Young Women Funding Social Impact

Catalytic Women gathered in San Francisco in June to hear three experts talk about engaging younger women who are defining their own ways of giving back. While I may not be of this generation, it was such a treat to hear from them and to feel their energy. This is my favoriate audience for our work – the enthusiasm, creativity and optimism is absolutely infectious.

Our panelists were, likewise, three dynamic young women:


Lana Volftsun

Lana made clear some of the obstacles for giving that younger donors face:

  1. Affordability. So many images of “philanthropy” are of older donors, often men, making very large gifts. This is ironic for 3 reasons: women make most giving decisions; the cumulative impact of individuals giving at modest levels now can be so much more significant than a single, large legacy gift; and few of us see ourselves as able to make million dollar donations.
  2. Knowledge. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S., thinking about finding the best fit is downright daunting. It can be hard to know where to start.
  3. Impact. We all want to know that our dollars, at whatever level of giving, make a difference. Sounds so simple, but it’s not.
Erin Geiger

Erin Geiger

I’m a big fan of the “dumb question” – I find it opens dialogue by making it OK for others to admit not knowing it all. Erin answered mine: What is the definition of a Millennial? And, as expected, lots of others jumped in to ask their own questions. None were dumb.

Millennials are between 18 and 25 years old. Next Gen seems to have a broader interpretation, including Gen X and Gen Y. Panelists agreed that these latter tags relate more to life experience and association than to quantitative standards.

We heard other illuminating answers to words commonly used in discussing social impact. Not surprisingly, these answers led to some of the vehicles that young women are using to engage as donors and social investors.

  • Microfinance is a platform, a portal, between those of us interested in making smaller gifts (or loans) and those living in poverty without access to banks and traditional financial resources.
  • Crowdfunding is an online platform where many people can support a single project.
  • A giving circle is the reverse: a group where many people work collaboratively to find one or several organizations to support.
  • Impact investing creates both a return on investment (ROI) and a positive social and/or environmental impact.
  • Impact considers a company or organization’s ability to create positive benefits that are social (e.g. provide jobs or affordable housing) or environmental (such as sustainable land use or clean energy).


Leigh Moran

Leigh Moran

Leigh shared Calvert Foundation’s philosophy of changing the way that capital flows: it is not mutually exclusive to raise money from investors and to deploy it for social impact across the global. Their Community Investment Note allows an individual to invest as little as $20 in creating a financial and social return.

One Percent Foundation has the goal of mobilizing Millennials to give just that: 1% of their income. This September they will launch new giving circles – and Catalytic Women is excited to be partnering with them.


Younger donors aren’t the only ones struggling with learning about options for impact and building financial confidence in how to fund change in the world around us. As Leigh put it, one of their goals is for Millennials to see themselves as investors. By offering ways to invest in causes that are a person’s passion, through initiatives like WIN_WIN_RGB_2inches-1Women Investing in Women (WIN-WIN) and Engaging Diaspora Communities, Calvert Foundation is exploring ways to engage some of the largest groups of potential funders: young adults, diaspora communities with a common origin in a geographic region, and women.

Camp Start Up, Kiva’s summer program launched this year in partnership with Independent Means, provides financial education to young adults and inspires social entrepreneurship. At either end of the spectrum – extreme poverty or extreme wealth – it can be difficult to discuss money.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 10.00.51 AM is the largest network in the U.S. educating and mobilizing teens for social impact. Why wait until we feel that we have enough to give? All the better if we can start that education earlier (or, in my case, help my daughter build her financial confidence and impact).


One participate asked, If an investment can be made in either a nonprofit or for-profit enterprise, what’s the difference between an investment and a donation? As more giirs-logohybrid options become available, this line seems to blur. Perhaps the larger question is, does it matter? Yet the metrics used to evaluate social impact, such as Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) and IRIS, are a good place for us to create awareness about impact in any kind of funding for social change.

Storytelling is a powerful way to engage and create impact. One young woman told of a call from her alma mater telling her she was a VIP among alumni donors. She wondered how this could be, with the modest amount that she gave. Yet others were giving less; to them, she was an example of action and impact.


