All Credit To Women? Impact Investing With A Gender Lens At The Base Of The Pyramid

Ngoasong, Michael (2019). All Credit To Women? Impact Investing With A Gender Lens At The Base Of The Pyramid. In: Catalizing new models of innovation for financing women's entrepreneurship, 2-4 Jun 2019, Babson College, Wellesley, MA, USA.


This paper develops and critically explores a theoretical framework for understanding how impact investing with a gender lens is catalyzing change and innovation through encouraging women’s entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid in developing countries. It addresses two research question:
1. In what ways do impact investing with a gender lens emphasize societal transformation versus commercial goals when investing in women-owned businesses in BoP settings?
2. How do the business strategies and practices of women entrepreneurs change when they are no longer perceived as commercial entities (wealth creation) but also as agents for generating social impacts beyond wealth creation?

The above questions are particularly significant to women entrepreneurs in BoP settings in Africa for two reasons. First, though more African women have launched businesses in recent years with Africa now considered as having the highest growth rate of female-run businesses in the world, according to the World Bank, we continue to see persistently high levels of gender inequality across the continent’s economies coupled with high business discontinuation rates. This research can contribute to uncover whether the type of change being engineered through impact investing can contribute to addressing some of the resource-constraints associated with business discontinuation rates for women entrepreneurs. Second, women remain a severely under tapped resource when it comes to creating and growing companies that enable economic growth. Understanding the nature of change and innovation, through analyzing how women entrepreneurs pursue social and transformation goals with the help of impact investments provides some of the solutions needed to encourage more commercially-driven women-owned businesses in BoP settings.

To address the above questions the paper integrates two sets of literature review, each of which makes an effective contribution an understanding of impact investing with a gender lens in BoP settings. First, the literature on entrepreneurship, finance and gender (Chant and Sweetman, 2012; Marlow and Patton, 2005; Palmer, 1995) and gender lens investing in particular (e.g. Quinlan and VanderBrug, 2017). This literature argues that if impact investing is to significantly impact women entrepreneurs at the BoP, both investors and fund managers must recognize and address the persistent gender inequality in their investment strategies. Thus in complement to Marlow and Patton’s (2005) question on why all credits go to men, this paper explores the possibility that by attempting to address this long-standing inequality in access to finance, gender-lens investing can be seen as catalyzing change and innovation. Second, the literature conceptualizing women entrepreneurs as vectors of social entrepreneurship. This literature reveals investing in women entrepreneurs can be a catalyst for enabling innovative approaches to the generation of financial return, social transformation and community development through funding strategies that encourage women to better integrate finance-seeking and market-seeking entrepreneurial strategies into their business models.

Empirically, the paper develops three qualitative case studies of impact investments into women’s entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa: impact investments to women-owned micro businesses through a women banking service in Ghana, a nation-wide women credit union in Cameroon and an impact investment project to encourage more women to create and grow businesses in the fashion sector of Sierra Leone. Through in-depth interviews, we collected and content-analyzed primary data from global impact investors (based in Europe and North Africa), Africa-based impact fund managers and women-entrepreneurs in the three study countries. Our empirical analysis focused on theory development through qualitative cases.

Based on the findings, the paper provides key recommendations for investors and impact funds seeking to pursue impact investing with a gender lens, for women entrepreneurs seeking such investments and for governments seeking to encourage more impact investments to women entrepreneurs in BoP markets.


Chant, S. and Sweetman, C. (2012). Fixing women or fixing the world? ‘Smart economics’, efficiency approaches, and gender equality in development. Gender & Development, 20(3), p.517-529.

Kimbu, A. N. & Ngoasong, M. Z. (2016). Women as Vectors of Social Entrepreneurship. Annals of Tourism Research, 60: 63-79.

Ngoasong, M; Paton, R and Korda, A. (2015). Impact Investing and Inclusive Business Development in Africa: A research agenda. IKD Working Paper No. 76, The Open University, Milton Keynes (January 2015).

Marlow, S and Patton, D. (2005). All Credit to Men? Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Gender. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(6), 717-735.

Quinlan, J. P., and VanderBrug, J. (2017). Gender lens investing: uncovering opportunities for growth, returns, and impact. John Wiley & Sons.

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