Investing in women

A new report released today and produced in partnership with Cartier Philanthropy encourage entrepreneurs, impact investors and philanthropists to promote gender equality through social enterprise.

Produced by Acumen and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in partnership with Cartier Philanthropy, the new report Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty reveals findings from several case studies from Acumen’s portfolio of investments, which demonstrate how social enterprises are engaging and impacting women and where they fall short.

Below, the Foreword by Pascale de la Frégonnière, Executive Director of Cartier Philanthropy.


At Cartier Philanthropy we consider gender equity to be at the heart of sustainable development and make it a focal point of every program we support to further advance conditions for women, aiming at a more equal and inclusive world.

A mounting body of evidence shows that businesses are relevant actors in enhancing women’s access to formal employment opportunities, services, training and economic resources. It is widely accepted that the more women are economically engaged, the more economies and societies will prosper. Besides the role conventional entrepreneurship plays in shaping women’s employability, there has also been in recent years increased interest in social entrepreneurship as a means of addressing some of society’s most entrenched social problems. However, little attention has so far been paid to how social enterprises - that, by definition, are driven by business considerations and the pursuit of social transformation - are actually performing on gender issues.

This research applies a ‘gender lens’ to social businesses to facilitate women’s economic empowerment and make markets more inclusive. Its outcomes, while preliminary, tend to confirm what the World Bank pointed out in “Investing in women is smart economics” (2006): introducing gender-integration strategies in social business is not only the ‘right’ thing to do, but it is also economically sound. The research suggests that social businesses flourish when they reduce gender discrimination and that women-led social enterprises can even generate more revenue than their male-led counterparts.

Such an affirmation, however, prompts us to reflect on the following: is capitalizing on the gender integration trend going to be enough to advance the cause of women?

For social enterprises to increase their impact as agents of change, they will need to navigate the broader system of formal and informal norms, social relations, laws and policies that constitute the economic and social fabric. This broader system can enable or undermine women’s access to resources and opportunities, promote or prevent their agency and decision-making power, and cannot be overlooked as it inevitably impacts the economic potential of communities and societies in general.

Cartier Philanthropy hopes this research will be a useful step towards gaining valuable insights to foster robust social change while bearing in mind that non-economic factors, such as education levels, reproductive health issues or decision making capacity, play a very significant role in shaping women’s empowerment. We indeed believe that it is a holistic approach that will give women enhanced access to resources and agency to make appropriate decisions, ultimately enabling a shift in gender norms.

Executive Director, Cartier Philanthropy


The report: Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty

The press release: Acumen and The International Center for Research on Women Call for Greater Gender Integration in Social Enterprises with New Report