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Suzanne Biegel Founder of Catalyst at Large & Co-Producer, Gender-Smart Investing Summit

18.11.2019

 

Suzanne Biegel

Founder of Catalyst at Large and Co-Producer, Gender-Smart Investing Summit

Suzanne is a globally recognised expert on gender smart investing. She leverages deep networks in finance, philanthropy, development, and entrepreneurship to connect public and private investors to the people and information they need to move their capital in a gender-smart way. Suzanne’s mission is to increase the flow of capital to gender-smart investments and initiatives, to ensure capital is used in ways that will generate the most impact.

 

What is the challenge you are working on?

 

Moving capital, globally towards and by women. And positively affecting the lives of women and girls and the greatest challenges on the planet. This is gender smart investing – being intentional and using the best processes to achieve a financial return and social/environmental outcomes in a measurable way.

 

That means catalysing the power of women, both as investors and through investments in companies and vehicles that act as agents. I believe we have to do all this with intelligence, collaboration, and commitment.

 

My work is through the organisation I founded, Catalyst at Large, which consults with asset owners and produces research in this arena, and the Gender-Smart Investing Summit, an invitation-only forum that brings together those who are moving capital and those who are influencing the movement of capital in this direction.

 

Tell us about the moment you decided to take the leap and set up Catalyst at Large and the Gender-Smart Investing Summit?

 

In the 90s, I joined an inspirational and visionary founder, Alexandra Rand, and worked with her to build a business in the corporate communications and training space, working with the top companies in the world, often on change management. We were a tech business and pioneers in e-learning. I believe that part of our strength was in the diversity of our leadership and team. I knew a lot of women who were tech founders. They were fantastic businesswomen who couldn’t raise the capital they needed to build their companies. I knew brilliant women who were passed over for great roles, on boards and otherwise. And I saw a lot of bad behaviour in the investment space. At the time, there was no mainstream thinking on what to do about it.

 

It was clear to me that we could use capital as a tool to drive gender equality and back great entrepreneurs and leaders changing the world. As someone with experience in the business of influencing behaviour change, it was clear to me that the business community was a place where change could happen.  And when we sold that business, and I had capital to deploy, it just made sense to me that my own capital should go in this direction, and that influencing and helping others to do this would be a new source of impact for me in the world.

 

What kind of reaction did you get at the time?

 

I remember calling my financial adviser to tell him I wanted to invest in a way that would promote environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and gender equality. He thought I’d lost my mind. I started anyway.

 

Recently, UBS launched a tracker fund based on gender lens investing, the Global Gender Equality ETF. It drew in $100m in assets in the first eight months (now up over $140 million.) There are now more than 40 of these public markets strategies with an intentional gender lens.

 

Why is women’s leadership important on this issue?

 

Because women know that it’s needed. Women, especially women investors and investment managers, are in obvious positions to change how the world thinks about gender and investing. It’s not to say that men aren’t also important champions for this work – they are. This should not only be the purview of women. But women have a tremendous opportunity here.

 

Two years ago, we started tracking private capital vehicles with a gender lens. Only 58 of the hundreds of venture capital funds had an explicit gender mandate, and they had raised $1.3 billion. By 2018 it was up to $2.2 billion across 87 funds. That’s such a small proportion of total venture capital invested.  Consider that the sector invested $50bn in the US in just one quarter of 2017. If more women exert influence and leadership within these funds, that figure will increase faster.

 

How would you explain the benefit of the collaboration in gender investing?

 

Collaboration is essential to progress. If you want people to change their assumptions about investment, you need to build the relationships, networks, and the right infrastructure. And this is way beyond one corporation, one bank. This is a systemic issue and opportunity.

 

We created the Gender-Smart Investing Summit to bring together a network of thought leaders to do this: fund managers, banks, pension funds, ecosystem builders, policymakers, academics, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs. Collectively, we identify and solve problems, expand on what’s working, and work to align around a common vision to move more capital, more strategically, in ways that create a more equitable world for everyone.

 

That kind of collaboration is the start of a network to move the needle. It’s not sufficient, but it’s necessary.

 

I believe we’re now at a tipping point. More investors and people in the investment community say that gender equality and diversity matters to them and they get that it is a source of increased opportunity and decreased risk. There’s more interest than ever in gender smart investing.

 

But there’s still a lot we need to do to move the needle. I’m optimistic that eventually, investing this way will mainstream. I have seen over the years how commitment and collaboration can change norms, and I have no doubt that we can make this happen. It’s going to take a combination of commitment, and action. I feel fortunate to be part of a global community that strives to make this happen.

 

This series of stories highlights women leaders and entrepreneurs who are driving positive impact on our most pressing global issues and demonstrating women’s unique contribution to inclusive solutions. It draws on the community of the Daring Circles – workgroups committed to positive impact in areas where women are most affected and where women are demonstrating outsize leadership. Share your stories with the hashtag #Women4Business, and submit your own stories to the Women’s Forum editorial team by emailing Sophie Lambin (sophie.lambin@womens-forum.com).