Agents of Impact | March 18, 2022

Carmen Correa, Pro Mujer: Standing by low-income women to lift Latin America

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

ImpactAlpha, March 18 – Billions of dollars of venture capital are flooding into Latin America. Everybody wants to be a gender-lens investor. And the digitalization of emerging-market small businesses has become one of the hottest trends in tech. Yet a gap remains at the base of the economic pyramid.

“We are still one of the few organizations working with low-income women in the region,” Pro Mujer’s Carmen Correa tells ImpactAlpha.

Since she took the helm of the 30-year-old nonprofit investor this year, after five years in other roles, Correa has focused on coaxing more gender-lens and impact investors to move down-market. A $35 million fund in partnership with Canadian impact investor Deetken Impact has leveled-up Pro Mujer’s mission by expanding its lending to other women-centric organizations and giving it an impact investing platform to experiment with new financial instruments to serve low-income women. 

At this week’s Latin American Impact Investing Forum, or FLII, in Mérida, Mexico, New Ventures’ Rodrigo Villar challenged impact investors “to think more radically.” Correa raised the ante: “There is a need for innovative gender instruments for the lower economic segments,” she says.

Low-income women are the backbone of Latin America’s informal economy, which provides more than half of all jobs in many countries. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates the financing gap for women in Latin America is $86 billion.

For impact investors, “that is where the pipeline is,” Correa says.

Pro Mujer has provided more than $4.4 billion in loans and other resources to advance financial inclusion and empowerment for low-income women at the base of Latin America’s economic pyramid. The Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund has loaned out $25 million to 25 companies, including Avanza Sólido, which provides financial services to entrepreneurs and business owners in southern Mexico.

The Ilu fund dialed up investments through the pandemic, when demand spiked for healthcare, job training, lending and energy services provided by its portfolio companies.

Correa’s and Pro Mujer’s stance: The down-market is up and coming.