Private sector industry leaders from all over Asia gathered for the Asia Gender-Smart Investing Forum. The event was presented by Gobi Partners and co-organized with the UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia program, which is funded by the European Union.
Gender-smart investing seeks to intentionally and measurably address gender disparities via investment decisions. The two-day forum provided leaders with guidance and good practices to advance women’s economic empowerment and cultivate women in leadership roles in Asia. Participants discussed strategies to unlock the potential in human capital and translate it into opportunities for boosted economic growth and innovation.
The untapped potential for businesses investing in women entrepreneurs and leaders can be “a rising tide that lifts all boats. The women founders and women in C-level management positions, backed by Gobi Partners, constantly pay it forward by uplifting underserved communities and creating much needed jobs across the ‘she-conomy’ and Asia as a whole,” said Thomas Tsao, founding partner of Gobi Partners.
UN Women also sees sound investing strategies translating into benefits for all parties. As Sarah Knibbs, deputy regional director of the UN Women regional office for Asia and the Pacific, observed, “Benefits to women translate into benefits for their communities. By providing opportunities for women through gender-smart investing, business leaders can improve the lives of entire communities and create transformative change.”
Alongside keynote speeches and workshops, the forum consisted of four seminars covering crucial topics.
ESG integration drives inclusive innovation and growth
ESG (environmental, social, and governance) is defined by the intention to generate positive and measurable social and environmental impact. This panel concurred that ESG due diligence does not need to be a checklist. Rather, it can be a set of questions and conversation starters that assess how well a company understands the impact goals and concerns of its team or customers.
The panelists also discussed initiatives that enable women to enter or re-enter the workplace in the wake of the pandemic. For example, more than MYR 230 million (USD 54 million) has been allocated in the Malaysia 2022 budget to assist women entrepreneurs affected by the pandemic. The Malaysia Sustainable Finance Initiative and the IRIS+ system were also mentioned as resources and tools that help companies navigate and craft impact management systems.
Introduction to gender-smart investment tools and frameworks
The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) were introduced as a holistic framework for all businesses to move toward gender equality across the value chain. This toolkit was described as a way to assess gender gaps in the workplace, to help create an action plan to advance gender equality and to set a framework for regular public reporting of internal and external indicators.
The gold in inclusive investing in bringing financial returns
This segment emphasised that the myth of gender-smart investment being unnecessary will lead to overlooked opportunities. This may lead to lagging financial returns and success. The panelists highlighted proactive awareness and actively searching for the right resources as key steps in learning how to form intentional strategies and measuring and showing our impact and success. Platforms such as the NAMA Foundation and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation were suggested as resources for business leaders to refer to.
Building an inclusive ecosystem—Bringing women-owned businesses and investors together
Organizations and investment vehicles that advocate for gender inclusivity are increasingly common, especially in the APAC region. The panelists discussed the ways the different players in an ecosystem can play their part in building an inclusive ecosystem. For impact investors, that could mean investing in women-led businesses or gender-inclusive businesses that provide social or financial returns. A business could view and analyze its workforce, market segmentation, product design, and community with active consideration of gender-based impact. Intermediaries were also encouraged to find their own ways to provide women entrepreneurs with access to markets, networks, mentoring, and training to grow their businesses.