Crossing the divide

Can gender-lens investing work in Latin America?

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced last month that it had partnered with UN Women, the UN’s entity dedicated to advancing gender equality. The idea of the partnership is to promote the growth of ‘gender-lens’ investing, i.e., investments should be considered in the context of how they can positively impact women. The company is to develop strategies to mobilise capital in support of economic opportunities for women. Noble in intention, difficult in practice.  

A good place to start would be investing in healthtech startups which have made real strides in closing one of Latin America’s most pernicious gender divides. Guillermo Pepe, CEO of Mamotest, the first telemamography network in Latin America explained, “Smartphones and medtech devices/apps are serving women’s medical needs especially in more rural areas where health infrastructure is less developed.”

“Smartphones and medtech devices/apps are serving women’s medical needs especially in more rural areas where health infrastructure is less developed.”

Guillermo Pepe, CEO of Mamotest

UN Women frequently holds symposiums on the status of women across Latin America, which in gender terms, remains one of the world’s most unequal regions.  

According to Maurice Obstefeld, former IMF chief economist, “Gender equality is more than a moral issue, it is a vital economic issue. For the global economy to reach its potential, we need to create conditions in which all women can reach their potential.” Indeed, a recent study by Citigroup estimated that if emerging economies were to ensure that 100% of girls completed high school education, doing so could lead to a lasting increase in their GDP of 10% by 2030. 

“For the global economy to reach its potential, we need to create conditions in which all women can reach their potential.”

Maurice Obstefeld, former IMF chief economist

Interestingly, in a survey published last year by UN Women, women form the majority of staff counts across Latin America’s leading investment funds, but few hold leadership positions. Only 37% of the 28 funds surveyed had women in senior management positions and only 25% were mostly controlled by them. Greater visibility could help those to penetrate industries and sectors perceived as hostile to women. 

There has been much talk of the role of women in aiding the region’s post-covid recovery – the Montevideo Strategy for the Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030 puts these issues at the forefront of policymaking. Details, however are thin.  

An executive at IMPAQTO Capital, an impact investing fund providing flexible capital to early-stage startups in the Andean region, shared his comments on new gender bonds, “Ecuador’s new gender bond is a step in the right direction to address gender inequality in the country as it expands access to capital for female-led SMEs. The figures clearly show that women receive less investment for their companies from banks and investment funds. However, much more needs to be done to close the gap and many barriers to female entrepreneurs will continue to exist.”   

Investments and startups aside, greater financial independence would set the tone for greater gender equality across the region in the future. For women across the continent, increased financial independence starts at home. Which is why it’s worrying that in a report published earlier this year by the Development Bank of Latin America ,33% of women in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru stated that they make financial decisions on their own compared to 48% of men. Clearly, greater financial independence is critical to addressing the gender divide.   


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