Climate and Gender | April 11, 2023

With climate + gender fund, Suzanne Biegel is heading for change 

David Bank

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ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

If and when we have met the climate challenge, a key success factor will be clear: women. 

If you share that thesis, you may want to invest at the intersection of gender and climate.

Making it easier for you to do so could be Suzanne Biegel’s legacy. 

With a $1 million grant, Biegel is seeding Heading for Change, a donor-advised fund launching today that will invest in fund managers with crisp strategies for addressing climate challenges with a gender lens. She’s welcoming other donors to the philanthropic fund, which she hopes to grow into an endowment of $10 million or more.

“Women are coming up with half the good ideas,” she says. ““Women are not just disproportionately impacted by climate disasters. They are also entrepreneurs, leaders, and creators and disseminators of vital climate solutions.”

The co-founder of GenderSmart (now 2X Global), Biegel has spent three years building out not only the thesis, but the network, the dealflow, the partners and the investors for what she calls gender-smart climate investing (see “Suzanne Biegel, GenderSmart: Making markets work for women and the world”). Her gender and climate investment working group essentially is the field.

Donors to Heading for Change will get to share Biegel’s front-row seat as she advances the investment approach – while she’s able.

“I’m directing the capital – while I’m still alive,” Biegel told ImpactAlpha. “The reality is that I have Stage Four metastatic lung cancer and I’m not going to be here. This is my legacy project.”

Biegel has assembled an investment committee and advisory board to steward the capital, which will be managed by the nonprofit asset manager ImpactAssets. Heading for Change will make its portfolio and processes transparent in the hopes that others will donate their philanthropic funds, co-invest their commercial funds or just plain copy its playbook for deal criteria, due diligence and storytelling. Biegel says she wants to leave an open-source template that others can build on. 

“And then if I’m lucky enough to be around for a much longer time period, I get to be part of it. And then I get to have that much more opportunity to train people and to help people and to use my voice and to have the joy of getting to back these catalytic fund managers and help them do their work. 

“And if I’m lucky enough to have that then it will be a fantastic thing,” she says. “And so it can still be a legacy project, even though I’m still around.”

Investors and funders interested in working with Heading for Change can learn more about the fund on a video conference call, co-hosted by ImpactAssets and ImpactAlpha, on Tuesday, April 25 (RSVP here). 

Tight thesis

As a philanthropic fund, Heading for Change has flexibility across asset classes and geographies. Biegel expects to invest only about 20% of the assets in public markets, in part to highlight how few high-impact opportunities exist in listed equities (see, “Impact investors lay out a theory of change for driving positive outcomes in public equities”)

“Mostly we’ll be in illiquid, private equity, venture capital, private debt, structured vehicles that have a gender and climate lens,” with a small allocation for community investing. “It’s going to be significantly illiquid, longer term things.”

Biegel says the team is working through a list of about three dozen funds that meet its criteria. Investing in women entrepreneurs working broadly on climate issues is not enough; managers need to have explicit strategies around agriculture, energy, forestry, marine ecosystems or the like. “When we talk to fund managers, we’re looking for a tight thesis,” Biegel says. 

Some of the strategies were on display at last fall’s GenderSmart summit in London. On its newly launched website, Heading for Change details hypothetical examples, such as the Indigenous women-led fund manager providing low-cost loans to Indigenous women-led businesses with climate strategies in North America. Or an impact-first debt and equity fund manager investing with a climate and gender lens across Africa and Latin America. Or the Black LGBTQ+ woman-founded entity investing in companies screened through a social-justice index focused on climate, gender, and underserved communities. 

“There’s money sitting on the sidelines that hasn’t come in to really make these kinds of commitments,” Biegel says. “For a wealth holder, who wants to learn, this is the perfect place to have a front-row seat and to learn about how we do this, and to be able to say from Day One that they’re a climate and gender investor.

“If they then want to use their wealth to then follow us in on the investments then that’s even better.”

Making connections

Biegel’s own assets initially came from the sale, with her partner, of their edtech firm IEC in 1998. Since then, Biegel has built own multi-million dollar portfolio of gender- and sustainability-focused private investments.

In addition to investments, Heading for Change will make some grants as well, specifically around overcoming obstacles to mobilizing more capital for gender-smart climate investing. 

Another area for grants aims to make neurodiversity a part of diversity, equity and inclusion approaches. Biegel’s husband, Daniel Maskit, who is autistic, has been an active advocate for neurodiversity and neurodivergence. 

“Like many autistic people I have the ability to see patterns on a very large scale, and to understand systems in ways which are unusual and powerful,” Maskit says in an essay on the website. “I often find that I am able to make connections which change people’s understanding about their own areas of expertise.”

The challenges of neurodiversity are similar to issues around gender and racial equality, including being seen and valued. 

Heading for Change aims to raise the visibility, and accessibility, of climate and gender investing as an actionable, investable, urgent opportunity. 

“You don’t have to wait five or 10 years for this to be a thing,” Biegel says. “It’s a thing already.” 

Investors and funders interested in working with Heading for Change can learn more about the fund on a video conference call, co-hosted by ImpactAssets and ImpactAlpha, on Tuesday, April 25 (RSVP here).