Dozens of gender lens funds launched in 2018

As published in The Marketplace Magazine Jan-Feb 2019

More than two dozen private funds that make investments in women-led businesses were launched in 2018, a study by the Wharton Social Impact initiative suggests.

The study, spearheaded by social impact and gender lens advocate Suzanne Biegel, shows considerable growth in gender lens investing — investing to generate financial returns and a positive impact on women. The Wharton School is part of the University of Pennsylvania.

Results suggest that 87 private equity, venture capital and private debt funds raised $2.25 billion last year, backing 828 firms. In 2017, 57 gender-focused firms raised $1.3 billion and backed 650 companies.

Over two thirds — 69% — of these investments were first-time funds, which are first funds from a given team with a gender lens. (The venture partners may not be first-time fund managers, but this is their first fund together with this focus or under this name.)

Additionally, investments are becoming increasingly diverse in geographies reached. While 40 per cent of the investments targeted North American firms, this is a major change from 2017, when 80 per cent of investments were US-focused.

“The market is clearly evolving, and the ability for investors with different priorities to deploy capital into these vehicles is getting sharper and sharper,” Biegel said. “Even better are the stories behind the funds, how they are investing, the types of companies and entrepreneurs they are backing.” ◆

Faith-based credit

Faith-based credit unions are a shrinking group in the United States.

But those that remain provide essential services for church members, a Religion News Service story suggests.

Nationwide decline in church attendance has forced some small, church-based credit unions to close. There are 133 active faith-based credit unions in the US, and 276 inactive ones, National Credit Union Administration figures show.

Those that remain, including one operated by Milwaukee’s Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, provide credit to people who have trouble securing loans elsewhere.

Otherwise, credit union members would go to payday lenders and other high-interest rate institutions, board president Ed Murphy said.

Notre Dame Federal Credit Union in Indiana responded to the challenge of costly compliance and technological changes by creating the Catholic Credit Union Association. That group, which has 30 member credit unions across the US, aims to help share resources and help member organizations stay in business. Over the past six decades, the number of Catholic credit unions has fallen from over 800 to fewer than 100. ◆

Bio-bricks built of waste

South African students have found a way to turn human urine into bricks, the University of Cape Town says.

Urine mixed with sand and bacteria is turned into bio-bricks using room temperature moulds.

The finalized bricks are created through an organic process called microbial carbonate precipitation, the same process that creates the hard elements of coral. The zero-waste building material creates nitrogen and potassium during the moulding process. Those elements can be extracted from the liquid gold to produce fertilizer.

Suzanne Lambert, a master’s student at the university, found a way to produce bricks from urine without kiln-firing, a traditional brick-making procedure that results in the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Each brick requires between 25 and 30 litres of urine, the equivalent of about 100 bathroom trips, researchers estimate.

The bio brick is viewed as an important step towards the creation of a sustainable construction material. ◆

Loans for African farmers

A new United Nations-led investment fund aims to help young African farmers and agribusiness whose struggle to access loans threatens food production and global goals to end hunger, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

The Agribusiness Capital Fund will provide loans of between $100,000 and $1 million to small and medium-sized enterprises, farmers’ organizations and ‘agripreneurs.’

This group, described as the missing middle, cannot secure financing either from banks or micro-credit organizations, according to the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

About 60 per cent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are under 25, giving the continent the world’s youngest population. But only three million jobs are created for the 12 million people who enter the workforce every year, the African Development Bank says. ◆