Now is a critical moment to shape the terms of capital in Southeast Asia. More than ever, investments are being made in Southeast Asia by actors in and outside the region. With this increased capital in and attention on Southeast Asia, now is the time to push to make capital markets responsive to gender equality considerations in the region.

And this is happening. There is a long history in Southeast Asia of striving to make capital markets work for those most marginalized, and more and more attention is being placed on gender lens investing to continue this historic effort.

However, there is a conversation taking place within the field of gender lens investing that suggests the field is nascent in the region. While gender lens investing is still young and there are many possibilities yet to explore, to propose that the field is nascent is to misrepresent the breadth of ideas, people and activity building the field across the Southeast Asian region.

Part of the challenges of demonstrating this is one of definition—there is still a lot of confusion about what gender lens investing is, and all the activities that might fit within it.

Gender lens investing, broadly speaking, is about how gender considerations can uncover otherwise hidden risks or opportunities in an investment. While some people focus on the outcomes of investment—for instance, investments into women-led enterprises or products and services that have positive impacts on women’s lives—we at the Criterion Institute emphasize how better decisions can be made by integrating gender considerations into financial analysis, deal structures and investment strategies. We use this process definition, rather than an outcomes-focused one, as it allows for an infinite number of outcomes. This allows for any organization involved in gender lens investing to have a strategy tailored to their desired form of social change, whether that is women’s economic empowerment or a reduction in gender-based violence.

When people do think of the field of gender lens investing, they often think only of the economic activity—what capital is moving where. For Criterion, the field of gender lens investing has three component parts, all of which are important in the early stages of field-building, to ensure a strong foundation upon which investment activity can happen. In addition to economic activity, Criterion includes ideas and people in its conception of a field. By acknowledging ideas about what makes up gender lens investing (and the debates within it), as well as those looking to convene people together, including new actors, these are the collective set of activities that allow the gender lens investing ecosystem to grow in Southeast Asia.

The Criterion Institute first began working to support gender lens investing in Southeast Asia in 2015 alongside USAID. The results of this work can be seen in our Advancing Gender Lens Investing in Asia report. Criterion’s commitment to the region has continued to this day. Working with Investing in Women, an Initiative of the Australian Government, Criterion is working to gather and elevate stories from the region on the global stage, to help people expand their imagination about what is possible in Southeast Asia.

Across the globe, the field of gender lens investing is dominated by examples and perspectives mainly from North America and Europe, perspectives that sometimes skew to reflect a paternalistic view of the rest of the world. Elevating stories and leadership from Southeast Asia will help to reverse this narrative, to demonstrate that we all have a lot to learn from each other and that we should approach the growth of the field globally as peers.

Over the first half of 2018, the Criterion Institute, with the generous support of Investing in Women, is convening a series of field-building activities across Southeast Asia. These are documenting the breadth of activities, ideas and people contributing to the growth of the field of gender lens investing in the region, aiming to use Criterion’s position in the field to elevate the profile of people and practices from the area on a global stage.

The first of these events, at the Australian Embassy Jakarta, was held in February. With a shared definition of gender lens investing, and a framework through which to understand the field, participants were invited to explore how the work they are already doing contributes to the growth of the field and to consider how they might partner with others to accelerate their work.

We know it is strategic to bring gender and finance experts together if we are to create an investing ecosystem that prioritizes gender equality. So, by focusing on building the capacity of translators between gender and finance and identifying where collaboration across these fields might be possible (especially where this collaboration has not happened before), we were able to see more and more participants name themselves as gender lens investing field-builders.

Here are a few examples of how participants’ work is already contributing to the growth of the field in Southeast Asia in ways that privilege gender equality:

Mandating women leaders are named in the company’s ownership document. Kinara Indonesia and Patamar Captial are two impact investment partners of Investing in Women who come together to strengthen the investment readiness of women entrepreneurs in Indonesia through the Indonesia Accelerator Program for SMEs. By peer selection, a select number of entrepreneurs are nominated for seed funding. Before any capital is disbursed, Kinara and Patamar mandated that any female founder nominated for funding must have her name on the ownership documents, with at least 30% of company ownership in her name.

In many parts of Indonesia, a woman’s name cannot alone appear on the ownership documents of a company. If she is named in the ownership documents (which she often is not), her name must appear with that of a male relative. What Kinara Indonesia and Patamar Capital have done here is realign power through the structures and terms of finance. The Australian-Indonesia Partnership for Rural Development, another initiative of the Australian Government, is taking a similar approach, where any women entrepreneurs they work with have their ownership documents co-signed with credit unions, to allow for women to operate independently from their male relatives if they so choose.

Blended finance for technical assistance. To ensure gender considerations are streamlined across an organization’s activities, gender mainstreaming best practice recommends budgeting for gender experts to support the process. This specific resourcing is not always suited to investment capital. The ability for asset managers to provide blended capital—a combination of grant funding and investment capital—to allow for the provision of technical assistance to companies looking to mainstream gender is one way to support this initial ramp up. International economic development organization, MEDA, in their partnership with investor Sarona Asset Management, takes this approach in their work in the region.

In addition to seeing how their existing work contributes to a broader mission, the workshop helped participants understand they are not alone in these efforts. The workshop was a reminder for existing partners of the great work they are doing together to build the field and brought strangers together to form new collaborations. We witnessed people from different fields see the commonality of their goals, despite their differences in sector or background. Through this workshop, we built the capacity of individuals and organizations to act as translators between gender and finance. Criterion offered a space where participants were able to see one another as allies, in many cases where they would not have before. One participant with a background in finance noted, “At first I wasn’t sure why gender experts were included in this event. After the workshop, I see the value of their work to mine. I see how we can partner to make better investments.” Watch our video of other participants sharing their insights about the workshop and their view on the way forward for gender lens investing in Indonesia.

What is clear is that amazing things are already happening within the field of gender lens investing in Indonesia. To foster the continued growth of the field to prioritize women’s economic empowerment, we need to elevate and capture more stories like these. This will help change the narrative about what is happening and what is possible in Indonesia, as well as the Southeast Asian region as a whole.

Next, the Criterion Institute, alongside Investing in Women, will offer similar field-building workshops in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Manila, the Philippines in April and June 2018, respectively.

Criterion is committed to continuing to use our own power to elevate perspectives from Southeast Asia on a global stage. We know workshop participants will too, inviting others to step into their power. We are excited to see how the particular investing ecosystems within each country, and in the region at large, continue to build in ways that recognize the importance of gender equality.

Do you have a story to share? If so, please get in touch!

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