After nearly 30 years of investing in emerging and frontier markets, SEAF has finally found market forces aligning with our desire to expand investing effort to address women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. Women have the potential to be the driving force in every economy, yet in so many developing countries, government and workplace policies have failed to spur these engines of growth. At SEAF, we believe that the private sector work is essential to providing solutions to issues that governments in emerging economies have yet to address.
Women are essential to economic development. While women are increasingly forming a larger part of the global workforce, they are often undervalued in both the marketplace and the workplace. The UN SDGs will never be met if we don’t work to overcome the economic empowerment challenges women and girls are facing.
In 2017, we launched the SEAF Women’s Opportunity Fund (“SWOF”), SEAF’s first sole-purpose gender lens investing fund, which has focused on women-led and owned SMEs in Southeast Asia (consider replace with specific countries Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines). From this investment activity, and in partnership with the Investing in Women Initiative and Criterion Institute, it was apparent that more could be done to advance gender equality through SME investing, all for the benefit of women, investors, and entrepreneurs. As we began down this path, we realized that while there are several gender equality assessment guides in the market place, such as MEDA’s GEMS framework, there has yet to be developed a practical scoring mechanism to track gender equality progress over time in order to target work for gender equality-related value creation. We set out to develop what would become the SEAF Gender Equality Scorecard© (“GES”), a proprietary tool SEAF uses to assess women’s economic empowerment and gender equality within individual investment opportunities and portfolio companies for select SEAF funds.