Gender Smart: Beginning at the beginning

By Kaylene Alvarez, Athena Global Founder and CEO

The concept for this blog came out of a session I facilitated in 2018 at the Gender Smart Summit called “Gender Bonds:  What comes next?

During this session, we got to hear from 3 world-class rock stars working to support gender bonds:  Suzanne Buchta (Bank of America, US), Victoria Gibson (QBE Insurance, Australia) and Jason Lowe (EY, Australia). The audience was also a powerhouse of knowledge and experience, which all led to a very lively and informed discussion.

We discussed some of the main challenges of gender bonds:  access to data, determining a yield curve and price, measuring impact, and issuing such structures. We also spent a lot of time discussing how the culture of an organization is affected by and drives the desire to innovate financial products for social good.  All of these are topics we’ll cover in subsequent blogs.

For this first blog, I wanted to start with the basics. What do we mean by “gender lens”? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. However, it fundamentally focuses on bringing about gender equity—which goes beyond equality. I like to show this difference graphically. 

Imagine a scenario where people are trying to pick an apple from a tree. One person can easily reach, one can reach with a stretch and one isn’t even close. If we give all of them the same size stool on which to stand, then the tallest one can reach even easier, the middle one can now reach easily and the shortest one is still a long way from reaching. Equity means giving everyone the “right-size” support so that they can all reach with equal ease. This implies understanding the gap between where we are and where we want to go so we can provide the “right-size” support for everyone. From a programmatic perspective, it’s often easier and cheaper to provide everyone the same support. While that certainly helps some people, it gives some an advantage they never needed, and still leaves others out.

Trying to use finance to create gender equity is nuanced. There are a lot of incredibly smart and passionate people working to find solutions. At this point, there is still more we don’t know than we do. 

I’ll leave you with a list of critical questions that came out of the Gender Smart Summit Gender bond discussion to help illustrate where we need to go next. I’ll try to tackle, and invite others to provide insight on these and other topics:

  • How do you scale gender bond models?
  • How do you measure impact and ensure we are reaching women?
  • How can we ensure that the bond is not just repackaging capital that would have already been spent/invested?
  • Can gender bonds be used to get companies to report more data on their gender diversity and impacts?
  • What are the issuance challenges?

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