Building Bridges to Go Further Together for Inclusive Progress


By Suzanne Biegel, Founder, Catalyst at Large


I was raised in a family of bridge builders. My father was a Wall Street CFO, whose super- power was his ability to meet people, listen to them, and know instinctively who they needed to meet next and how to get people around a table to see a common purpose. My mother was a reference librarian, who always knew the book, place, or person to go to for any question you could imagine.


So it was always intuitive to me that when you connect people, knowledge, and insights, you uncover innovative solutions no one person could have come to on their own.


As an entrepreneur in LA’s burgeoning tech scene in the early 1990s, I was one of 20 co-founders of a group called Women In New Technology, who met to support each other and do business. There were only a small number in the group when we started, but while some might have seen us as competitors, we saw the potential for us to grow the field together. And we did: today LA is one of the digital capitals of the world.


These days, connecting people so they can go further together is at the core of everything I do. The Women's Forum for the Economy and Society recently asked several of us to share our experience in how bridge building plays a role in our work.


As Founder and Chief Catalyst of gender-smart investing consultancy Catalyst at Large, I build bridges and work with others to build bridges between people and institutions who might not otherwise connect, with the aim of moving more capital, more strategically and with more velocity, in a gender-smart way. For inclusive progress. For gender equality. To see the power of women's talent and markets.


Sometimes, like our group back in the 1990s, that means bringing together groups that are sometimes seen as competitors to collaborate and share resources. For example, my work with the Gender Finance Collaborative brings together Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) from 15 countries around the world to ensure that the tens of billions of dollars of capital they collectively represent are invested in the most impactful and gender-smart way possible. By working together, they are able to increase their collective knowledge and capacity for action.


Other times, bridge building means connecting investors with different types of capital but aligned priorities, so that they can combine for their resources in more powerful ways. Other times still, it means working with people and institutions - such as corporations, philanthropists, civil society, or people working in international development - who may not see investment as part of their toolkit, to help them understand the role they can play in the ecosystem and how gender-smart investing can help them achieve their goals. 


Most recently, I helped bring together 300 people from 42 countries spanning the entire field of gender-smart investing for the Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London, which I co-produced with fellow “bridge builder” Darian Rodriguez Heyman. 


This invite-only event was designed to spark new dialogue, partnerships, and connections from the get-go. One of the first activities of the Summit was to bring participants together where they could work through challenges they were collectively facing as peers, rather than content being delivered by experts from a stage. 


We challenged people through 30 structured dialogues to move further, together, faster. Delegates were also invited to host conversations around topics they believed were important to others in the group. And we invited participants to come on stage at the end of the Summit to celebrate commitments they had made and collaborations they were forming. From start to finish, the message was that this was a space for action and collaboration, not passive consumption.  Those commitments ranged from a significant update from the G7 2X Challenge DFIs mobilizing $3 billion towards women by 2020, to a new commitment from institutional investors through Criterion Institute towards aggregating $US1 Trillion of intent to invest to address gender based violence, and many more from across the globe. 


The truth is that gender-smart investing is a new enough field that while there are people with different levels of expertise, none of us is a total expert in everything. Rather, we are working towards best practice together: collectively developing the metrics, vocabulary, tools, and questions to determine how to do this in a way that achieves maximum impact.


Now, at the Women’s Forum in Paris, talking about bridge building for inclusive progress, we have an opportunity to continue to that conversation. And everyone’s skills and capacities are needed. The World Economic Forum estimates that if we keep moving at our current rate, it will take 217 years to achieve gender equality. 


That’s a bridge too far, if you ask me. We don’t have time for it. And we don’t have time to go it alone.



This article is part of a LinkedIn series for the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2018, demonstrating how participants and partners of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society are #BridgingHumanity to drive inclusive progress. Visit their website and join the conversation using #WFGM18. #gendersmart