Women Investing in Change For Other Women

Women don’t use their growing economic power to invest in socially responsible companies and causes to effect change.

As 50 percent of the workforce and decisionmakers for more than 85 percent of household spending, women are wielding more and more economic power every day. A 2009 survey indicated that women were the driving force behind most household charitable donations. However, Jackie Zehner, former Goldman Sachs partner, says that women don’t always put their economic power to drive social change by investing their money where it will make a difference.

According to Zehner, we target organizations that we feel will make a difference and we donate money or volunteer, but we don’t put the power of our money to work for others and ourselves.

As I considered my own staid investments and personally-motivated giving patterns, I realized that she was right. While I gave money to organizations that impacted my life or those of my loved ones, or causes I feel strongly about, my investments remained relatively anonymous and impersonal.

Now, you can make many more personal choices when investing. You can not only make a solid return, but invest in a cause or movement you feel passionate about. Recently there has been a rise in targeted investments for people who want to invest in green or socially beneficial companies or organizations.

I decided to try it out on a small scale. Kiva, an organization well-known for making microloans to small business owners in developing countries, many of them women, is now offering a category of green loans. In fact, after the recent media attention, Kiva’s green loans are so popular that they are funded extremely quickly.

I went to Kiva.org and reviewed the selection of green loans. Each requestor has a photo and a summary about them, their family, and their business. Humanizing my investment helped me be excited about the outcome of my gamble. Rather than having my 401k account purchase a small number of shares in Dell and several other companies along with thousands of other people, I can see real change with a small amount of money. Seeing individual stories reminded me that women business owners, no matter where they are located or what their product or service is, face similar challenges.

I liked Sergia’s profile. She owns her own home and lives with her partner, Daniel, and their two small children. She has worked diligently on her land for more than eight years to grow healthy crops to support her family and pay for her children’s education. Sergia walks an hour each way to sell her crops in a nearby city and makes a good profit. She is always looking for ways to improve her harvest and wants to buy more land and increase her output in the future. She has taken out eight previous loans and repaid each one on time. She is requesting this loan to buy animal manure to fertilize her crops and generate healthier produce.

Once I chose Sergia, I decided to invest twenty-five dollars. I reviewed Kiva’s field partner information and the transparent loan repayment information. Sergia has eight months to repay the loan. Once I am reimbursed, I can reloan the money to someone else, donate it to Kiva, or withdraw it via PayPal.

Along with my loan amount, Kiva adds an optional donation for operating costs to my cart (clever), which I decided to give. I checked out with just my loan to Sergia this time, but you could make several loans to different individuals if you choose.

Kiva notified me just hours after I made my loan that Sergia received all of the funding she requested. For the price of a hardcover book, I helped Sergia move that much closer to her goal of growing healthier and more abundant crops that will fetch her a better price at market. With her additional earnings, her family will be more secure and she can look toward purchasing more land and expanding in the future.

Each year, my donations also go toward helping people, but they only go as far as my checkbook or the amount of time I have to volunteer. At Kiva, once my initial loan is repaid, I could re-loan it to another small business owner, and another one after that in a cycle that could benefit many. Now, in my donations and investments, I can direct my funds where I want to make an impact. I can invest in other women-owned businesses, agricultural loans, housing, clean water, or other green initiatives.

Sometimes change comes about one small, helping hand at a time.

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.