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Leading OPIC’s efforts to unlock the potential of the world’s women

Q&A with Katie Kaufman, OPIC Managing Director of Global Women’s Issues

photo of Kathryn Kaufman, Managing Director of Global Women's Initiatives, OPIC, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, economic development, global development, developing countries, emerging markets, development finance, empower women​​​​​​​Today, OPIC will formally unveiling a new initiative designed to increase support for women in the developing world, and unlock the multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity that the world’s women represent. Here Kathryn Kaufman, Managing Director of Global Women’s Initiatives explains why women are key to meeting major development goals and OPIC’s plans to support them.

​​​​​​​To start, why the greater focus on women?

Our development dollars have two clear objectives: to provide economic prosperity and to pursue global stability. We believe that women are a key driver in achieving both.

First, on economic prosperity, women represent a multi-trillion dollar economy that remains largely untapped.

Second, on global stability, there is no shortage of research confirming that women are agents of change when they are empowered to be. For example, we know that when a woman earns a competitive income, she spends 90 percent of it on her family, on her children’s education, her aging parent’s health care. By contrast, a man spends between 30 – 40 percent. We refer to this as the multiplier effect of investing in women. Logic follows, that if we aim to combat hunger, tackle health care, strengthen communities, end gender-based violence and human trafficking, and provide every human with the opportunity to live up to his or her potential, that all starts with empowering women.

It is this multiplier effect that has led OPIC’s President & CEO Ray Washburne to the conviction that to be the most effective development agency, we need to ensure that we are advancing gender equality.

​​​​​​​Talk about the investment opportunity in women?

If the world’s women were viewed as a single emerging market, it would be twice the size of India and China combined. That gives you a sense of the scale of the opportunity.

Potentially more meaningful for OPIC as finance institution, is the fact that women are a smart investment. Conclusive research shows that companies with gender-smart policies are more attractive to investors. They have higher employee retention, a greater pool of talent to select from, employ individuals who better reflect their consumer base, and demonstrate more balanced decision-making; all of which contribute to improved performance.

What are some of the major challenges women in the developing world face?

I will focus on the economic barriers because this is OPIC’s wheelhouse and where we can make a difference. On virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men. I would break these financial barriers into three main buckets:

  1. Access to capital,
  2. Access to high-value employment, and
  3. Access to products and services that improve economic opportunities for women.

On access to capital, despite the fact that women own 30 percent of small and medium enterprises in emerging markets -- which are the largest job creators -- women represent only a fraction of the total credit market. This is because banks often require collateral that men control. Despite data confirming just the opposite, banks have a gender bias that women are expensive customers and less reliable. In many cases there is simply a lack of financial literacy that keeps women out of banks. All these factors have resulted in a global credit gap of over $300 billion. This limits women’s ability to start or grow businesses, create jobs and contribute to the strong economic growth that emerging markets so desperately need.

With respect to employment, gender gaps in labor force participation range from 12 percent in the OECD economies to 50 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. When women do participate, it is usually in informal, low-paying or low-status jobs. If we are able to narrow these gaps, not only we will add trillions to our global GDP we will also have healthier, safer, more educated communities.

Finally, a less understood aspect of gender lens investing, is a gap in services that will allow for more economic opportunity for women.

How has OPIC adopted gender lens investing?
As a development agency, supporting women is in OPIC’s DNA. We have over $1BN exposure in microfinance, most of which supports women. We have over $200MM in financing to U.S. female entrepreneurs doing business in emerging markets, and we have direct loans to nearly 4 million women around the world. 2X leverages what we have done in the past, and looks forward to see what we can do even better. It’s about looking at every transaction, from an energy project to an on-lending facility and routinely asking specific and deliberate questions to be sure that we are promoting equality and inclusion with every dollar we invest.

This is an agency-wide initiative that depends on all the experts, knowledge and resources that OPIC has to bear, and we are excited about the impact we can bring to the marketplace. It involves improving our application and monitoring forms, providing training and re-tooling how we assess opportunities. Our goal for 2X is to engage our partners, stakeholders, and clients to share the journey. We will be working to create new co-investment opportunities for women-owned /led businesses, funds, banks and companies with products and services which serve women. We want to assist emerging market investors and project sponsors that share our vision to send a message to the markets that by investing in women, we can improve our economies and change the world.



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