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Delivering on the SDGs Through Gender Lens Investing

Delivering on the SDGs Through Gender Lens Investing

Gender equality is an enabler and accelerator for virtually all the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”). Gender equality is a goal in its own right (SDG5), but cuts across all 17 SDGs and is reflected in 45 targets and 54 gender-specific indicators (UNDP, 2019). Women’s Economic Empowerment (“WEE”) is a means to recognize women’s rights and achieve gender equality. Women economic empowerment involves equal access to opportunities and resources, participation and leadership in decision making, and the ability to exercise control over their own time, lives and well being. Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.1

Women participation in economic activity is an integral lever that can help propel economic development by making vital contributions to sustaining and enhancing growth and poverty eradication. According to McKinsey Global Institute estimates, if full gender parity were reached, “it would add up to $12 trillion in global growth.” 2

Despite some progress towards gender equality and achievement of the SDGs globally, the Asia-Pacific region is critically behind. The United Nations ESCAP’s Asia and The Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019 found that based on the current trajectory, the region will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030. In fact Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production) have seen negative trends, moving further away from the SDG targets. Regarding gender, it was found that insufficient progress has been made to achieve gender equality within the next 12 years. 3 Business can not continue as usual; critical actions are needed to achieve gender equality and the SDG targets in the Asia-Pacific region.

Essential to the design of the SDGs (SDG 17 -Partnerships for the Goals), these goals can not be achieved without substantial and collective actions, across governments, civil society, the development community and most importantly the private sector. Mobilizing private capital through gender lens investment, to promote investment in women-owned and/or led businesses is one such initiative that can tip the scales in the Asia-Pacific SDG trajectory.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and SEAF have partnered to catalyze women’s entrepreneurship and support the achievement of the SDGs through impact investment in the Asia-Pacific region. SEAF’s women’s economic empowerment investment programs are based on an innovative development framework that directly addresses eight of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals through a gender-focused investment strategy.

SEAF has built a track record of investing in women in Asia.  In the SEAF Women’s Opportunity Fund (“SWOF”) portfolio, there are 6 women-owned or women-led companies in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines across a diverse range of sectors such as healthcare, education, food, agriculture, beauty and personal care, and business services. SEAF’s conventional value creation approach to its portfolio companies involves strategic and operational improvements, as well as interventions that deepen the gender and social impact within its businesses. SEAF believes that opportunities exist to build value in companies by shaping gender equality and women’s empowerment in the companies’ leadership, business practices and workforce policies and compensation. SEAF measures the progress towards gender equality in its portfolio companies through its proprietary tool called SEAF Gender Equality Scorecard © (“GES ©”).[/vc_column_text]

Addressing SDGs through a Gender Lens Portfolio

SEAF’s Women’s Opportunity Fund (“SWOF”) has been investing in women since May 2017. The portfolio has demonstrated significant gender equality and SDG related outcomes, as well as positive financial performance. Two of the portfolio companies are highlighted below:

Dream Viet Education

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

SWOF made an investment in Dream Viet Education (“Kyna”), a leading provider of online education courses targeting Vietnamese parents and children. The company operates under the “Kyna for Kids” ( brand platform. Kyna was founded by Ho Hong Bao Tram who strongly believes that technology can bring better, fairer education access to all Vietnamese people especially women and children. With the platform, learners from different parts of the country can access qualified courses on demand at a reasonable cost.

Kyna has served over 140,000+ parents or parents-to-be who choose to learn from the company’s parenting/parenting-related online courses versus other alternatives because Kyna’s offerings are valued for their deep knowledge, easy control over time and constraint-free access to reliable information. Kyna For Kids targets children aged 3-11 (kindergarten and primary school) where parents are the purchasing decision-maker. English as well as Maths are priority subjects for Vietnamese parents due to their importance in future employability for their children. Kyna For Kids was established as a pilot project on the Kyna platform to meet the growing and underserved demand from parents to kick-start early education for their children, particularly for those located outside the urban centers.

With its leading position in the online education segment targeting parenting, kindergarten and primary school children, Kyna helps popularize the useful parenting knowledge and principles to mothers throughout the country. Furthermore, as most employees in the business are women. The investment has created impact by (i) providing easy access to an educational platform to the wider population, (ii) eliminating gender disparities in education and (iii) ensuring equal access to quality, affordable early childhood development.


Hi Chi Minh, Vietnam

Organica, based in Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”), is a leading retailer and wholesaler of organic & natural foods and beverages in Vietnam.  The business began in 2011 when its founder, Ms. Pham Phuong Thao, a health-conscious young mother, acted on her conviction that everyone has the right to clean, safe and healthy food. Recognizing the inadequacies of Vietnam’s conventional food system, Ms. Thao and her like-minded associates focused on building a prototype organic farm as a role model within the Vietnam farming community.  After three years, Organica had two company-owned, tropical vegetable and fruit farms that were awarded the Organic EU Certification and USDA Organic Certification. Today Organica currently operates 8 outlets covering the three largest cities in Vietnam, with 5 stores in HCMC, 2 in Danang and 1 in Hanoi.  Organica currently sources vegetables and fruits from a network of 11 farms across Vietnam, including 3 company-owned and 8 contract farms, totaling a farmland footprint of approximately 150 hectares.

70% of Organica’s employees are female including those directly working on farms, sales staff and administration staff, who all play an important role in enabling the company to provide high-quality and healthy food to the community. Female workers working on farms can get stable and independent income with schemes similar to factory workers. In addition, the company provides increased access to resources and markets by providing routes to market for specialty products produced by farmers being predominantly women from the remote/mountainous areas and creating organic farming models as showcases for schools to send students to visit and learn about the benefits of organic foods and the long-term values of following sustainable farming practices.

Furthermore, Organica’s operations foster gender equality as they (i) create meaningful work and offer economic opportunities to women, (ii) promote health (no synthetic chemicals), (ii) encourage biodiversity and retain traditional knowledge, and (iv) ensure equitable work standards.

Pioneering Gender Lens Investment in 2020

In partnership with ESCAP and with financial support from the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, SEAF will work to expand and launch two funds which finance women entrepreneurs. ESCAP’s support will allow the SEAF Bangladesh Ventures fund to be expanded to take a gender lens investing approach, while in parallel SEAF will launch the SEAF Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund (SWEEF) in South East Asia. Together the funds will unlock US$ 150 million in capital to advance women entrepreneurship in Asia. Furthermore, in 2Q 2020 SEAF’s Gender Equality Scorecard© Manual will be launched in order to measure and support best practice application of gender lens investing in the investment community at large.

  1. Gender Equality as an Accelerator for Achieving Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP 
  2. The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $ 12 Trillion to Global Growth, McKinsey
  3. Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019, UNESCAP