• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Gender lens financing: From policies to realities, evaluations and restrictions, experts bare it all

Gender lens financing: From policies to realities, evaluations and restrictions, experts bare it all

I had the privilege of speaking with remarkable female experts in the field of gender lens financing. Through our insightful discussions, we delved into the multifaceted world of policies, challenges, societal restrictions, and the vast potential inherent in accessing finance through a gender-specific lens.

Together, we explored the organisations leading the charge in facilitating gender lens financing, the diverse avenues available for accessing essential funds, and the vital importance of gender representation in this dynamic landscape. The insights gained from these conversations shed light on the intricate and often nuanced realities faced by those seeking to harness the power of finance to drive positive change and foster greater equity.

It was a truly enlightening experience, and I’m honoured to share the valuable perspectives and experiences gleaned from these remarkable women who are paving the way for a more inclusive and empowered financial ecosystem.

Ada Osademey – Udechukwu

Senior Gender Advisor, Africa, IFC

Indicators used to assess gender impact of investments in Nigeria

There are various key indicators or metrics that are utilised to evaluate the gender impact of investments globally. These metrics can then be customised for specific markets, including Nigeria. Here are some examples.

Female labour force participation rate is a metric by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that measures the percentage of women who are economically active. It helps determine if investments are creating opportunities for women to participate in the workforce and promoting access to quality jobs and assets.

There is the women’s entrepreneurship rate by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) which measures the percentage of women who are engaged in entrepreneurial activities. It helps assess if investments are supporting women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.

The gender representation in leadership positions metric is tracked by United Nations (UN) Women as relevant indicator for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 SDGs. This metric evaluates the proportion of women in leadership roles within organizations and share of parliamentary seats. It helps determine if investments are promoting gender diversity and women’s representation in decision-making positions.

Additionally, there is the indicator that assesses women’s access to financial services, such as bank accounts, loans, and insurance. These are also mirrored in women’s access to digital services and assets i.e., access to mobile/smart phones, digital financial services, internet connectivity etc. It helps determine if investments are improving women’s financial inclusion, access to economic resources, and bridging the digital gender divide.

There are also indicators that measure women’s educational attainment and literacy levels, which help determine if investments are promoting gender equality in education and ensuring equal access to quality education for girls and women.

The indicators that evaluate women’s access to clean energy sources and safe drinking water, help determine if investments are addressing gender disparities in access to basic services and promoting sustainable development.

For companies, standards such as the 2X criteria help to provide minimum requirements for global gender lens investment and organizational practices for companies and investors of all sizes.

Current landscape of gender lens financing in Nigeria

In the evolving landscape of gender lens financing in Nigeria, there are still challenges to be overcome, including limited access to finance for women entrepreneurs, and the need for capacity building among investors and financial institutions. However, there is a positive shift towards more inclusive and impactful investments that consider gender equality and women’s empowerment. Increasing awareness among investors, financial institutions, and development organisations about the importance of integrating a gender lens into investment decisions is leading to more discussions and initiatives focused on gender lens financing in Nigeria.

Specialised funds and investment vehicles have emerged in Nigeria that specifically target gender-focused enterprises or projects. These funds aim to provide capital and support to businesses that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. Impact investing, which seeks to generate positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns, is also gaining traction in Nigeria. Within impact investing, there is a growing recognition of the need to consider gender issues and invest in businesses that address gender disparities. There is also heightened awareness about innovative financing that leverage the debt capital markets such as gender bonds.

Various entrepreneurship programmes and initiatives in Nigeria are specifically designed to support women entrepreneurs. These programmes provide training, mentorship, and access to finance to help women start and grow their businesses. Additionally, there is an increasing focus on collecting gender-disaggregated data and conducting research to understand the gender dynamics in different sectors and industries. This data helps investors make informed decisions and identify investment opportunities that can address gender gaps.

The Nigerian government has also taken steps to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through policy and regulatory frameworks. Collaboration and partnerships among stakeholders, including investors, financial institutions, development organisations, and civil society, are also driving the promotion of gender lens investing in Nigeria. These collaborations help share knowledge, resources, and best practices to advance gender equality in the investment landscape. While challenges remain, the increasing focus on gender lens investing in Nigeria indicates a promising direction towards a more equitable investment ecosystem.

IFC’s involvement

There is evidence of the business case for gender-lens investment strategies such as greater competitiveness, increased profit, growth, and innovation. IFC is investing in strengthening supply and demand side capabilities.

