Agents of Impact | September 23, 2022

Suzanne Biegel, GenderSmart: Making markets work for women and the world

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

ImpactAlpha, September 23 – Women are hot… investments. So declared ImpactAlpha back in 2014, when we used quote marks for investors unfamiliar with “gender lens” investments in—and for—women, for the benefit of all.

Back then, there was little data on the size or scope of gender-lens investments. Today, one tally found $18 billion committed to private gender-focused funds.

“I’m tracking over 300 private market funds and growing,” Suzanne Biegel, the field-building founder of GenderSmart, tells ImpactAlpha. Many are on their second or third gender-lens funds. “We have moved ahead significantly on building the field and the market has moved as well.”

Biegel’s advocacy for gender-lens investing began in 2006 after a decades-long career in the corporate, venture and philanthropic sectors.

“There is a body of evidence that says, ‘When we get capital into the hands of women entrepreneurs, good things will happen,’” Biegel said on an Agents of Impact podcast back in 2016. 

She founded Catalyst at Large and GenderSmart to increase the flow of global capital benefitting women and girls. Biegel, in partnership with Wharton Social Impact Initiative, helped establish Project Sage, one of the earliest benchmarks for gender-lens investing.

The most recent Project Sage survey includes more than 200 private equity, venture capital, and private debt funds with a gender lens, more than triple the first release in 2017.

She joined the board of the 2X Challenge, an initiative of development finance institutions that launched in 2018 to mobilize $3 billion for gender-lens investments in emerging markets; since then 2X has facilitated more than $10 billion and last year re-upped its pledge to $15 billion.

Biegel’s GenderSmart will reconvene its global summit in London next month. After that, GenderSmart is merging with the 2X Collaborative, led by Jessica Espinoza, “give a unified, more powerful voice to the gender lens investing community.”

Educating and investing in women may be the key to meeting nearly every one of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the monumental challenge of climate change. Biegel says she’s excited by gender-lens fund managers with “passion, grit, commitment to values and smarts.”

She warns investors and other actors about complacency. Women-led funds still face bias compared to their male counterparts. Blended, and catalytic capital still plays an important role in advancing the market.

“Be a first mover,” she encourages investors to back first-time fund managers so they can go on to raise second and third funds. “Help them in every way that you can to succeed,” she says. “There is still so much to be done.”