How can young women fund social impact? Their options are available to us all. Here were some of the many possibilities that emerged from the conversation with our experts:

  1. Invest a small amount and get hooked. Put as little as $20 into a Community Investment Note through Calvert Foundation or take $25 to start a lending team with Kiva.
  2. Tell your story. Even better if you tell your story in your own voice – take a video on your phone and post it to Facebook or LinkedIn.
  3. Connect with others around giving. Join a giving circle to meet other women who give, or bring a giving circle – like One Percent Foundation or Catalytic Women’s giving circles – to another group, like a professional network.

Catalytic Women has resources on all the above. Just email me at and we’ll point you in the right direction for making your own, personal impact in your own way.


Gender Lens Investing: Newcomers’ Webinars

It’s confession time and I’m coming clean.  I am completely new to the work of Gender Lens Investing.  (A moment please while I hide my face in shame.)  At this point you may be wondering why I’m suddenly interested and the answer may surprise you.

I recently overheard women discussing hand bags.  Hand bags! Ever wondered who makes these beautiful essentials carried by women everywhere?  I learned that, ironically, something universally used by women (and any number of other consumer goods) can be produced in conditions that are detrimental to women’s well-being.  And I learned that I can choose to spend my consumer (and investment) dollars in a way that supports women. This conversation, and those I been involved in since becoming part of Catalytic Women, has inspired me to want to learn more.


Jennifer John

I’ve recently had the pleasure of hearing Jennifer John, Project Manager of Criterion Institute, speak on this topic during our monthly collaborative webinars on gender lens investing.  What’s even better, these webinars focus on newcomers (like myself) and are meant as an entry point into dialogue.  During May’s webinar Jennifer was joined by panelists Siiri Morely, Director of Prosperity Catalyst, and Becky Bailey, Senior Portfolio Manager and Acting Director of Operations of Agora Partnerships.  These three dynamic women provided such a vibrant and informative discussion that I couldn’t help but be inspired.  Below are a few excerpts from May’s discussion.

Jennifer began by defining gender and explaining what it means to invest with a gender lens.  According to Criterion Institute, “Gender is term that refers to your gendered life experience in the social construct that you live.  It is thought more of as ‘gender identity,’ and varies over time and from place to place. Investing with a gender lens involves making investment decisions that support gender equality while seeking positive financial return.” I sensed a definitive message forming here.  Investing with a gender lens -with gender equality as a focus-  makes you a smarter investor.  More importantly, it means “moving trillions versus millions,” of dollars (quoted from Jackie Zehner, Chief Engagement Officer and President of Women Moving Millions).  Wow! Trillions versus millions? Tell me more…

Siiri Morley

Siiri Morley

Siiri Morley then went on to speak about her non-profit organization Prosperity Catalyst, and its for-profit social enterprise partner Prosperity Candle.  Their focus is to help women take control of their own economic agency.  Prosperity Catalyst provides an environment where women from poverty can become self-sustaining entrepreneurs.  Prosperity Candle “empowers women to rebuild their lives through candle making.”  Providing women with the resources and tools to take control of their own lives is profound.

Becky Bailey

Becky Bailey

Siiri’s dialogue was an excellent segue into Becky Bailey’s work with Agora Partnerships.  Agora strives to “unleash the potential” of impact entrepreneurs.  To do this Agora provides entrepreneurs with the necessary knowledge, networks and capital so they have the tools to solve critical problems in their focus area.   Agora works with entrepreneurs on the ground through accelerator programs in order to affect, and scale, positive change. Genius!

What did I take away from this event?

That I want to invite others to the dialogue, to bring women to the table and most importantly, to think outside the box myself when I consider my own purchasing and investing decisions .  And, of course, to continue my quest for more knowledge on the work of gender lens investing and women funding social impact.

It’s Only Natural


Editor’s Note: A Catalytic Women member shares her thoughts on altruism and skills where women are “natural” leaders. Enjoy!/MH

Chances are you’ve all heard and even embraced as true, a belief in the “survival of the fittest.” What would you think about the theory that humankind’s greatest strength (and indeed survival) is not dependent on one’s individual strength or size, but instead on one’s ability to cooperate, connect and share?

