In celebration of International Women’s month, on March 18 we launched The Changemakers Series, conversations which engage leaders from industry and across the capital markets, to explore the many ways in which women are leading as Changemakers. The inaugural conversation, between myself and WoWE friend, benefactor, and Board Chair, Tara Health Foundation Founder & CEO Dr. Ruth Shaber, who was recently recognized in the Forbes Impact 50 for her contributions to the field of health, was deeply resonant.
Ruth and I enjoy the easy camaraderie of women who see the world as it is and are ambitious about what it can be when capital markets become aligned with investing in and through women, given their leadership in solving today’s pressing challenges. Our conversation was anchored around a question we have been asking ourselves a lot at WoWE — “What if?” What if more women had more control over capital? What if women made more financial decisions, especially in sectors where they do the majority of the work? What if?
Ruth pointed to the gap between leaders and workers in health care. Women represent more than 70 percent of the global healthcare workforce and 80 percent of decision-making consumers, yet very few women are in a position of overseeing and managing capital in healthcare systems and companies. Less than five percent of healthcare focused venture capital goes to women.
From Ruth’s perspective, one of the critical questions we must be asking is, “What if women made up 70 percent of financial decision-makers in healthcare?” She argued that women would make better decisions for themselves and their families. For example, reproductive health and maternal health are routinely deprioritized across economies and societies, even though we know that when women have control over their reproductive lives and have access to maternal health, their families and economies thrive.
Ruth is asking the right “What if” question. And we can pose the same question of so many of our investment paradigms regardless of the sector.
For example, What if women represented 65 percent of capital allocation decisions in Africa’s small-holder farming agriculture? Afterall, in Africa, 65 percent of small-holder farmers are women – yet they have limited access to financial markets. These are the farmers feeding families and communities across the continent.
And What if women represented 66 percent of the financial decision-making in education? We know that on average 66 percent of teachers around the globe are female, representing the people closest to the challenges and opportunities of educating our children. What sort of impact and innovation would we see in education, if women drove most of the decisions when it comes to allocating resources for the best education systems possible?
WoWE’s endowment recently made an investment into the Urban Innovation Fund (UIF), a women-led venture capital firm that provides seed capital to entrepreneurs shaping the future of America’s cities. Through UIF, WoWE has exposure to and is using its capital to fuel diverse innovation and leadership. The fund invests in companies such as Booknook Learning, a digital platform bringing access to world-class reading to children across America, including those in traditionally disenfranchised communities. More than 50% of the staff at Booknook Learning is female.
Another education focused example was presented by my friend Philippe Sachs who attended the first Changemakers salon. As Global Deputy CEO of Kido Education, Philippe oversees investment in women as changemakers in preschools and nurseries. Philippe pointed out that while women make up 99 percent of the workers at nurseries, the majority of franchise owners of such businesses are men. His group is seeking to change that, by providing start-up assistance and investment capital to women to train as providers, and over time own franchises.
As in so many industries, the barriers to change and greater equity are often structural. In this case, Philippe pointed out that most franchise agreements require the franchisee to provide 20 percent of equity. This hurdle is often an obstacle to female ownership as women tend to have less access to capital to fund franchisee purchases compared to men. By answering the question, “What if we helped women obtain that capital,” Philippe’s team is creating pathways to capital flows to women entrepreneurs who happen to be part of the caregiving infrastructure that is so critical to economic activity.
At WoWE, we are growing our endowment to use the power of financial markets to drive change. I invite you to join us in making capital markets more inclusive, thereby realizing the full potential of investing at the nexus of gender and solutions to global challenges.
For more information, please visit WoWE.