Gender-Smart Investing: A Pioneer Survey of 21 DFIs

The recent G7 Summit brought more momentum to the already-growing gender-smart investment landscape. G7 governments announced a contribution of $251 million to the African Development Bank’s AFAWA (Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa) initiative, which supports women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises. To mark the anniversary of the 2X Challenge, launched in Charlevoix under the Canadian G7 presidency in 2018, development finance institution (DFI) members announced that $2.47 billion out of the $3 billion promised has already been mobilized to support women’s economic empowerment. These pledges build on other gender-smart investing milestones from 2019; during the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, for example, the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative announced its second round of grantees, bringing the total to $149 million granted with an estimated additional $2.6 billion in public and private finance to be mobilized.

Governments are looking to DFIs (bilateral and multilateral) as central actors in supporting women’s economic empowerment. That makes sense; these institutions have the right tools to support women’s access to finance, skills, markets, and networks. But as many gender experts working within DFIs know well, serious integration of gender equity and women’s economic empowerment in investment choices requires much more than a headline number or a few high-profile projects. Are these institutions fundamentally changing the way they work so that women have as much access to the benefits of their investment as men? How do we verify that the financing being mobilized is both additional and beneficial to women entrepreneurs and workers, narrowing gender gaps in access to finance, labor force participation, compensation, and wealth?

Our team has just launched (to our knowledge) the first ever survey of the gender policies and practices of 21 multilateral and bilateral DFIs in order to gain a better understanding of DFI gender strategies. The purpose is to use the survey results to help define standards for effective gender policies and practices. This comprehensive review will build an evidence base across institutions with the aim of accelerating progress across institutions. The survey will also enhance transparency and accountability to shareholders and other stakeholders committed to this critical dimension of DFI work, by examining both external policies and practices that govern investments and programs, as well as internal policies and practices that govern the administration of the institution.

We designed our survey questions in consultation with DFIs and other experts—seeking to be as objective, simple to answer, and useful as possible. Among other questions, we ask:

  • Do these institutions have gender strategies, and are they made public?
  • Are gender equality-related objectives considered in deal sourcing and due diligence?
  • Are proposed investments scored for their gender impact and are those scores used in investment decisions?
  • Are data on outcomes for investment beneficiaries (firms, farms, individuals) gender-disaggregated?
  • Are those data made public?
  • Do DFIs encourage their clients (like banks) to take part in gender training?

Internally, do they “walk the talk” by prioritizing parity in leadership, hiring and promotions, work-life-balance, and eliminating gender gaps in compensation? Does the institution seek to source more from women-owned businesses?

Defining or pursuing best practice in the absence of comprehensive baseline data across comparator institutions is difficult. This survey will give DFIs already committed to gender-smart investing an important opportunity to learn from one another and likely to devise solutions together in areas where improvement is needed. Others that have yet to prioritize gender-smart investing have a lot to learn from them.

Stay tuned as we collect data and present results. 


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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