Investment and technical assistance, working together to maximize both social impact and financial returns
Women’s World Banking combines impact investment and technical assistance to further develop and realize the potential of women’s contributions to economies and societies. Its gender-lens investing strategy uses data-driven gender assessments and consumer solutions to secure female talent and meet women’s financial needs, and thus yield both social and financial returns.
Nearly one billion women remain outside the formal financial system, despite their increasingly well-documented contributions to local economies and societies. Women’s World Banking seeks to unleash the economic potential of this untapped market by ensuring that more women have access to financial services and women-focused financial solutions.
Women’s World Banking seeks to achieve this objective through both impact-oriented technical assistance and impact investment, leveraging the powerful potential of combining the two. This synergistic approach offers a win-win situation, with investors focusing on increasing the prioritization and uptake of capacity-building technical assistance, and technical assistance increasing social and financial returns for investors.
In summary, the combination leads to greater impact, effectiveness, and profitability in support of women’s financial inclusion.
THE SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IMPACT INVESTING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
To advance financial inclusion, impact investing and technical assistance are often siloed, which results in missed opportunities for enhancing impact and investment returns.
Several factors explain why investment and technical assistance are typically delivered separately. First, investors often lack the financial or technical resources to provide technical assistance themselves. Second, impact-oriented technical assistance – especially grant-funded – is generally not available to – or considered by – for-profit investors, even impact investors.
Lastly, while grant funders or social organizations traditionally drive and deliver technical assistance to achieve impact goals, they generally work with management teams but have little engagement with the investors in such organizations.
Gender-lens investing provides a good example of the symbiotic relationship between impact investment and technical assistance, as investors recognize that investing in women can yield both social good and enhanced financial returns.
This separation causes impact investors to miss out on accelerating their intended results with operational know-how, while technical assistance providers also miss out on engaging owners to prioritize and leverage new capacity over the long term. However, together, impact investment and technical assistance can create a mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing strategy for greater impact.
Gender-lens investing provides a good example of the symbiotic relationship between impact investment and technical assistance, as investors recognize that investing in women can yield both social good and enhanced financial returns. Thus, to capture this ‘gender dividend’, they will typically invest in companies focused on a product or service that specifically meets women’s needs, or in companies with gender-diverse boards and leadership teams, or in women-owned companies.
However, once an investment is made, investors typically cannot or do not offer operational assistance to improve the social (e.g., gender) outcomes of their investments, relying instead on existing management and resources to deliver impact and financial return. But it is exactly at this juncture that impact-targeted technical assistance can be a critical value-driver.
BLENDING CAPITAL AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
Launched in 2012, Women’s World Banking’s first gender-lens private equity fund aimed to invest in inclusive finance companies and increase their outreach to women as customers, employees, and leaders.
Its rigorous gender-disaggregated data collection and trend analysis allowed it to show management teams, using their own data, how a focus on female customer acquisition and engagement and female talent acquisition and retention could boost overall performance. But often, once convinced of the benefits of engaging more women, management teams lacked the expertise on how to reach them.
Subsequently, Women’s World Banking launched a blended finance follow-on fund that brings both investment capital to provide long-term equity capital and grant funding to secure dedicated technical assistance for investee companies to address the important question of “how” to engage more women, and to drive the sustainability and longevity of that focus.
WOMEN-CENTERED-DESIGN ADVISORY SERVICES
One of the key technical assistance services that Women’s World Banking can deliver for the Fund’s portfolio companies to help them solve the “how” problem is its proprietary approach to designing financial solutions that meet women’s needs.
This approach begins with data-driven, customer behavioral research, to identify women’s needs, behaviors, and barriers, followed by a process of ideation, prototyping, and user testing, to develop commercially viable solutions that address these needs, preferences and barriers.
At its core, this women-centered design approach is a systemic and iterative process for problem-solving, integrating both the customer and business in decision-making. Having an investor committed to this process can help management prioritize solutions and ensure they are implemented successfully. In turn, this drives the desired outcome of engaging more women and gives the company a competitive edge, which drives financial results.
ORGANIZATIONAL GENDER ASSESSMENTS: SOLVING FOR FEMALE TALENT ACQUISITION AND RETENTION
Women’s World Banking also focuses on building gender-diverse organizations that improve resiliency, mitigate risks and outperform financial metrics. However, biases and cultural norms may create hidden barriers for women internally as they pursue career growth.
Launched in 2008, Women’s World Banking’s ‘Organizational Gender Assessment’ helps financial institutions evaluate the gender diversity of their staff, understand their work experiences, and measure the organization’s ability, commitment and policies to attract, retain, advance, and reward female talent. Women’s World Banking technical assistance experts work with institutions to develop tailored action plans to build strong, gender-diverse teams.
The institution’s investors, through investor and board oversight and measurement against performance targets, can ensure the action plans are delivering results, and in turn will benefit from the enhanced risk management and business performance that results from gender diversity.
The power of impact-oriented technical assistance: the Ujjivan case study
In 2012, WWB Capital Partners, LP, explored an investment in Ujjivan (now Ujjivan Small Finance Bank), a microfinance institution based in India, with the objective of helping the institution reach more women customers with new products and services.
Simultaneously, its technical assistance team was conducting customer behavioral research to identify the needs and preferences of Ujjivan’s targeted women clients. The team found that the biggest pain point for women was turnaround time – it simply took too long to receive a loan. Based on this study, Ujjivan developed a comprehensive strategy to minimize turnaround time, and now as an investor, WWB Capital Partners monitored and advocated for continuous execution of the plan.
Ujjivan procured a digital document management system, decentralized decisionmaking, rolled out hand-held devices to loan officers for data entry in the field, and invested in real-time connectivity to Indian credit bureaus – reducing turnaround time from 14 days to 3, and becoming the market leader within a year of the Women’s World Banking study. Its customer acquisition rate skyrocketed, doubling the loan portfolio by the end of the year.
FACILITED THE FINANCIAL INCLUSION OF NEARLY ONE MILLION MORE WOMEN
WWB Capital Partners made another investment in 2014 at a 10% higher book value multiple, nearly doubling the price per share. Women’s World Banking launched a second customer research exercise, this time identifying appetite for individual and small business loans among women clients, allowing Ujjivan to develop a strategic plan to introduce individual lending.
WWB Capital Partners, along with other shareholders, approved this plan and monitored the program’s successful roll-out. In one year, Ujjivan raised the largest ever (to date) private equity round for an Indian microfinance lender, at a book value multiple now 20% higher than WWB Capital Partners’ original investment and at a share price three times higher.
Subsequently, Ujjivan was among the first group of microfinance institutions selected by the Reserve Bank of India to receive a small bank license.
In 2016, it became a publicly listed company, with a 41-times oversubscribed initial private offering (IPO) on Indian stock exchanges. The investment returned a 30% net IRR to the Fund and Women’s World Banking, because of its combined impact investment and technical assistance strategy, and facilitated the financial inclusion of nearly one million more women in India, with access to new individual and small business loan products.
This hybrid approach of impact investment capital and results-oriented technical assistance has proven to be a mutually beneficial and successful strategy that optimizes both social and financial outcomes for all parties. Embracing social impact without sacrificing financial returns is a powerful value driver for investors and the institutions they invest in.