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Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration Can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty

Woman cheerfully smiling

This report shares findings from several case studies in Acumen’s portfolio of investments, which demonstrate how social enterprises are engaging and impacting women.

  • Report
  • All Problems
  • All Regions
  • 2015

In 2001, Acumen pioneered the idea of patient, long-term capital to invest in and scale entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. Acumen’s approach merges the efficiency of marketbased solutions and the social impact focus of traditional philanthropy. Patient capital has an appetite for risk that allows Acumen to seek out and invest in game-changing business models that are creating meaningful change in the lives of the poor in the developing world.

While Acumen regularly collects data on each of its portfolio companies to confirm that they are effectively serving low-income customers, it has never systematically looked at its companies—including their customers and their employees—through a gender lens. Women are significant beneficiaries of Acumen’s work, however, and are emerging as a driving force as low-income consumers, participants in the labor market, and leaders and innovators.

Indeed, women represent today’s most powerful consumer group—making up a market whose growth potential is greater than that of China and India’s combined. Women are also disproportionately represented among the over 2 billion people living on less than $2.00 a day, and still have lower education levels, worse health outcomes, fewer economic opportunities, and higher exposure to violence than men. For social enterprises that seek financial viability aligned to social impact goals, a female customer and employee base represent an enormous untapped opportunity to optimize for both.

This report is the first time that Acumen has endeavored to apply a gender lens to its portfolio. In collaboration with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Cartier Charitable Foundation, this report offers the first in-depth examination of how gender factors into the strategies, operations and impact of Acumen’s companies.