Since 2016, Criterion Institute has been delivering our signature workshop, TOOLKIT for Using Finance for Social Change to audiences throughout the globe. Participants come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, including foundations working to end domestic poverty, women’s rights organization promoting gender equality in government policy, t faith-based organization looking to connect their theological imagination with systems of finance, donor agency who wants to invest in people who can better translate and bridge between gender and finance, and impact investors seeking to incorporate gender analysis, to name a few. The workshop is designed to help participants tackle sticky problems in a safe space while simultaneously learning about and experimenting with ways to use the systems of finance as a tool for social change.
Below, Lauren Kauffman reflects on her experience behind the scenes during one of the first TOOLKIT workshops.
We can have only one first job.
The first job—as my friends tell me—can be challenging, infuriating, motivating, gratifying. Not often have I heard the experience likened to giddy celebrity spotting.
But for me, a freshly-minted grad having recently submitted her Master’s dissertation on gender and finance six months previous, TOOLKIT was exactly that experience.
Only days into my first job, I had the privilege of attending TOOLKIT, an interactive workshop designed to help professionals use finance as a tool for social change. The materials had been designed by Criterion Institute, a nonprofit think tank that has remained the thought leader in bridging the fields of gender and finance for the past decade. At the front of the room, refereeing the day’s intensely productive conversations, stood Joy Anderson, the Founder and President of Criterion Institute—and my boss.
Backed by years of meticulous market research and a truly comprehensive understanding of the needs in both finance and the women’s movement, TOOLKIT is an experience like no other. To give you a metric: the room was packed, and this was only the third TOOLKIT Joy had offered.
With a vista of Manhattan behind us, the room in the Ms. Foundation was impressive in the quality and diversity of its participants: bankers, asset managers, social change workers, gender experts, and philanthropists. At the table to my left sat Ariane de Vienne, Managing Director at Cornerstone Capital; at her elbows sat Liz Maxwell from SOCAP and Maria Mahl from the Clinton Global Initiative.
For the first time, I found myself surrounded by the practitioners who work every day to further a theory I had only recently written about in the abstract. It was as if I had spent the past year in my Master’s program studying the physics of the spiral, and I was finally seeing the football fly.
In my dissertation, I wrote about public equity approaches to fostering women’s inclusion in corporate leadership, including Morgan Stanley’s Parity Portfolio and Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, as well as emerging market approaches such as Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture Initiative. But writing a critical, academic analysis meant that I had the tough issues of intersectionality, postcolonialism, and tokenism on my mind as I entered the TOOLKIT session in Brooklyn.
Because of these academic echoes, what astounded me the most about that day was the depth to which the participants had already internalized these critiques and were strategizing ways to move the field forward in inclusive and unabashedly creative, cutting-edge ways. Sara Ahmed’s call to arms—to dismantle the master’s house without becoming the master’s tool—came immediately to mind as I listened to these professional financiers and women’s rights leaders mobilize as a force to use finance as a tool for social change.
To attend TOOLKIT is to experience the absolute latest, most innovative thinking around integrating gender analysis in finance.
What makes the day unique is that it includes voices both from finance and also from the women’s movement.
What makes the day extraordinary is Criterion’s decades of experience exemplified with Joy’s talent in leading quick-fire conversation as the paparazzi—in this case me — clicks away.
– Lauren Kauffman