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.


Dorka Keehn and Charity Kenyon on the Power of One (Woman)


Last week I had the chance to listen in as two inspiring women — Dorka Keehn and Charity Kenyon — shared their stories of social impact. The real message was the Power of One — how one busy woman learns about issues, funds solutions and, sometimes in the process, creates a movement around an idea.

What I heard from these women resonates at every level in thinking about how to fund your passion.

  • Be curious about other people’s stories. How does one person make cw_blogEcoJudyBondschange? Surprisingly often it happens in an utter dearth of resources. By exploring your curiosity about others who do something amazing, you’re likely to gain a social impact momentum of your own. Dorka shared the story of Judy Bonds, an Appalachian coal mining daughter who won the Goldman Award for her work against destructive mountaintop removal and, in turn, was Dorka’s inspiration for writing ECO AMAZONS: 20 Women Who Are Transforming the World.
  • Networks are the tools that turn ideas into impact. This is especially true for women, who often lack connections needed to access and influence decision-makers. Charity’s long-ago support of the League of Women Voters laid the groundwork for her ability to influence access to good, clean, fair food for all through her leadership in the Slow Food Movement, first through her local chapter and, now, as a national governor.
  • Childhood experiences lay the groundwork in unexpected ways. Dorka’s dad raised her as a girl who could do anything; seeing so many women who lacked this support and confidence inspired her to found Emerge and Ignite as organizations to encourage women and girl’s political leadership. Charity’s trip to study abroad in Denmark exposed her to the challenges of family farming in a way that was eye-opening. This planted the seed for her work as chair of a new committee for Slow Food, helping foster collaboration on statewide policy issues that find creative ways of meeting the challenges of small rural nonprofits.

Dorka Keehn and Charity Kenyon are two amazing women. Yet their message involved a beautiful simplicity of focus and action. Their journeys started in their own homes and backyards, and they hit their stride during the busiest times of their lives.

And neither story is about women, per se. Dorka shared a critical lesson learned by Emerge in the early days: “Gender is secondary to the issue. At Emerge, we learned that having more women in political office wasn’t a concern for most people, but the impact of these elected women’s unique communication style and approach to leadership was highly effective.” Sometimes isn’t not even about what we do, but the way we do it.


Charity saw the magnificent Great Central Valley of California and the world’s most productive farmland disappearing under subdivisions. Perhaps her career as a First Amendment, environmental and appellate law attorney shaped her passion. She asked around her own community: What organization addresses this issue? Restarting the local Sacramento Chapter of the Slow Food Movement led her to deep involvement in their work across the US and the globe — from her backyard of Sacramento (Well, actually, Galt. I couldn’t resist the reference, knowing Ayn Rand’s book will become a film this year.) to the 1,000 Gardens in Africa project.

cw_blogEcoAmazonsDorka’s “other life” is all about art: as an award-winning conceptual artist, avid speaker on art in the public sphere, writer of EcoAmazons and the recent article for San Francisco Magazine on The Philanthropists: Eleven Women Who Exemplify the Power, Economic and Otherwise, of Social Entrepreneurship. She works in diverse mediums including radio, film, and sculpture — and women’s leadership.

Interesting that both women, from their unique paths, have developed a shared passion for environmental sustainability. So what’s next for these women?

Charity is enjoying retirement with her husband, Mike Eaton, on their 5-acre Kingbird Farms, a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), site and has hosted some 85 young farmers from around the world at their home.

Dorka’s interests have expanded beyond women-focused issues to the issues themselves. She sees the opportunity for creativity and consciousness to impact our world, and to focus on how we approach and engage around the larger concerns that affect us all.

Stay tuned. More to come from these Catalytic Women.

Women Innovators and the Freedom to Fail

I recently listened to the Bloomberg Women to Watch interview with women tech leaders at Facebook, SurveyMonkey, Stella & Dot, and Accel Partners.

cw_NewsLtr01_WtW365_01Midway through the interview, they talk about comfort with failing. Or, as the organizer of the annual FAILFaire conference puts it, “if you’re not failing, you’re not considered to be innovating enough.”

Women who are funding social impact share much with entrepreneurs, tech innovators and startups. The models are evolving. The outcome is unclear. There is a very high risk of failure.

Catalyst has fascinating studies showing that women, in particular, feel a lot of pressure to educate ourselves – especially when forging ahead into new territory. I think it boils down to this: women want to feel credible. And we want good resources and advisors to help point us in the right direction.

women + financial influence + community = social impact

The formula is straightforward, but the available information is not. Women now own the majority of private assets in the US. (See sidebar infographic.) Consider the impact of this emerging demographic of wealth: women influence most financial decisions, yet make decisions differently.

