As the economic reverberations of the pandemic continue to fan out across the world, a parallel opportunity exists to reconsider how the economic system can advance social impact and better support women – as entrepreneurs, as employees, and as customers.
As part of this effort, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is supporting four initiatives examining different ways to promote economic empowerment for women. While these projects launched in early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, they have all pivoted to the new reality, and offer some emerging insights on the role that both the public and private sector can play in supporting women.
ANDE and the G-SEARCH consortium – made up of AlphaMundi Foundation, Acumen, SEAF, Root Capital, AHL Venture Partners, and Shell Foundation along with the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (research partner) and Value for Women (strategic partner) – investigated the business and social outcomes of gender-inclusive technical assistance (TA) engagements conducted with portfolio companies. They did so to develop the evidence base for such business-first internal and external gender-smart strategies that are integrated across different operations. The consortium also developed design and implementation and indicator selection tools that businesses, accelerators, and investors can use to replicate success (find all G-SEARCh products here).
ANDE’s projects build on its existing research into the challenges that accelerators face in supporting women-led businesses, to dive deeper into the specific conditions and approaches through which accelerators can better support women. By supporting various research teams across Latin America and Africa, ANDE has uncovered new insights, summarized in this practitioner brief and has also compiled a set of more than 100 resources on supporting women entrepreneurs, available on the ANDE SGB Knowledge Hub.
The G-SEARCH consortium is complementing ANDE’s academic work by conducting action-oriented and practitioner-driven research to encourage other funders and investors to support small and growing businesses (SGBs) with gender-smart TA as well as help SGB leadership and staff to develop capacity on gender-inclusive practices.
On the public sector side, both Sistema B and the Organization of American States (OAS) are working deeply with governments across Latin America to create policies and processes that are more geared towards impact. Sistema B has hosted a series of events with entrepreneurs and politicians on how social entrepreneurs are aiding the pandemic recovery and the policies that need to be in place to support this effort. As a result of their participation, Uruguay now has a legal framework for triple bottom-line businesses (the Better Business Act) that formally recognizes purpose-driven companies. Uruguay joins three other Latin American countries with similar frameworks, as Sistema B’s work continues to improve the policy environment for social entrepreneurs throughout the region.
Finally, OAS is looking at a critical but often-overlooked mechanism for governments to support impact: procurement. In 2021 they launched four feasibility studies in Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay to identify the gaps and opportunities to scale up towards a triple impact economy. Also, a Model Directive for the promotion of Sustainable Procurement that has been implemented by six countries in the region: Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Dominican Republic at the national level, as well as Argentina from the municipality of Mendoza at the local level. OAS, in cooperation with the IDRC and the Inter American Development Bank, has also created the Sustainable Supplier Self-Assessment Tool (HAPS in Spanish) that can be used on the enterprise side to measure their sustainable capabilities based on 185 indicators and to identify opportunities for improvement. Also, it allows procurement entities, through a dashboard, to analyze these capacities, as well as to identify gaps to promote new capabilities and more sustainable offers for the generation of public value. To date, more than 150 entities and companies have registered in HAPS; and approaches are being made to countries for their implementation. By 2023, they have planned to launch a Maturity Model and roadmap for measuring the sustainable impact of public procurement, as well as case studies with the Municipality of Mendoza, Argentina, and Paraguay, regarding the implementation of the above tools.
During this process, they have identified a number of lessons on how best to work with governments to increase the focus on impact and sustainability in government procurement:
- Identify and directly train the specific officials in charge of the particulars of procurement policy, rather than assuming the policy will make its way to these officials and be implemented effectively.
- Shift the thinking on cost away from purely considering economic cost and towards a broader understanding of society-wide costs to “cheap” but unsustainable suppliers.
- Understand and engage with institutional cultures and norms at all levels.
- Adjust messaging to match specific government priorities.
While the sector still has far to go to fully understand how gender equality can be achieved, these initiatives offer important lessons and resources for anyone considering how the private and public sector can better support gender inclusion and social impact.