Why Should It Be Easy? Power and Complexity in Gender Lens Investing

“We need to put pressure on the systems to ask different questions,” says Joy Anderson, in a much-anticipated conversation I had with her recently about gender lens investing and its potential to move the needle on gender-based violence.

Joy Anderson, President and Founder of Criterion Institute (Photo Credit: Criterion Institute)

I’m particularly eager to see movement to end gender-based violence. As a therapist and social worker specializing in trauma, I have treated many people who were victims of physical, sexual, and emotional violence that related to their gender. Joy Anderson is just the expert I want to hear from: someone who can make the case that society can move in the direction of being healthier and more prosperous at the same time by employing gender lens investing techniques.

Joy Anderson is President and Founder of Criterion Institute. Beginning in 2002, the mission of Criterion Institute has been “to broaden what matters in our economic decisions by expanding who has authority in the work of reinventing the economy,” as Anderson says succinctly on LinkedIn. It’s a short description for a massively complex process of disrupting power and authority in modern capitalist culture.

So how do we put pressure on systems in communities to improve the response to gender-based violence so that this violence starts to decline? And then, how do we monetize that positive outcome?

I thought of a survivor I had once worked with who had been assaulted multiple times by her partner, and had much difficulty extricating herself from him due to his threats to kill her. He had finally attacked her in a way that appeared extremely homicidal — and when she showed up at my office, she had been released from the ER. Her throat had been so badly strangled that her vocal chords were crushed and her voice was a harsh whisper. Her neck and face were covered with bruises and contusions. She was in immediate fear for her life because she had heard that her perpetrator had been released on bail that morning. The judge had set the bail at a rate that his parents were able to cover. Before she got out of the hospital, he was already out of jail.

I present this story as a quick indicator of the current reality of incentives and disincentives to commit violence against women in the U.S., or at least in my state of Rhode Island. The math that I imagined this judge was doing in her mind (and yes, the judge was a woman!) was — this young man is a first time serious offender, he has a job, he otherwise appears to be an upstanding citizen, so we shouldn’t interrupt his life and make him unemployed by keeping him in prison. The incentive, and the advantage, goes to keeping the man employed. Lawyers for perpetrators know just how to spin the argument so that it’s all a judge needs to hear to set a low number for the bail.

But what if the incentives were completely different? What if judges assessed with much more concern the imminent danger to my client that this man posed? The financial cost to society of imprisoning the perpetrator would be significant, but the amount of improved safety this decision might bring to the community as a whole would be worth it.

But that’s not how the systems work, and few people understand this better than Joy Anderson. Systems are in place to keep generating the current power structure, and to intervene in these systems takes great knowledge, skill, and strategy.

What’s one way to intervene? Innovative finance. “Innovative finance is a necessary solution due to the failure of other approaches,” said Anderson.

How is Criterion Institute pushing for innovative finance to address gender-based violence? Several ways, which are outlined in detail here. The beginning work involves partnering with interested investment managers to understand the risks that gender- based violence create for financial markets and developing a model portfolio to showcase enterprises that are having a positive impact on the problem.

Within the strategy of innovative finance, Anderson sees a critical role for philanthropy. “Philanthropy can have a multiplier effect in important ways.” Anderson sees philanthropy as having the capacity to redesign the “how” in the question of how to make finance more responsive to other social goods, not just wealth accumulation. She talked about efforts in Victoria, Australia, where she recently provided consultation services to help leaders figure out how to quantify the risk that gender-based violence poses to economic stability in the city.

These types of changes require large-scale systems interventions before they can begin to show economic impact. Anderson and other advocates are working with donor activist leaders in Victoria who have agreed to use their power to disrupt the city’s current power dynamics. As one aspect to this plan, the police departments in Victoria are bringing in domestic violence advocates to work on a goal of reducing gender-based violence by 50% using media campaigns, outreach, and survivor support.

“Why should it be easy?” Anderson asks, referring to some of the rhetoric out there about gender lens investing — presenting it as a quick fix to capitalisms’s long history of maintaining extreme power imbalances and exploitation. The systems that are in place were established long ago, explained Anderson, when the goal of upholding the man as the central earner and protected entity in the economic system was paramount. Changing that system is not going to be a quick process.

Another big “how” question that Anderson says we need to wrestle with more: how to capture the women’s consumer market without reinforcing gender norms. This takes significant collaboration across sectors of society, which we are beginning to see with big commitments such as the ten corporations that recently joined with the UN to pledge support for gender equality. Another promising ecosystem advancement is Equality Fund in Canada, where multiple public and private stakeholders pledged big commitments ($300 million) for gender equality. This kind of work, Anderson argues, is an important way that different sectors of society are buying into the idea of moving away from traditional gender norms.

EVENT SPOTLIGHT: Criterion Institute Hosts Convergence On Reducing Gender-based Violence

MARCH 30 – APRIL 1, 2020

Convergence XVII: Financing the Reduction of Gender-based Violence – Simsbury, CT

Convergence is back. Criterion is excited to announce that our signature convening, Convergence, will take place March 30 – April 1, 2020 in Simsbury, Connecticut. This unique gathering of catalytic change-makers will bring together leaders and pioneers from philanthropy, finance, government, and the social sector to move forward specific and tangible ideas to leverage the power of finance to address gender-based violence.  Secure your spot today.

But the systems issue, the prioritizing of the capitalist approach to markets, is still a big sticking point in making it possible to accelerate gender equality movements. “We need to replace greed with generosity,” Anderson says. “The current approaches incentivize greed over generosity, and as long as that is the case, little else will change.”

Joy Anderson Presents at #WomenFunded2019, the Annual Conference of the Women’s Funding Network.
Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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