Catalytic Women is building a dynamic community of women who want to leverage their intellectual and financial resources for social impact. This new community is free, by application only. It takes 5 minutes to apply online.

If you know women – friends, clients, colleagues – who are curious about peer learning networks, please share this email with them. If you advise women learning how to fund social impact, let us share our resources with you. And if you’re already a believer, invite me to speak at your next event. As you can see, I’m passionate about this topic.

For those tackling a new business, big idea or a major social issue in 2013, best of luck with your failures.

A Gender Lens: Women In Film And Stem

What an inspiring discussion—to hear women leaders in film production and social ventures inspire us with their experiences and wisdom on Film and Philanthropy at Google. Our panelists—Susan Cartsonis, Eva Maria Daniels and Vivian Kleiman—are blazing a trail to transform the way people see women and the world, through film and video.

Before I share their fabulous resources for film philanthropy from our discussion on November 15 at Google, I want to ask your help in directing our programs in 2013—join the Launch Team of our all-new Partners program and connect with experts, best practices and other smart women seeking innovations in philanthropy. Start now and let Catalytic Women help you make yearend giving decisions with ease, impact and confidence. As with all our programs, they start with smart women like you and I’d very much like to know what else we can include in benefits for Partners to meet your needs.Will you join us now and help shape the future of Catalytic Women? Your support is instrumental to our success.

I’m still thinking about high impact organizations focused on the issue of gender equality in the media, and the resources shared by our panelists. Read on!

Susan Cartsonis is founder of Storefront Pictures and would love to hear from youS.Cartsonis at: susan@storefrontpics.com. She suggests:

  • Women in Film (WIF), a nonprofit that helps women thrive in the global entertainment, communication and media industries, and also preserves the legacies of professional women who came before. Susan is the board chair of theirWomen in Film Foundation, offering funds for film finishing, mentoring and other important issues.
  • SeeJane.org educates, advocates, engages and collaborates with entertainment creators on leading positive change through varied portrayals of female and male characters in movies and TV. They have some powerful research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media on images aimed at children 11 and under.
  • Women and Hollywood has a blog and weekly e-news on new films by and for women.
  • Catalyst does amazing research on women leadership in business, science and technology, including the increased ROI of publicly-traded companies with gender diversity on their corporate boards.
  • Taking action: buy tickets to major motion pictures with strong women characters, especially since the vast number of movie tickets are purchased by women.

Eva Maria Daniels is founder of Impact Emotion Films and can be reached at E.Danielseva@evadanielsproductions.com. She shared:

  • Impact Emotion Films, a new film fund co-founded by Eva Daniels Productions and led by two women partner, which seeks to produce smaller movies with social impact that are box office successes.
  • The power of collaboration, since virtually every film made now is the product of several people who had a vision and started talking with friends and funders.
  • Use social media to tell friends about a great film with a social impact, raising awareness to influential others like the Motion Picture Academy that chose impact film The King’s Speech for best picture last year.

Vivian Kleiman is a documentary film consultant, director and electronic mediaV.Kleiman producer, and can be reached at vivkleiman@gmail.com. She had great practical suggestions to support documentary film makers, such as:

  • The ability to leverage our professional expertise for documentary films in need of assistance with legal, accounting or publicity.
  • Voting with our dollars at our many wonderful local film festivals, which can attract press and have a big impact on the mainstream distribution of a documentary film.
  • Crowdfunding for early investment in film production, such as the first crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo.comRocketHub.com for creative projects, NewJelly.com for artists and films, and the largest crowdfunding site, Kickstarter.com, which had 730 projects in their Film and Video category when I checked today.
  • Become an advocate by buying copies of DVDs of the films you love for your community, school or college library.
  • Follow the advice of author and speaker Scott Kirsner, whose recent book Fans, Friends and Followers presents creative possibilities for online video and new technologies changing the entertainment industry.
  • Media Impact Funders (formerly Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media) has an online database that connects seekers of funding and donors to media projects in the public interest.

And a few others we mentioned:

  • The School Fund, founded by our Google host Matt Severson three years ago as a platform to help students in the developing world to pay for books and supplies, provides the opportunity to pursue secondary school when they otherwise could not afford to do so.
  • GoldieBlox: The Engineering Toy for Girls and their fabulously successful Kickstarter campaign, was created by Stanford engineering graduate Debbie Sterling to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Roominate is another building toy for girls who are artists, engineers, architects and visionaries.

Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to Devi Kamdar, who was too sick to moderate our panel, and the Palo Alto International Film Festival she helped launch, which completed its second year in September 2012. Catalytic Women was proud to sponsor their local documentary film program. Tremendous thanks also to our partner in creating this 2012 series for Women Giving Under the Radar, the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business. And thanks to Albayk in San Mateo for the great Mediterranean food.

Read more about opportunities to promote film and media for and about women on our last blog post on November 9 below

How can we help you leverage your scarce time, abundant intellect, and resources at any level to give well? Email me at melanie@catalyticwomen.com or call my cellular at 415.999.3197. Very much looking forward to our next conversation—I hope when I welcome you to the Partners Launch Team of Catalytic Women!

High Impact Gifts

Our webinar this month addressed a concern of many donors: impact. How do I know that my donations create meaningful change? What do I need to know to make gifts that leverage impact in our communities? And how can I fund the best nonprofit models addressing the issues that concern me?

There is some exciting work being done on collaboration and impact within the nonprofit sector. This presentation was an opportunity to share studies, trends and best practices in ensuring that our gifts make the greatest impact in the communities we support. I got to explore (and draw heavily upon) the findings of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Hope Consulting’s Money for Good research on donor behavior and philanthropic impact—both with thanks to our respective advisors who are leaders there, Kat Rosqueta and Hope Neighbor. I hope you’ll make good use of the download of this practical discussion on how to make gifts that create impact in the world around us—and address challenging community issues in a meaningful way.

Let’s face it. Women make most giving decisions. And, by leveraging our time and talent into funding high-impact nonprofit models, women are funding critical social services and serving as catalysts for broad global change.

Our Favorite Online Communities for Women…

Lately, we’ve been looking at online forums for women, asking: Where do women gather (besides Catalytic Women) to engage intellectually with like-minded women? Let’s face it. Women haven’t led industry for centuries like men, and we’re still building those networks. Which leads me to some resources we’ve found—and I hope you’ll share them with women colleagues, clients and friends.

Online Communities of Smart Women

  • No Country for Young Women is a multimedia project of interviews with women across generations, nationalities and professions, celebrating professional women and providing real role models who inspire and catalyze change in younger generations.Vitamin W offers a daily dose of women’s news, philanthropy and business.
  • Go Girl Finance helps women gain confidence in dealing with money, offering articles, resources and online Q&A. LearnVest encourages women to be financially fierce! Several major banks have created personal financial websites for women, including Citi’s Women & Co. and Beyond Today by Wells Fargo.
  • Many online communities support women business leaders, including: 85 Broads, a global network founded by Goldman Sachs alumnae and named for their HQ address; The Glass Hammer, which shares resources to inform, empower and inspire women executives in finance, law, technology and big business; and Watermark (formerly the Forum For Women Entrepreneurs and Executives), a membership organization that gathers Silicon Valley executive women who’ve risen to the top of their fields and are changing the landscapes of business, education, government, and society as a whole. The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs is active in Canada.
  • A few are global. WomenCentric is a global directory and connection hub for busy working women (think: LinkedIn for women). W.I.N. (Women’s International Networking) inspires women worldwide through online forums and an annual conference—wherever women are working on improving their businesses, their lives, and the lives of others. The Next Women business magazine hosts online discussions and gathers businesswomen at events across Europe.
  • Some are industry-specific, like 100 Women in Hedge Funds, and the Financial Women’s Associations of New York and San Francisco.
  • Others gather women entrepreneursProject Eve promotes, supports and connects by allowing members to showcase their expertise in content for blogs and forums. Count Me In is a nonprofit provider of resources, business education and community support for women entrepreneurs seeking to grow micro businesses to million dollar enterprises. NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and Professional Businesswomen of California are national and regional forums, respectively.
  • Astia funds growth and leadership for exceptional entrepreneurs as a community of men and women dedicated to the success of women-led, high-growth ventures.
  • Several support women in technology, including the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, WITI (Women in Technology International) and Women 2.0.
  • Other forums focus on advancing women’s leadership in the boardroom, such as 20% by 2020 (sadly women’s corporate representation is less than 17% now), Boardroom BoundIONThirty Percent Coalition and Women in the BoardroomCatalyst supports gender equity in business.
  • In this week of our California primary, I’d be remiss in not giving a shout out to communities promoting women in elected office, such as Emerge America and Emily’s List.

And, of course, our very favorite—Catalytic Women.