In How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), (2011), author Dov Seidman cites the work of Dr. Richard Joyce, a professor at the Australian National University and author of The Evolution of Morality. Joyce explains that our morality – defined as the capacity to conceive of social behavior in terms of values – germinated in our earliest caveman and cavewoman ancestors. A caveman who embraced the benefit-of-the-group model not only survived, but thrived as he shared harvests and shelters, cooperating and assisting others. His self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole engendered trust, prompting others in his tribe to reciprocate.

This altruistic caveman also gained a reproductive advantage: cavewomen, knowing a good thing when they saw it, wanted him for a mate. The result? The propagation of cavebabies imbued with these cooperating, connecting, sharing genes. And biology was not all that this open-armed caveman had in his favor; he also had influence over others who saw and wanted what he had. Those who did as he did received similar rewards including, offspring after offspring (both male and female) “throughout the eons” who were encoded with those same altruistic values.

Tribes, on the other hand, that embraced the benefit-of-the-individual model, did not cooperate, share, or form any sort of organized, cohesive society. As a result, these self-serving individuals and their tribes suffered starvation, exposure to deadly elements, and ultimate elimination.

So what does all this have to do with our lives today? Everything, I’d say.

As mammals and as social beings, we are dependent on others, physically, mentally, and emotionally from the moment we are born. Seidman concludes that “natural altruistism” – as opposed to self-interest – is just that: natural. Given the downturn in the world’s economy, loss of jobs, homes and savings, we may be tempted to curl into ourselves, determined to protect all that we have only to find that that choice doesn’t make us or anyone else feel any better. Why? Because it isn’t natural. If our genes have anything to say about it, there is an alternative: seeking others with whom we align to share our gifts, our abilities and our resources. It’s a natural win-win.

 Untitled2Catalytic Women member, Dana Whitaker, enjoys working with seasoned and emerging leaders and is author of Transforming Lives $40 at a Time, Women + Microfinance: Upending the Status Quo. More about Dana at

Women’s Leadership by Investment: Drop by Drop We Can Fill a Bucket

Editor’s Note: Yesterday we gathered young women funding social impact for a Catalytic Women event. I’m continually energized to see how women in their 20s and 30s either don’t perceive gender barriers or, simply, aren’t deterred by them. Our guest blogger Suzanne Sheuerman offers a terrific step that any woman can take to use her wealth with a gender lens for greater impact. [MH]

As a woman in Corporate America, I have come to realize that women must collaborate to bring about change. As you can guess, the change to which I am referring is related to women and their role in Corporate America. Having been the highest ranking woman in a Fortune 100 company with no real chance of ever becoming the CEO, my story may be relatively typical of a 58-year-old woman. I can get close, but no cigar. In my view, close just isn’t good enough anymore.

After studying the facts, one would come to the rational decision that women at very senior levels of business are vital to operational excellence. A Credit Suisse study conducted in August of 2012 demonstrated that companies with a woman on the board performed better in most metrics than comparable companies. [And Catalyst has done fascinating reports on gender roles, with similar findings.] Having read the article with great interest, I suddenly had an “ah ha” moment: Why can’t we build a “portfolio” of women-led companies?

As I began my research I was (sadly, not) surprised to find there are not even enough women CEO’s in the Fortune 500 screen to create a sector-diverse portfolio. Looking more broadly to the Fortune 1,000, I was able to find more women-led companies.

Then I looked at my definition of “woman-led” and reflected that one woman on a Board is simply not adequate. Why reward that? A woman-led portfolio deserves a more robust standard. So I screened for companies with boards that had three or more women, or were comprised of at least 30% women. Delightfully, I had a very nice list of potential publicly traded companies.

When asked by one of my friends if I had included companies that may not have a woman CEO, but did have “C Level” women at the top, such as a COO or CTO, my answer was an emphatic “no.” I felt the CEO designation for leadership was critical for the purposes of the portfolio I wanted to create, and I just couldn’t find enough women in that role. While there were lots of companies who had women in “second best” roles, in my view they were not as deserving of my investment.

This is my one small step as a woman to support other women. Adding an element to my own investments that includes women-owned companies is my drop in the bucket. It is my personal, happy drop in the bucket that, I hope, we will work together to fill.

As you think about where you can make an impact, I ask you to join me. Think about the companies where you invest as a tool to support women’s leadership. Help fill our bucket.

