors website has a ten point Call to Action on how to build more diverse (ie: multi-gender, race, generational) boards that is worth checking out. 

Mentor and celebrate other women: It was obvious to the group that despite the inequities women and girls face, investing in women is a powerful strategy for addressing many local and global challenges. One male participant pointed out that while women make better farmers, his organization has no women in it. The group also agreed that we need to actively and intentionally mentors girls and women, including helping them learn to pitch and speak the language of deals, and helping them scale their businesses. We also talked about the importance of regularly celebrating the achievements of girls and women. “We need to tell more positive stories about women and create a narrative that reveals their powerful voice” said Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money.

A Call to Action: While we agreed there was still much work to be done, the session ended on a positive note as we discussed ways we could more effectively invest in and support women. Many pledged to be active mentors to other women to help them start or scale their business. Joy offered to send us more information about the multitude of resources already available, and keep us current with the ongoing work Criterion is doing. To learn more, send your email to info@criterionventures.com

The SVN community is an ideal place to hold the conversation. If there was one resounding consensus from the group, it was this: given the level of engagement and interest in the topic, “Investing in Women” should become a larger, more in depth session at the next conference. Let’s raise our powerful voices to SVN and I hope to see you there!

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