To strengthen the supply side, in 2020, we published a guide, Private Equity and Value Creation: ‘A Fund Manager’s Guide to Gender-smart Investing.’ The guide is a practical step-by-step road map for fund managers on how to strengthen gender diversity within their own firms and incorporate a gender focus into investment operations. In 2022, we launched Invest2Equal – an IFC-led programme in partnership with the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), that brings together IFC portfolio fund managers to make specific, measurable, and time-bound commitments to increase gender diversity within their firm and/or investment processes.

Through the IFC ScaleX Solutions, IFC supports access to early-stage risk capital for women-led startups in emerging markets. The programme helps investors to incorporate a gender lens into their processes and work with accelerators and entrepreneur support organisations (ESOs) by sharing best practices and offering free toolkits and webinars. We also provide some women-led startups with hands-on support and introductions to relevant investors.

Additionally, the IFC Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) programme has made investments in several companies in Nigeria’s business landscape. The programme, which is designed to enable entrepreneurs to start and grow firms prioritised investments in companies such as Trade Depot, to build stronger women-led small and medium enterprises (SME) retailer and distributor networks.

One notable program that promotes gender lens investing is the She Wins Africa programme, an IFC-led initiative that aims to accelerate access to capital for women-led startups across sub-Saharan Africa. Launched in 2023, the programme is taking a holistic approach through interventions that support 100 women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa by providing them with access to finance, investor matchmaking, and capacity-building opportunities. Notably, thirty-three of the select startups are in Nigeria. By investing in women-led businesses and initiatives through the SheWinsAfrica programme, women can enhance their business skills, and promote their active participation in the Nigerian economy.

She Wins Africa will roll out other initiatives, including: 1). A bootcamp to help lead pre-seed women-led startups into acceleration phase, 2). An initiative to open up acceleration support for women-led startups in markets where such support is not easily available, and 3). A programme to boost traction gender lens investing in sub-Saharan Africa and create a coalition of funds, venture capital firms and gender-lens investors to improve access to finance for women and their businesses across Africa.

By addressing the specific challenges faced by women-led businesses gender lens financing programmes like SheWinsAfrica, SheWinsArabia, IFC ScaleX, and Invest2Equal contribute to reducing gender gaps and promoting economic growth in Nigeria.

Gender lens financing contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria

Integrating a gender lens into investing decisions allows for a meaningful contribution towards achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) simultaneously, as gender equality is a cross-cutting theme that underpins many of these goals. Gender lens financing has the potential to drive positive social and economic change, empower women, and contribute to the achievement of various SDGs in Nigeria.

Some SDGs that address gender lens investing include SDG 1 (No Poverty) which addresses the need for reduced poverty. By supporting women-led businesses, gender lens financing can lead to increased income and economic empowerment, ultimately lifting women and their families out of poverty. SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) whereby investments in agri-focused businesses through access to finance and business support services can enhance women’s productivity and income in the agricultural sector, contribute to food security and reduce hunger SGD 5 (Gender Equality) which addresses the need to invest in businesses that prioritize gender equality in their operations, supply chains, and leadership, gender lens financing can contribute to reducing gender gaps and promoting women’s rights. SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) addresses the need to support investments that provide decent work opportunities for women, promote gender diversity in the workforce, and ensure equal pay for equal work.

Gender lens financing also contributes to SDG 10- Reduced Inequalities, SDG 3- Good Health and Well-being, SDG 4- Quality Education.

Overall, investors can make a significant impact on achieving these SDGs, driving positive change, and fostering a more inclusive environment for all.

Ayodele Olojede

Divisional Head, Retail and SME, Wema Bank

Gender lens financing supporting women-led enterprises in Nigeria

In Nigeria, as well as most African countries, inequalities result from accumulated access restrictions to various opportunities and resources. These include lower rates of job market participation, confinement to traditional sectors with relatively lower profits, limited access and control of assets and especially land, restricted spatial mobility not only due to domestic obligations but also social restrictions, and finally, lower education levels, which limit women’s ability to deal with bureaucratic procedures and technology. All of which lowers women’s access to formaI banking.

Gender lens financing refers to the practice of intentionally investing capital in businesses or initiatives that promote gender equality. In the context of Nigeria, where women often face significant inequality in resources and opportunities, gender lens financing can close the gender gap.