Suzanne Sheuerman is a First Vice President, Portfolio Management Director and Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in San Jose, CA. Formerly she was a Managing Director at Household International where she worked for 18 years. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates. We are very pleased that Suzanne is a Professional Member of Catalytic Women.

Educational Equity

educational equity

Last month I listened in on a Catalytic Women Strategies & Solutions discussion, and had the pleasure of hearing how three organizations are working with disadvantaged youth to provide educational equity. Many might feel daunted by the task of how best to ensure access to, and success in, college for these kids. Not true! Our expert panelists, Denni Brusseau, Kim Cook and Traci Lanier, spoke about being a step ahead of the shifting needs of students and ,most importantly, about their success in mentoring students through the completion of college.

DenniDenni Brusseau is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Bridge the Gap College Prep (BTGCP). This organization pairs caring adults with disadvantaged youth in Marin City, California. Doing so allows BTGCP to provide comprehensive educational support enabling students to both complete high school and graduate from college. Their message – their belief – resonated loud and clear. “Education is the greatest equalizer between bridging the gap between poverty and the affluent.”

Traci Lanier, Vice President of 10,000 Degrees, believes providing exposure, accurate T.Lanierinformation, guidance and support creates change. The goal at 10,000 Degrees is to create college graduates who change the world. In order to encourage their students to give back, they provide a platform for students to pair their stories of need with stories of success. They’ve found that being a catalyst for this exchange, and giving students the chance to tell their story, provides hope.

K.CookKim Cook is Executive Director of the Washington, DC based National College Access Network. NCAN is an umbrella organization with the goal of providing their members with tools and resources to ensure their programs’ success – and their students’ college completion. In order to do this NCAN stays up to date on the evolving needs of students and, in turn, trains others in best practices. NCAN’s members are those organizations serving first generation college graduate students.

What can you do to bridge the gap of educational disparity? How can a modest investment help these programs’ effectiveness? I’ll let the panelists’ suggestions speak for themselves:

Denni – Students are in a stage of fright or flight. Help lower stress and provide a supportive learning environment. This organization provides academic after school program support and pairs caring adults with disadvantaged youth in Marin City, slide010California. Doing so allows BTGCP to provide comprehensive educational support enabling students to both complete high school and graduate from college. Their message – their belief – resonated loud and clear. “Education is the greatest equalizer in bridging the gap between poverty and the affluent.” Here’s what you can make possible: $135 provides one week of after school support for a child; $500 provides one month; $5000 supports a student’s needs for an entire year. For more information go to

Traci – Did you know that students are required to submit a deposit to colleges upon logo-1 being accepted? State Universities in California require a $650 deposit to secure an accepted student’s space. A gift to cover that cost has a very tangible impact. More information is at

Kim – Many organizations doing this good work of empowering communities and logoproviding educational support do not have it in their budget to become a NCAN member! Help underwrite a membership for as little as $250 by going to NCAN’s website

Elizabeth Share: America’s Worst Charities

When I heard that The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), for whom I work part-Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 8.36.37 AMtime, was researching the practices of “America’s Worst Charities” I was skeptical. One-off exposés of bad nonprofit practices are nothing new.  Over the years, I have railed against many of them as being unfair. Yet when the series launched on June 7, my eyes were opened and my skepticism disappeared.


Kendall Taggart

Mining ten years of data, 26-year-old novice reporter Kendall Taggart, her editors, and a fellow reporter at the Tampa Bay Times (The Times) revealed corruption on a scale much grander than I could have imagined (more than a billion dollars in donations misappropriated) and exposed the failures in our regulatory systems that allow these practices to continue.

Consider this vignette from the first story in the series:

“The worst charity in America operates from a metal warehouse behind a gas station in Holiday, Fla.

Every year, Kids Wish Network raises millions of dollars in donations in the name of dying children and their families.

Every year, it spends less than 3 cents on the dollar helping kids.

Most of the rest gets diverted to enrich the charity’s operators and the for-profit companies Kids Wish hires to drum up donations.

In the past decade alone, Kids Wish has channeled nearly $110 million donated for sick children to its corporate solicitors. An additional $4.8 million has gone to pay the charity’s founder and his own consulting firms.

