Environmental issues — that’s what I started with in impact investing 17 years ago — and they’re still as much a part of my investment thesis as gender equity. Yet even though I see the connections between gender and climate change/environment — between women and clean energy, and women and sustainable food, for example — I’ve often been split between them in terms of how I spend my time and resources.
Thankfully, Paul Hawken’s new book Drawdown provides the insights and data to achieve the greatest possible impact in both spheres. The book translates research from the world’s leading climate scientists and strategists into 100 solutions for reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, ranked in order of overall impact and cost effectiveness
The gender lens
Hawken, one of the leading thinkers and actors in sustainability, has always felt that women and girls were essential to the solutions we need. Drawdown takes a fresh approach with data related to three factors. The solutions in the women and girls arena are deceptive as just two of them combined yield the single most effective strategy in the book.
One of the biggest issues around carbon is how many more people we’ll have on the planet and all the carrying costs (food, energy, transportation, etc.) that incurs. Closing the girls’ education gap in low and middle income countries would have a direct impact on when and how many children those girls go on to have, which has the potential to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 59.6 gigatons by 2050. A two-pronged strategy of girls’ education and family planning results in a reduction of 119.2 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 at an estimated cost of $44bn — compared with tackling refrigeration management, the standalone leading strategy, which yields a CO2 reduction of just under 90 gigatons by 2050 at a cost of $902billion. An additional strategy — providing equal access to resources for women smallholder farmers — has extraordinary ripple effects on climate, food security, and livelihoods.
A climate of collaboration
Very few people in the climate movement have made the connection between gender equality and girls’ access to education.
I’m excited by the opportunity to create new alliances between these two worlds — gender equity is not just a women’s issue and it’s not a siloed issue. Collaboration was a big part of the Women Effect pilot strategy; we know that different perspectives yield new ideas and insights. If we’re serious about tackling the most serious challenges facing humanity — including carbon levels and gender equity — we’ll need to pool resources and networks as much as we can.
Where are the investable opportunities?
Being with Paul Hawken and others in late July left me with several thoughts about the investable opportunities in these spaces:
- Where should we put investment capital and where can philanthropy or public sector spending be used, for both a positive girls and women impact and the most influence on climate change?
- What do we need to be investing in to change social norms so that people ‘get it’ about girls’ education and access to family planning, and value girls and women in a different way not just because of this but for so many reasons?
- In addition to education, there are opportunities in the four other areas identified in new work called the XX Factor, from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) at the University of Pennsylvania. These include health (including reproductive health), economic opportunity (including financial services and productive work) safety and security, and legal rights.
- Can I and other investors build a portfolio which brings direction from Drawdown to a girls and women investment thesis?
Towards an integrated investment portfolio
Drawdown could help investors build an integrated climate change and women and girls portfolio that makes the impact on both explicit. I love that Drawdown strategies also tie directly to the SDGs; there’s a growing movement to link investments to the SDGs, including work that i’m part of from Toniic.
It’s easy to get paralysed about how overwhelming these challenges are. Part of what’s inspiring about Drawdown is that it’s positive, realistic and none of the solutions feel insurmountable.
From an investor perspective, it’s really exciting to think about how I can hone my investment focus into the two areas I care most about. If not now, then when?