Bridgetown, Barbados/Kingston, Jamaica – With McKinsey Global Institute finding that by closing the economic gender gap, there could be an estimated increase of $28 trillion to the global gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2025, gender lens investing is paramount for the Caribbean’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crises and inclusive and sustainable development.
On Human Rights Day, December 10, 2021 government leaders, regional and multilateral development finance institutions (DFIs), public and private investors, and the private sector gathered for the launch of the “Partnership for Gender Lens Investment in the Caribbean between UN Women and Portland Private Equity” in collaboration with the 2X Collaborative. The event included a virtual MOU signing between UN Women Multi Country Office (MCO)- Caribbean and Portland Private Equity with a view of facilitating cooperation to increase Innovative Financing Options for Gender Equality in the Caribbean region and enhancing capacities across the private sector and governments to ensure women owned or led businesses have access to capital to develop and scale their businesses.
Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean, UN Women, Maria-Noel Vaeza highlighted that the MOU partnership is a direct outcome of the June 2021 webinar series held under the recently concluded “Win-Win: Gender Equality Means Good Business” programme – a joint initiative of UN Women, the International Labour Organization and the European Union – that promoted gender equality in the private sector in 6 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Vaeza said: “Today is a pivotal day for UN Women and for the Caribbean as this MOU with Portland Private Equity will implement gender lens financing with the Caribbean Basin Gender Equality Fund (the Gender Equality Fund), leading the region in gender equality investments across the wider Latin America and the Caribbean region.”
With the technical support of UN Women, Vaeza continued that: “This Fund is the first regional investment under the Global 2X Collaborative launched by the 2X Challenge founded by the DFIs from the G7 as a call to action for investment capital to empower women.”
The Fund will build on lessons from the Innovative Financing and Gender Lens Investment Initiative launched in Latin America in 2020 by UN Women to attract private sector investment, strengthen the ecosystem of gender-sensitive investments and contribute to the generation of partnerships for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5, mainly through the promotion of capital mobilization and investments oriented towards the gender lens.
As founding members of the 2XCollaborative which is designed to serve investors across the globe making their first gender-focused investment, Doug Hewson, Managing Director of Portland Private Equity explained why gender lens investing was good for business.
Hewson said: As a general partner of growth equity funds, our job is to attract, understand, do due diligence and influence the growth of our portfolio businesses and we think incorporating gender lens investing will help us find more interesting business in the region to invest in and in terms of value, we think that more diversity leads to better corporate cultures, better decisions and better outcomes.
Hewson also mentioned that as a private equity company adhering to standard industry practices, gender lens investing proves more profitable, referencing the significant rise in gender-smart investing, with a reported $4.8 billion raised in 2019.
He said: “Consistent with our experience in building ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles across our investment process and portfolio, incorporating a gender lens is necessary as a value lever resulting into competitively advantaged businesses and superior investment results. Failing to incorporate a gender lens is the equivalent of deliberately ignoring a key driver of business performance.”
Though this area of financing is in the nascent stages, there are already successful examples across the globe and in the Caribbean region. During the launch event, the Belize Power Connect Limited, a women owned company in Belize, was highlighted because of the innovative financing measures employed to support their Business growth.
While celebrating the progress of women in participating in higher levels of education and the increase of women in the labour force, during his keynote speech, Prime Minister of Belize, the Honourable John Briceño, underscored the importance for women to be able to access financing to grow businesses. He also noted the urgent need to have more women in public life leading policy development and influencing development.
Prime Minister Briceño said: “Here at home, women are underrepresented in small and medium enterprises. The Covid-19 Socioeconomic Impact Assessment conducted by UNDP indicated that 83.9% of business owners in Belize are micro enterprise owners with 11% as small enterprise owners. Of that number, 55% of micro enterprise owners are women but results revealed that most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are owned by men. Many women owned or led businesses continue to struggle with a lack of access to capital to develop and scale their businesses.
Representative, UN Women MCO- Caribbean, Tonni Brodber reiterated to attendees the importance the gender lens investing in advancing the theme of Human Rights Day 2021: EQUALITY – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights
“Although women in the Caribbean are highly entrepreneurial, they struggle to access suitable finance and support for their businesses. Lack of access to capital is one of the main reasons women-led businesses fail and the region has the second highest failure rate of women-owned businesses globally.”
There was consensus among the panelists: – The Honourable Pearnel Charles Jr., Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Government of Jamaica, Ms. Anne-Marie Levesque, Director, Gender and Impact Management, FinDev Canada, Ambassador Capricia Marshall, Ambassador-in-residence, Atlantic Council and Ms. Sumayyah Cargill, Head, Strategic Development and Initiatives, Bahamas Development Bank – that the lack of diversity was costing investors and if employed, gender lens investing could bridge the gaps towards sustainable development in the Caribbean.
Ms Cargill said: “Gender equitable financing provides an avenue for Caribbean small island developing states to increase the rate of growth in our economies.”
In acknowledging the gap in capital for SMEs in the region, General Manager, Caribbean Country Department, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Therese Turner – Jones implored all stakeholders to identify opportunities for collaboration to grow gender lens investing in the region and commended UN Women for the work to develop this innovative approach to financing while signaling the IDB’s support for the Gender Equality Fund. This event took place on the heels of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence with the panelists shedding light on the role of gender lens investing in addressing the safety and security of women.
In response to this year’s Human Right Day theme, the partnership between UN Women and Portland Private Equity is one such solution to address the current global crisis and build a more sustainable, inclusive society by designing solutions for women to access to innovative financial resources.
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