Gender lens financing can play a crucial role in supporting women-led enterprises and women entrepreneurs in several ways:

Access to Capital: Women entrepreneurs in Nigeria often struggle to access capital due to various factors such as limited collateral, cultural biases, and discriminatory lending practices, gender incentive algorithms and so on. Gender lens financing can provide tailored financial products and services designed to meet the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, including microloans, grants, matching funds, investment and so on.

Capacity Building: Gender lens investors can support women-led enterprises by providing not just capital but also capacity-building initiatives such as entrepreneurship training, mentorship programmes, and networking opportunities. These programmes can help women entrepreneurs develop essential business skills, expand their professional networks, and access markets more effectively. There also needs to be deliberate effort in including women digitally – reducing digital divide.

Market access: Gender lens investors can actively seek out and invest in platforms that offer market access to women entrepreneurs. Providing these platforms allows them sell, expand their customer base, diversify their products and so on.

Impact Measurement: Gender lens investment also prioritises tracking and measuring the social and economic impact on women and girls. By collecting data on indicators such as women’s employment, income generation, access to education, and participation in decision-making processes, investors can assess the effectiveness of their interventions and make evidence-based decisions to maximise positive outcomes for women entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

Leveraging gender lens financing to address issues such as access to finance for women in Nigeria

Financial Products Tailored to Women: Traditional financial products and services may not always meet the specific needs of women in Nigeria. Gender lens financing involves developing financial products tailored to address their needs having considered the institutional, systemic, collective and internalised inequalities faced by women.

Targeted Investment: Gender lens financing involves directing investments towards businesses and initiatives that either directly benefit women or promote gender equality. In Nigeria, this could mean investing in women-owned businesses, enterprises that provide products or services catering to women’s needs, or organisations working to empower women economically, organisations that are women owned and or women-led.

Partnerships: Collaboration among investors, financial institutions, government agencies, NGOs, and women’s organisations is crucial for the success of gender lens financing initiatives in Nigeria. By working together, stakeholders can leverage their expertise, resources, and networks to maximise the impact of investments and address systemic barriers to women’s financial inclusion.

By leveraging gender lens financing in Nigeria, stakeholders can contribute to narrowing the gender gap in access to finance, fostering women’s economic empowerment, and driving sustainable development in the country.

Wema Bank’s involvement

We are involved in a lot of ways.

Firstly as an organisation, we have mainstreamed gender in our operations, this is evidenced in our approach to women in the workplace, marketplace and community – WWN, SARA and Sustainable impact programmes.

1. First, we have a dedicated team that focuses on the needs of our women, we have also created products and propositions to cater to our needs.

2. Discounted and uncollaterised lending bundled with healthcare plans. On the ALAT for business platform, SMEs can access MSME instant loans disbursed in 5minutes. We also offer digital instant micro loans via our USSD channel *945#. We also have cluster lending – SABI, this product is in partnership with the LBS, sponsored by Bill & Milinda Gates Foundation that provides banking as a services to Nano businesses leveraging thrift collectors and aggregators.

We are also particular about the planet, and we have green finance that promotes use of green energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Market access – In 2023 alone, we offered over 1,000 WMSMEs access to over 60,000 buyers, this year, we are taking it a notch higher by offering international market access with over 100,000 buyers.

We are also very deliberate about ease of collection, and as the first fully digital bank in Africa, we have designed payment and collection platform to make selling easier for our customers. These collection and payment tools includes – ALAT, ALAT for Business – our robust 360 degree SME platform that offers instant loans, bulk payment, account management and so on. ALATPay – our collection tool that allows mutli-currency payment and storefronts for businesses, NQR code, agents and so on.

4. Closing the digital divide – beyond, business skills and vocational training, we are deliberate about closing the digital divide. Leveraging partnerships, we training women – 17 and above on STEM programmes, use of technology, how to leverage social media tools/ platforms and so on.

5. Internal Gender Diversity and inclusion programme under the WWN. As an institution, we have aligned with the 2x criteria for gender finance. We have over 30% of our board members as women, over 35% of senior management as women and over 40% of workforce as women. Last year, we appointed the first ever female chairperson in the Bank , Oluwayemisi Olorunshola.

We are also deliberate, through SARA in funding businesses owned by women and or led by women. Last year, we held a round table session with the goal of raising $200m to provide catalytic and innovative finance for women entrepreneurs.

As an institution, the mandate is simple, we want to ensure that by 2027, we have equal product uptake from the gender, in terms of loan, savings and investment products, bank accounts, our digital platforms and so on.

Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes

Founding Partner & CEO, Aruwa Capital Management

Gender lens financing as a tool to address gender inequalities and empower women in Nigeria

Gender lens financing is a powerful tool that recognises the intersectionality of gender and finance, aiming to address systemic gender inequalities while fostering women’s economic empowerment. In Nigeria, where gender disparities persist across various sectors, deploying gender lens financing can catalyse positive change.

Firstly, by directing investment towards businesses that prioritise gender equality in their operations, such as companies with diverse leadership teams or those founded or led by women actively supports the economic empowerment of women. This not only creates opportunities for women to participate more fully in the economy, but also generates ripple effects by promoting inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction.

Secondly, by providing capital specifically tailored to the needs of women by investing in businesses that provide goods and services to women, we are able to foster more bespoke and innovative solutions for women who have been traditionally ignored.

Potential benefits for investors who incorporate a gender lens into their investment strategy in Nigeria

Incorporating a gender lens has a triple bottom line effect. First is financial return, second is societal return and third is women’s economic empowerment and gender inclusion. Incorporating a gender lens into investment strategies offers a myriad of benefits for investors in Nigeria. From accessing untapped market opportunities, investors can generate a superior financial return due to the fact that women are returning 2.5x every dollar invested according to BCG. There is a societal return due to the active role women play in their families in Nigeria providing access to healthcare and education for their children. Gender lens investing represents not only a moral imperative but also a business necessity for investors seeking to generate sustainable returns while advancing social impact, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Organisations and individuals in Nigeria getting involved in promoting gender lens financing

Promoting gender lens financing in Nigeria requires collective action from organisations and individuals committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. There are several avenues through which stakeholders can get involved and contribute to the proliferation of gender lens investing:

Firstly, organisations can prioritise gender diversity and inclusion within their own structures. By promoting gender-balanced leadership teams, implementing policies that support work-life balance, and fostering inclusive workplace cultures, organisations set an example for others while creating environments where women can thrive and contribute effectively.

Moreover, stakeholders can leverage existing platforms and networks to raise awareness and build capacity around gender lens financing. This could involve organising workshops, seminars, and conferences to educate investors, entrepreneurs, and policymakers about the benefits and strategies of gender lens investing. Additionally, collaborating with organisations already active in the gender investing space is another avenue.

Risks and limitations associated with gender lens financing in Nigeria

While gender lens financing offers significant potential to drive gender equality and women’s empowerment in Nigeria, there are several risks and limitations that stakeholders should be mindful of:

One key risk is the availability of reliable data and metrics to assess gender impact. In many cases, data disaggregated by gender is limited or unavailable, making it challenging for investors to accurately evaluate the gender-related outcomes of their investments. This lack of data transparency can hinder the growth of the asset class and gender inclusive practices. Furthermore, there may be challenges related to scalability and sustainability of gender lens initiatives in Nigeria. While there is growing momentum around gender equality and women’s empowerment, systemic barriers such as limited access to education, healthcare, and financial resources continue to impede progress. Without addressing these underlying structural inequalities, gender lens investments may struggle to achieve meaningful and lasting impact at scale.

Lastly, there is a risk of tokenism or superficial engagement with gender issues, where investors prioritise optics over meaningful change. Simply investing in women-led businesses or implementing diversity quotas without addressing underlying power dynamics or systemic barriers may fail to yield substantive results and could even perpetuate inequalities.

Dr. Emuwa Anino

MD, Avandis Consulting/Founder, 100 Women At Davos

Best practices and strategies for integrating gender lens financing into different investment portfolios in Nigeria

Gender lens financing involves incorporating gender considerations into financial products, promoting gender equality alongside financial returns. Effective implementation includes setting clear targets for investing in women-led ventures or establishing specific gender lens funds. Notable examples in Nigeria include Rising Tide Africa and Aruwa Capital. It’s not just about directing funds to women, fostering diverse leadership within investment teams is crucial. Research from the World Economic Forum shows that companies with gender-diverse leadership teams are 36% more likely to excel financially. This approach requires financial institutions to move beyond symbolic gestures like “pink products” and instead focus on removing barriers for women in accessing finance.