No charity in the nation has siphoned more money away from the needy over a longer period of time.”

CIR knew it was on the right track when it learned that in response to its investigation, Kids Wish hired Melissa Schwartz, a crisis management specialist in New York City who previously worked for the federal government after the 2010 BP oil spill.

The methodology behind the series was rigorous. CIR and The Times analyzed tens of thousands of pages of public records collected by the federal government and 36 states and flagged charities that pay for-profit corporations to raise the vast majority of their donations.  By analyzing a decade of data, the reporters ensured that they were not focusing on new charities using these services to get “off the ground,” as many do.

Among the findings:

“The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4 percent of donations raised to direct cash aid. Some charities give even less. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients. Six spent nothing at all on direct cash aid.

Even as they plead for financial support, operators at many of the 50 worst charities have lied to donors about where their money goes, taken multiple salaries, secretly paid themselves consulting fees or arranged fundraising contracts with friends. One cancer charity paid a company owned by the president’s son nearly $18 million over eight years to solicit funds.

Some nonprofits are little more than fronts for fundraising companies, which bankroll their startup costs, lock them into exclusive contracts at exorbitant rates and even drive the charities into debt. Florida-based Project Cure has raised more than $65 million since 1998, but every year has wound up owing its fundraiser more than what was raised. According to its latest financial filing, the nonprofit is $3 million in debt.”

In addition to the reporting, the series includes:

  • A database of the 50 worst, with links to their tax returns and snapshots of their practices over the decade;
  • A searchable database of disciplinary actions that includes about 8,000 regulatory actions taken by states against all kinds of charities and solicitors;
  • A link to share a tip on a charity you suspect needs to be investigated.
  • Advice on how not to be fooled by these solicitations.
  • A video by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the charity that received the dubious distinction of being the ranked “worst of the worst.”

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for thirty years and yet I have fallen for scams like this in the past.  One solicitor called after my mother-in-law died to ask if I would continue her twenty-year legacy of generosity.  Another called one week after a flood in my town to replenish an emergency fund on behalf of my local fire department. Well-timed, well played.

I’d like to think this series could lead to a large chunk being cut out of the profit made by these players.  Share it widely if you agree.

Elizabeth ShareElizabeth Share is the founder of Wise Giving, a consulting firm the helps individuals, foundations and nonprofits maximize their impact through wise philanthropic investments and greater organizational effectiveness. Catalytic Women has been honored to have her serve on our Advisory Board

Angels Investing in Women

As a woman, it’s hard not to like the sound of something called angel investing. You know, that idea that someone may be watching out for us.

I keep my curiosity focused on what we can do with modest amounts of wealth (admittedly, a relative term) and I’d always heard that A.Gipsangel investing is that first round of VC funding, say at $50,000 instead of $5M. Fifty grand is still a lot of money. But I learned that, by joining an angel group, individual investors can pool smaller sums — even $5000.

A few amazing women I met recently — Amy Gips, Sharon Knight, and Marie Jorajuria — opened my eyes to M.Jorajuriaanother side of angel investing, one that focuses on women-led startups. My curiosity was piqued.

In May, Catalytic Women had the opportunity to ask them some questions on how women can fund women social (and traditional) entrepreneurs without investing a bundle. I hope you enjoy their Q&A.

Q: What are the nuances between impact, angel and venture capital (VC) investing?

A: Impact investing is a focused investment strategy to gain market rate ROI and social impact. This is not the below-market, corporate social responsibility screens of yore but rather a strategy that Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 8.06.32 AMcreates value for shareholders and society. Marie’s firm, Equilibrium Capital, offers impact funds for institutional investors, and they consider a variety of social impacts: resource use, jobs created, etc.

Angels and VC both invest directly in promising entrepreneurial businesses in return for stock in the companies where they invest. The Angel Resource Institute distinguishes between angels, who generally invest their own money in start-ups and very early stage companies, and VCs, who provide capital they raise from others to invest in later-stage businesses for growth.

Nuances among the investing options include opportunities that can look different on the east or west coast, or even within regions. (Marie splits time between offices in SF and Portland.) The panelists agreed that the west coast offers more opportunities for women entrepreneurs, is more entrepreneur-friendly, and attracts attention from global investors.

