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Women Funding Women Opens the Door to Responsible Investing

A new impact investment fund targets women and lowers the financial burden of making responsible investments—a WIN-WIN.

Maggie works at Cake Love, a business that has benefited from the Calvert Foundation's impact investing.

Most people who want to change the world and make a profit don’t have the money to buy into the growing number of investment funds that focus on social impact. But what if you only need $20 to get involved?

That's the idea behind WIN-WIN, the Women Investing In Women Initiative, which was created by the Calvert Foundation to fund businesses that improve womens’ lives by targeting women investors. “We are trying to popularize impact investing to make it accessible to everyone,” says Lisa Hall, the Calvert Foundation's CEO. “There is power in the purse. [Women are] not a totally ignored audience... but in the world of impact investing there has not been that much done to bring them in.”

The Calvert Foundation—affiliated with, but distinct from, the Calvert family of socially responsible mutual funds—aims to raise $20 million through WIN-WIN. Calvert will loan the money to businesses that serve women as the core clients, microfinance groups that lend to women, or woman-run small business. The money might also be used to nudge gender-motivated change in other businesses.

"Every penny of the money goes to the investment itself," Hall says. A separate stream of donations covers operating costs, with about $100 in gifts leveraging $500 in investments. Foundations and corporations have ponied up the initial support. The interest paid back on the loan to the foundation will go to investors.

A maximum 2 percent return on investment may not be as high as other investment opportunities, but Hall expects investors to be motivated by cause as well as profit. Women entrepreneurs reinvest in their communities more than men who earn the same amount, creating a bigger multiplier effect. In some cases, women have proven more productive: When women own the same amount of land as men, for example, their crop yield is about 10 percent higher.

The early capital recipients include community development financial institutions Valley Economic Development Center in California and Self-Help Venture Fund in North Carolina. Valley EDC lends to small businesses, a majority of which are woman-owned. Self-Help provides capital for day care centers and affordable housing for women. Seventy-five percent of the money raised through WIN-WIN will fund U.S. ventures; the rest to women-focused overseas projects like the microlenders at Women’s World Banking.

Since WIN-WIN launched at the United Nations on International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, it has raised more $300,000 from 64 investors, most of them new to both impact investing and Calvert, Hall says. While some put up as much as $50,000, others paid as little as $20—an admirably low barrier to entry. Though brokers face a $1,000 minimum buy-in, casual investors can invest online through Microplace. In this low-interest rate environment, that makes WIN-WIN a feasible alternative to a savings account—as long as you don't plan to touch the money for between one and five years. And that kind of hybrid plan might represent the first wave of low-barrier impact investments for everyday folks as the industry takes shape and starts to dream bigger.

Photo courtesy of the Calvert Foundation

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