The success of the field of gender lens investing is dependent on the elevation of translators and translation: individuals, organizations, and processes that facilitate understanding between gender and finance expertise. The accumulation of a wider variety of voices in decision-making is needed to improve both the financial returns and the gender and social impact of the program designs in the field.
The field of gender lens investing, in line with most impact investing fields, has historically tended to privilege knowledge of finance over knowledge of gender and/or local contexts. As a result, investment decisions continue to be made without consulting civil society organizations with expertise in gender and local context. Finance organizations and intermediaries often lack the capacity to do the underlying analysis that would support a gender lens investing approach.
Institutions, organizations, and individuals with expertise in gender and local context can develop the capacity and conduct the research that would support gender lens investors to do better gender analysis. Civil society organizations hold rich information about grassroots and community risks and opportunities, with an untapped potential to translate into valuable market analyses. However, they often lack the knowledge of systems of finance to be able to contribute this analysis. As the field of gender lens investing continues to integrate a comprehensive approach to gender that is more intersectional and inclusive of a broad array of dynamics of power, the field itself will be more reliant on the incorporation of gender expertise alongside the expertise of traditional finance.
There is risk involved in encouraging translation that goes poorly. If an investment firm engages with a gender specialist who is ill-equipped in finance, for example, the specialist may provide recommendations that are not useful or have potential negative implications for the firm. Consequently, the firm will be unlikely to incorporate a gender lens, or engage with other gender experts, in future, and not only will the interaction have led to a limited or poor outcome, it will have decreased the viability and expansion of the gender lens investing field. Conversely, a trained translator who can bring a comprehensive gender perspective to an investment firm can allow that firm to create increased value and manage additional investment risks through the incorporation of a gender lens in their investments.
Strong gender-finance translators will be able to identify patters in investment opportunities that traditional finance actors may not be aware of. Conversely, strong finance-gender translators can identify increased opportunities for improving goals of gender equity through leveraging financial systems or opportunities. The ability to speak across fields, on both sides, is likely to generate increased avenues for social impact and financial growth.
Organizations and individuals who can serve as “translators” between gender and finance will play a critical role in building the field. However, translation is a dynamic process and the roles and needs are continuing to evolve; as a concept and practice, it still requires further definition, investigation, and experimentation.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ENABLING FACTORS
Investors can play a critical role in using their power to support translation as an emerging best practice, specifically to increase the credibility and capability of translators in the field. Investors can influence the field through public commitments, incentives, and modelling the need for translators to be at the table. These demonstrations are important catalysts for integration of translation as a process and function, and building consensus around what is considered best practices for gender lens investments.
Model the importance of translators in your work
Those who sit in positions of power and influence set the table for who is invited into decision-making and to contribute their expertise. While traditional finance may be privileged in mainstreamed processes, these processes are constructed and so can be reconstructed for better outcomes. Calling for gender expertise to be at the table in investment processes gives credibility to the role of translators in this field. Ultimately, the power of invitation is a catalyst to facilitate increased visibility and legitimacy of translators and encourage use of them by others.
- Invite translators into your work through recruitment and RFPs, not only as consulting gender experts but to work within you in a sustained way that allows for mutual learning and
opportunities to practice translating across fields
- Advocate laterally for the inclusion on translators in the work of you colleagues and peers. Name the essential role that translators play in developing high social and financial investment returns.
Build capability and opportunities for learning
Investors can invest in opportunities which will build the pool of translators and the capability of those who can take up this role. Learning platforms, training programs, and opportunities for the practice to be further developed are all critical to building capabilities for translators.
- Invest in the training and capacity building of emerging translators to establish a talent pool
- Fund and provide adequate support mechanisms for non-traditional actors to be involved in investment making decisions
- Support financial intermediaries and/or program managers in building skills to translate across gender and finance
Broker visibility for the role of translators
By convening and connecting across sectors, investors can serve as a critical bridge between the worlds of finance and gender. Bringing people together can itself serve as a site of translation, reinforcing the need for a broader approach to engagement and communication.
- Bring together investors, fund managers, intermediaries, and potential translators in collaborative design sessions to discuss how best to support each other’s goals
- Convene a community of translators to raise the profile of the role and work of existing translators and recruiting more
Support enabling environments
Investors can play a role in fostering the enabling environments that will allow for translation to flourish. In order for translation to develop as a practice, the field needs convenings where learning, questioning, and creative possibilities are valued and encouraged. Investors can create opportunities for translators to build the common language and concepts necessary for them to effectively translate. In doing so, we can build the confidence of translators who are engaging with the gender lens investing field, and innovative finance broadly.
- Consciously consider whose voices are elevated and how you can legitimize alternative approaches and processes
- Provide support structures and learning opportunities for translators to acquire necessary language and frameworks to bridge their knowledge and skills to traditional finance
Build legitimacy of those allied to lived experience
On the question of credibility and trust, one of the key attributes of translators is they are allied to the lived experience that the investment or strategy is seeking to address. That is to say that an effective translator cannot be at arm’s length from the lived experience. Translators themselves do not have to have lived the experience of the issue a gender lens investing strategy might seek to address – such as gender-based violence – but they need to have engaged with people who have or organizations who are close to the issue. Importantly, they need to be seen by those whose interests they are representing as firmly anchored with the legitimacy of being an ally.
- Welcome and encourage those from gender backgrounds or context-based organizations to consider finance as an ally for social change, and increase these individuals and organizations
likelihood to work with or take up translator roles within the field.
- Name that being allied to the lived experienced is a ‘credential’ that translators require to do their work effectively and gives their work legitimacy. Recognize and value the investment of time and resources needed for translators to be close to the issue.
Foster collaboration and creativity
Across many sectors there is an increasing value placed on those who can creatively make connections and execute in environments where the future is not known. The ability to think creatively is a key attribute of translators. An enabling environment for these creative translators is one that values adaptability and collaboration and encourages alternatives to the siloed activities of specialised individuals and departments that often exists within large organizations.
- Convene and model collaborative working environments where learning, questioning, and creativity are key to success
- Encourage and reward internal collaboration and champion structures that break down silos of specialization and facilitate cross-functional and cross-field activities.