Q: Why invest in women? What’s the big deal?

A: Marie shared her experience as CFO of the Women VC Fund, which actively looks for teams lead Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 8.10.13 AMby women or where women have a strong voice with the men on investor teams. See their great research on women entrepreneurs, and also Criterion Institute’s resources on Women Effect Investments. We’re all new to this! It’s only been 50 years since women could earn an MBA at Harvard.

Q: What are you most excited about in your work?

A: They all spoke of a global vision for growth and access — for entrepreneurs and investors.

Amy talked about Astia’s model: men and women investing in women-led businesses. Astia Angel logostarted in January 2013 and just closed its first two investments. In the spirit of women’s collaboration, as a founding member of Astia Angel, Sharon invests in one of them.

Sharon talked about why it’s a great time to be a woman founder. There are lots of resources only available to women entrepreneurs, including Alley to the ValleyProject EveWatermarkWomenCentricWomen 2.0 and others listed on her website. (More, too, in the Catalytic Women blog archive.) Sharon also sees startups led by women representing a diverse range in ages, from 21-60, who participate in these different kinds of networks. Women need unique tools for success — and are increasingly stepping up to help one another change the status quo.

Marie mentioned the ability to focus investments. While this panel didn’t dive into the topic of impact investing (her firm, Equilibrium Capital, offers sustainability driven investment products and strategies for institutional investors), being able to zero in on a particular market, gender, type of social impact, or geography has never been easier.

Q: How can our attendees get involved in these issues? How does it look in terms of money and time?

Resources on impact investment for individual investors: ImpactAssets 50 lists top impact fund managers, HIP Investors (Human Impact + Potential) is a local impact investment advisor that offers tips online. The Omidyar Network is looking at the nexus of government funding, philanthropy and capital. RSF Social Finance and ImpactAssets offer great funds where you can start: $1000 for a 90-day Social Investment Fund or $5000 to invest in a donor-advised Giving Fund.

Angel investment groups focused on women-led companies include Astia Angel ($3000 is the annual fee to participate in regular investor meetings, with no minimum first-year investment), Golden Seeds, and Pipeline Fellowship offering training to small cohorts of women contributing $5000.

Attendees mentioned other great research on investing in women-led business from Dow Jones, McKinsey and Packard Foundation.

Q: Where can an investor new to this world learn about early stage high-impact investments that support women?

They also shared their journey of how they got to this work. I couldn’t possibly do that justice (you’ll just have to join us in person next time!), but a here’s a bit more on their impressive backgrounds.

Amy Gips is the Founder of Astia Angel and Director of Investments for Astia, Amy aids in the investment activity of all Astia companies — including deal flow management, due diligence and investor relations. As an experienced investor, Amy has invested in debt and equity in companies at various stages across multiple industries. Amy has focused on investing in women-led ventures as an angel investor with Investors’ Circle and a Fellow with Criterion Institute.

Marie Jorajuria is the VP of Finance and Chief Compliance Officer of Equilibrium Capital Group and is also CFO of the Women’s Venture Capital Fund. She has worked in senior management and compliance with a number of innovative financial startups and, as a woman founder, launched, built and sold a company in Madrid, Spain. Marie’s social impact extends to her role on the board of directors and finance committee for public radio station KQED.

Sharon Knight created Avik Ventures, an angel investment vehicle, to partner with entrepreneurs and investors in providing both capital and expertise to help early stage companies. As an investor, her focus is healthcare solutions that promote improved patient access or consumer education. Her current portfolio includes Seed and Series A investments. In addition to involvement with Astia Angel, Sharon is a mentor to Springboard Enterprises, an accelerator for women-led startups, and Rock Health, an incubator for healthcare startups.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?


Everywhere I look, I see this term. While I think I know what it means, I got to wondering how others define it.

But first, a confession. Having begun my career in corporate finance, my curiosity often starts with finding the market mechanisms that leverage social change. There are so many different directions to go in learning about social entrepreneurs (including Babson College’s Social Innovation Lab that we heard about at an event last month). I’ll start here with a few thoughts on how a person can invest in a social entrepreneur, and the global change that is their unique vision.

