From its global newsletter to its major annual events, ANDE members have access to a multitude of platforms for promoting their work and co-creating knowledge with other members. The ANDE Member Spotlight is a series of short, interview-based blog posts highlighting an ANDE member organization and any new projects, recent investments, or ongoing research with interesting learnings that add value to the ANDE community.
ANDE spoke with Rebecca Fries, Chief Executive Officer & Founder of Value For Women, to learn more about how her organization utilized and shaped ANDE membership from its founding a decade ago until today.
How did you first discover ANDE, and did you always know you wanted to get involved in the network?
Value for Women emerged because we saw the challenges that the development world and the private sector had in communicating and understanding what to do about gender and social inclusion issues. We became ANDE members right as we were becoming legally registered, and our first project was an ANDE grant-funded gender ecosystem-building project. We saw ANDE uniting a unique blend of all types of actors – investors, accelerators, capacity development providers, etc. and we saw an opportunity to answer the question: How can we translate gender and social inclusion to make it actionable and digestible for this diverse group of actors?
We viewed ANDE’s member network as a way to engage the private sector in contributing to gender equality and inclusion. We saw that to achieve this, we have to make gender and social inclusion tangible and actionable and that we needed a learning community to actively participate in doing so. We needed to demonstrate the value gender and social inclusion can play to create more sustainable and impactful businesses. We started Value for Women thinking: How do we bring the principles of gender and development to the private sector in a way that makes sense; how can we unleash the potential of the private sector to contribute to equality? We aim to be the bridge between those worlds by bringing the principles that have been tried and tested in the development world into what the private sector is doing.
We also see this work as eventually serving as an onramp to rethinking the way we do business. For example, predominant views exist about t women entrepreneurs being more “risk-averse” and don’t take on risk capital, but this privileges a specific type of business growth as the norm and what we aspire to achieve. We’re trying to foster more women’s participation, yes, and we are also questioning and disrupting the principles and status quo that is generally or often accepted around investment and business practice. I think that sustainable change in this area is incremental; you have to slowly bring people on board over time, help them see the benefits, and translate their own inspiration into action.
What role has ANDE played in Value For Women’s journey and how do you see it moving forward?
There were thematic global working groups when I joined ANDE in 2012, and I co-led a Women’s Entrepreneurship group with other colleagues– these efforts and some high-profile global projects at the time that we curated were the impetus for the regional working groups. We kicked off initial efforts for a gender working group in Mexico with the then-chapter-lead Katia Dumont, who, incidentally, is now on Value for Women’s Board of Directors. Over the years, this working group led to the creation of many of the Gender Labs which are held at the Chapter level today. Our co-chair opportunity offered great partnerships and the ability to share V4W’s ideas on what role investors and businesses have as drivers of gender equality as part of the broader impact framework, and encouraged others to help define, shape, and participate in what that looked like in our impact space. We saw an opportunity to utilize our “newness” to the space to ask ANDE membership what was needed on our end to achieve our goals; meanwhile, we were able to help ANDE start to move the needle on the gender conversation internally and build the capacity of the broader membership to understand what gender had to do with supporting SGBs.
What are you most proud of?
I am particularly proud of the way that ANDE and Value For Women have worked together in many aspects related to gender in the SGB ecosystem. We have helped uncover the specific needs of the SGB ecosystem and helped folks both examine their own needs around gender while also helping them meet those needs. We have shaped our offering as an organization to meet those needs – both as a boutique consultancy firm and as a field builder by offering beneficial tools to a broad set of SGB ecosystem actors.
In sum, I am most proud of bringing value to the SGB ecosystem by way of ANDE. Also, I am proud of contributing to the value that members derive from the membership and listening and responding to what folks need by becoming more and more hands-on and practical by the actions we help others take. Along those same lines, the conversation has changed so radically around gender, SGBs, and impact investment. Both ANDE and Value for Women have contributed to that through our membership and partnership. Our team has been involved in training at the chapter level, creating research initiatives, driving the agendas of Gender Labs, and generating resources and opportunities for different members to receive access to tools and knowledge.
The ANDE network unites a “motley crew” of actors: a mashup of people who come from very different spaces (policy, development, capacity builders, impact investors, DFIs, corporates) to enable the creation of SGBs as a vehicle not only for economic impact but also for social impact. ANDE has been a natural home for V4W because we are both trying to bring in different perspectives that make up both the unique ANDE membership network as well as the impact space more broadly. I’m proud of the way that ANDE and V4W together have changed the way the SGB space thinks about gender and social inclusion. We are getting much more sophisticated and nuanced.
Ten years ago, impact investors were less familiar with how gender affects the sector and were asking “why” gender was relevant. ANDE created a space to ask questions, share experiences, and broker and facilitate conversations about gender and social inclusion. Now, the way we think about these issues and their impact on the sector is much more sophisticated and nuanced. Many members have moved way beyond asking “why” and are keen to take action.
What would you highlight as some of your lessons learned in this journey?
Let us level the playing field for women-led SGBs and let’s go beyond that and think about all the other untapped opportunities that businesses and investors have to contribute to gender equality and inclusion. As I have suggested, the conversations have gotten more nuanced: we’ve learned that there is no one size fits all. The more high-level guidance you can offer, and the less prescriptive you can be, the more you allow for people creatively to find their own path.
At the same time, that perspective can feel overwhelming to some. So, one thing we have learned, particularly in the ANDE space, is that sharing stories, opening up spaces for peer-to-peer communication, and having resources to come together and talk more informally have been a really great and important first step. ANDE members hold such a diversity of their respective journeys when it comes to gender which is a beneficial aspect because it contributes to collective learning. Members can learn from one another.
The members need resources and something to anchor onto. We have tried to embed this anchor into the local Gender Labs. In other words, by rooting in particular regions (see reports on Southeast Asia, Guatemala, and South Africa), we highlight the value in what ANDE is doing and derive a concrete way for organizations to reach their goals.
How do you see your organization further utilizing the ANDE network to continue to advance V4W’s initiatives and partnerships?
We’ve elevated our role significantly as an organization focusing on thought-leadership and positioning ourselves within this space more intentionally. We do this alongside the delivery of advisory services to businesses, financial service providers, and investors to help them adopt and create gender strategies. We’ve built tools, resources, guides, and knowledge products that are publicly available. We have a commitment as a social enterprise ourselves to continuing to build the field and share our knowledge; to keep building the capacity of others to take gender lens to their own practice. We continue to deliver advisory but also focus on broader partnerships that can elevate and support ANDE and its members to integrate gender inclusion and to continue learning and sharing across the membership.
What advice would you give new members who are starting their own gender journey?
Sometimes it can feel intimidating because there are so many ways you can start contributing to gender and social inclusion. The bottom line is: just start somewhere. Take the first step and utilize the network to turn your aspirations into action. The plan for action doesn’t have to be perfect – but a first step is important. There are many guides, tools, and resources out there that can be used to get enough information to know where and how to start. It is also really useful to seek out, create, and engage in partnerships with those that can help you on your journey. While it is key to think individually at your own organization’s level, it helps the field grow if you can also share your experiences and contribute to the learning of others.
Check out Value for Women’s latest guide which outlines the top five challenges that intermediaries and investors face in starting and continuing their journey of being intentional about gender. The guide offers a deeper understanding of these stumbling blocks, practical tips for overcoming them, and shares a case study of an organization that overcame each challenge.