Gender lens financing’s contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria

Gender lens financing is a catalyst for Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing gender disparities while driving economic growth. Recognised by the World Bank as macrocritical crucial, closing gender gaps leads to significant economic gains. The World Economic Forum estimates that achieving gender equality in economic participation could add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Gender lens financing significantly contributes to SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Investments in women-led businesses create jobs and enhance economic resilience. Moreover, with women and children disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, financing women-led innovation in climate helps to find climate action solutions aligning with SDG 13 (Climate Action). Investing in female-centric innovations and healthcare solutions further narrows the gender health gap helping to achieve SDG3. Recent data has shown that closing the financing gap for women has cross cutting implications for addressing SDG and this has been identified by the recently concluded United Nation Commission of Status of Women as a priority for alleviating poverty (SDG1) and job creation (SDG 8).

Involvement of organisations and individuals in Nigeria to promote gender lens financing

Engaging in gender lens financing is not just about finances, it’s about societal transformation. Organisations and individuals in Nigeria can promote this by understanding the economic and social imperative. Gender lens investing reshapes investments to be more inclusive and impactful. By learning about gender lens investing, stakeholders can unlock vast opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, embracing gender lens investing could unlock vast global market opportunities by 2025. Financial institutions, private equity, VCs and funds need to adjust their strategies to effectively support female-led business. Gender lens financing not only brings financial gains, but also serves as a catalyst for societal progress and inclusive development in Nigeria.


Founder, Heckerbella and Co-Founder, Rising Tide Africa

Gender lens financing can be leveraged to address access to finance for women in Nigeria by adopting investment strategies that intentionally focus on supporting women’s economic participation. One of such strategies is providing capital to businesses that promote access to finance to Nigeria.

There are a number of capacity building programmes for women led business in Nigeria initiated by the government, private sector, international and local NGOS. Some of them include: Rising Tide Africa, The Women Entrepreneurship Program (WEP) by the Bank of Industry (BoI), Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan-Atlantic University, Access Bank’s ‘W’ Initiative, She Leads Africa and so on.

However, ⁠in the Nigerian context, balancing social impact with financial returns is a challenge to gender lens financing. Many at times, people’s perception of gender lens financing is that the focus on gender outcomes overlooks the financial sustainability and profitability of investments. There are also some deeply ingrained societal norms which can limit women’s participation in certain sectors.

Adebola Toyin Oruma

Group Head, Gender Business Group, BOI

Gender Lens Investing (GLI) is the integration of gender analysis into a new or existing investment process for better social and financial outcomes. To foster gender equality, the GLI takes into consideration the gender-based factors across the investment process to make better investment decisions.

Some of the strategies include:

1. Conduct a thorough gender analysis of the investment landscape in Nigeria which will provide a better understanding of the gender disparities, challenges and opportunities within various sectors and industries.

2. Engage with stakeholders not limited to investors, companies, agencies, NGOs amongst others noting that the collaboration and partnership is crucial for the successful integration.

3. Conduct a thorough screening of potential investments to ensure they meet the gender sensitive criteria via assessing the company’s policies, practices and performance related to gender equality.

4. Promote transparency and accountability

5. Provide capacity building

6. Measure and evaluate the impact.

Interestingly, there are specific support mechanisms or capacity-building programmes available for women-led businesses in Nigeria.

There are a number of them in existence such as but not limited to:

1. Women’s World Banking Nigeria

2. She Leads Africa

3. Diamond Bank BET Programme

4. WEConnect International in Nigeria

5. Empower Women Nigeria

Additionally, local chambers of commerce, business associations and government agencies may also offer programmes and initiatives to support women entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

Bank of Industry understands the importance of gender equality and has taken bold steps to provide financial and non- financial support to women led businesses.

The BOI Gender Business Desk from inception in 2006 focused on capacity-building and advocacy role for gender support. The bank, apart from a dedicated desk, partners with Federal Ministry of Women Affairs in empowering women. The bank always seeks possible partnerships and collaborations to support women entrepreneurs and also make available services of business development support providers to assist in preparing women-led businesses ready for financing.
Advocacy, training and international exposure opportunities are made available by the bank.

On resources or networks available for those interested in gender lens financing in Nigeria, GLI has become a popular mode of investment in Nigeria. Network of organisations banks and international agencies such as AFAWA are able to provide support. Others are:

1. Local Impact Investment Networks

2. Online Platforms and Resources

3. Consultancy and Advisory Firms

There are government policies or initiatives that support or encourage gender lens financing in Nigeria and they include:

1. National Gender Policy

2. Central Bank of Nigeria Initiatives

3. Women’s Economic Empowerment Programmes

4. National Action Plan on Gender and Development

While these listed may not be dedicated policies or initiatives focused solely on gender lens financing, these broader gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives create an enabling environment for promoting such approaches within the investment sector.