Wikipedia tells us that social entrepreneurism is the process of pursuing innovative solutions to social problems; social entrepreneurs relentlessly pursue opportunities to create and sustain social value, while continuously adapting and learning.

Two PBS specials offer examples. The New Heroes says that a social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society. Agents for Change gives us 15 Young Go-Getters You’ll Want to Meet.

If you’re near the SF Bay Area, these events are worth attending to learn more. (And let me know of others to share!)

  1. Pipeline Fellowship Changing the Face of Angel Investing in San Francisco next Wednesday, June 12 at 9am. Catalytic Women and S.H.E. Summit are collaborators.
  2. HUB Ventures Demo Days at Facebook HQ, also next Wednesday, June 12 at 6pm.
  3. Young Women Funding Social Impact in San Francisco, Thursday, June 20 at 8am: Calvert FoundationKivaOne Percent FoundationSparkSF and Young Women Social Entrepreneurs are event partners (with Catalytic Women) and they know a lot about social entrepreneurs.
  4. Startup Weekend Women, September 13-15 in San Francisco, is an intensive weekend profiling female founders. There will definitely be some remarkable social (and traditional) entrepreneurs on stage.

Imprint Capital and Equilibrium Capital are firms specializing in impact investing — investing in social entrepreneurs. Here’s some language that they use to describe their focus.

  • Investments made in companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.
  • Investment strategies rooted in hard economics and macro challenges, such as expanding consumption in developing nations, rising costs and constraints of natural resources, increasing financial and environmental risks from pollution and climate change, creating sustainable lifestyle product choices based on health and well being, shifting supply chain strategies, and creating policy and regulatory changes to manage limited natural resources.

One investment that Imprint Capital and RSF Social Finance mention is the Root Capital Women in Agriculture Initiative fund, which targets underserved women-run and women-centered businesses in Africa and Latin America. RSF’s Social Investment Fund allows anyone with $1,000 to invest in a direct loan fund funding nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises.

ImpactAssets goes one step farther. They offer donor advised funds that leverage investments to earn a return and create positive social and environmental impact, and also increase the amount of capital flowing to high impact social and environmental enterprises.

Calvert Foundation, which incubated ImpactAsset, offers various community investmentoptions starting at a mere $20, including WIN-WIN (Women Investing in Women Initiative).

Social entrepreneurs go deep on a particular issue that can change the world. Last week 4,500 leaders and social entrepreneurs gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the Women Deliver conference to learn about partnerships and solutions to help prevent 350,000 deaths each year of girls and women from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. Their vision for social change: maternal health is both a human right and a practical necessity for sustainable development.

As I write and am awed to know so many people — women and men — who are leading this work, including a few who’ve just returned from Kuala Lampur. What about you? How do you fund social entrepreneurs? We’d love to build a program around it this fall.

Photo of one of the participants in Nest, an organization that offers business consulting in developing countries. Photo courtesy of Nest and PBS NewsHour.

5 Steps to Impact Investing With a Gender Lens

Two weeks ago in Boston I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing from three women I admire greatly: Jackie VanderBrug, Siiri Morley and Cheryl Kiser. They spoke about the complexities of social impact at a Catalytic Women event. Their perspectives spanned the full range of engagement in social impact.

In this emerging field of social entrepreneurs and gender lens investments, I see the smartest people I know struggling with definitions and metrics and models. It’s confusing — and exciting. The opportunities have never been better for women. I’m jumping in.

Care to join me? Here are a few, easy steps to help you start, from our experts who spoke to a group of Catalytic Women on May 2 in Boston.

  1. Be the brand. Women make most consumer purchases and each dollar we spend has an impact. Leverage your power when you shop. Look for products made by women. Have you seen Prosperity Candle’s beautiful selection of gifts for self and others? Siiri spoke of the women who create these products and use candle-making as a business to lift themselves out of poverty in some of the world’s harshest places. Jackie also told a story of looking for a special purchase for herself and taking the time online to find a source that has a positive impact on its community. The Internet has never made this easier.
  2. Focus your philanthropy. Jackie’s US Trust and Boston’s own The Philanthropic Initiative have a High Impact Giving Guide focused on gender lens philanthropy. She also spoke about a Monitor Institute/Packard Foundation report on enterprise philanthropy. Prosperity Catalyst, the nonprofit sister organization led by Siiri, is creating a special hands-on learning community for donors who support their work at $5,000 as Founding Catalyzers (perfect for Catalytic Women!) and will have opportunities to see the impact the organization makes in reducing poverty.
  3. Invest in a woman entrepreneur. Prosperity Candle is funding a royalties program so that their global women candle makers have inventory and supply expenses covered, minimizing their initial outlay of $20,000. Kiva and Catapult offer microloans to women around the world starting with as little as $20. WINWIN (a fund of Calvert Investments), WAGES (US Trust Investment for Women and Girls Equality Strategy), and the Raise for Women Crowdrise challenge allow investments in women entrepreneurs. Join Pipeline FellowshipAstia Angel or Golden Seeds to invest seed funding to women-led startups.
  4. Leverage your company’s giving and marketing funds. Make the case in your own business or to your corporate leaders: devote a percentage of your company’s philanthropic budget towards social enterprises with shared values; create marketing partnerships with companies looking to shift the gift and create more meaningful event and corporate swag; or invest in programs that train social entrepreneurs, like the Social Innovation Lab at Babson College.
  5. Ask questions. No one has all the answers in this space of social enterprise, impact and gender lens investing. And only a minority of financial advisors are familiar with these tools for ROI with a social benefit. If clients aren’t asking, advisors have no reason to learn. Ask your wealth manager: What is the impact of my portfolio on women and girls?

A bit more about the experts who offer these strategies…


Cheryl Kiser, as head of The Lewis Institute for Social Innovation and Babson Social Innovation Lab, knows the challenges of becoming (or not) a social entrepreneur.


Siiri Morley brings experience as a founding team member of social enterprise Prosperity Candle and nonprofit Prosperity Catalyst, and spoke of the risks and benefits of these contrasting for/non-profit business models for social impact.


Jackie VanderBrug, as an early leader in gender lens investing and in her new role leading social investing strategies at US Trust, explained the myriad ways to invest in enterprises run by women, benefiting women, or both.

And let me know where your journey into gender lens investing and supporting social entrepreneurs leads you — or how Catalytic Women’s network and resources can help.

Women Who Create, Disrupt and Collaborate


Big problems require lots of people (and resources) looking for patterns of disruption. Yet traditional philanthropy tends to be risk averse. This can be a conundrum — one that women may be particularly well positioned to solve.

Women now own most wealth in the U.S. and make most giving decisions. I believe we can be a bit curious about investments with a social impact, new models for social impact and, especially, creativity and disruption. Evidently, I’m not alone.

I recently read two articles, both in the Harvard Business Review, on women challenging the status quo. Tara Mohr (entrepreneur, author and member of Catalytic Women) spoke about the challenges of “good girls” (Haven’t we all been, or wanted to be, at some time or another??) learning to be disruptive.

And what about Mukti Khaire’s new Harvard MBA course about Creative High-Impact Ventures profiling entrepreneurs who changed the world in six “culture industries”: fashion, publishing, art/architecture/design, film, music, and food. Perhaps social entrepreneurs have a lot in common with serial entrepreneurs, who must persist until they succeed.


Collaboration plays into creativity and disruption in a big way. Khaire talks about the 4Cs. “Commentary influences Culture, which influences what we Consume, which is influenced by what is actually out there in the market [Commerce]. If you can shift one of these elements you can actually create a new market.” Her HBS colleague and author Amy Edmondson says “using thoughtful design to solve big problems in the world… I became interested in how people come together and work together to innovate, to problem-solve, to do better things.”

If you’re looking for ways to collaborate for social impact, here are a few ideas:

  • Be part of a collaborative event — let us create a panel on your favorite issue or organization, or come listen & learn.
  • Join the only nationwide network of women funding social impact at any level and to every issue area. It’s free.
  • Help financial advisors create the content that women want on leveraging their wealth, intellect and values.
  • Attend an upcoming event on social impact. (See the full calendar in our members’ only online library.)
  • Think like a serial entrepreneur and create disruptive change. Share your story of creating change. (Read some of our favorite articles on disruptive women, below.)
  • Read more ideas on collaborating

I’m looking forward to collaborating with you to innovate, problem-solve, create and disrupt.