How impact investing empowers women: Interview with Oikocredit’s Adama Bah

How impact investing empowers women: Interview with Oikocredit’s Adama Bah

Adama Bah by GENEVIÈVE CHASSÉ portraits.jpg

Adama Bah, Social Performance Analyst at Oikocredit

27 september | 2023

As we publish Oikocredit’s 2023 Impact Report, Adama Bah, Social Performance Analyst at Oikocredit, shares her insights on women’s leadership and gender diversity in impact investing.

Our latest impact report emphasises why women’s empowerment is at the heart of our commitments. Financial inclusion for women is a major focus area for Oikocredit and is in line with our vision of helping bring about a global, just society where resources are shared sustainably, and everyone has the choices they need to create a life of dignity.

Adama Bah has been working with Oikocredit for three years. Her expertise in social development enables us to gain a better insight into current projects from a data perspective.

In this interview, she shines a light on Oikocredit’s work around promoting gender equality in underprivileged communities.

What does Oikocredit’s work on inclusiveness and diversity mean to you personally?

Advancing diversity and inclusion is important and obvious to me. I believe society as a whole would benefit if women and people who are disadvantaged in any way had their opportunities unleashed and could make their own choices in life.

For this reason, I am happy to work at Oikocredit because the idea of creating equal opportunities for all has been embedded in its mission and vision of a fair and just society for almost 50 years. Since I joined Oikocredit, I noticed that increasing gender diversity and women’s empowerment is in our DNA and has led to many initiatives up until today.

Let’s take an example: Oikocredit developed an environmental, social and governance (ESG) score in 2010 to streamline and harmonise the assessment of our partners’ social performance across the different teams, regions, and countries where we work. The first ESG score already considered elements of gender diversity and women representation at all levels within the organisations we work with. For me having that focus on gender so far back, and more specifically having it embedded in our processes is very important.

Is there a recent project related to women’s empowerment and inclusion that stands out for you?

This year, I conducted several interviews and case studies with partners about their journey towards increasing gender diversity. The first step was to look at and share the data with colleagues from our regional offices to identify and learn about partners who are advancing gender diversity in their organisations. This process helped me realise that we have quite a few gender champions within the Oikocredit team.

Overall, these conversations have been very inspiring. All the people I interacted with on this project agree that it is a journey, and not a ‘yes or no situation’ when it comes to gender diversity. There is always room for improvement. Another inspiring aspect is realising how diverse our partner institutions are in terms of geography, size and age, and how they approach this topic.

On the investment side, I am particularly excited about the recent investment in the first Diversity and Inclusion Social Bond issued in Ecuador by our long-time partner Cooperativa Jardín Azuayo, together with IDB Invest. This is the first bond in the world which has incentives linked to achieving social objectives, in terms of expanding financing to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) led and/or owned by women, indigenous people, migrants, low-income people and/or people with low levels of education. Incentives include a monetary bonus if objectives are achieved, as well as advisory services, for example to assess and improve credit decisions towards women and underrepresented groups.

How does Oikocredit plan to continue promoting women’s leadership among its partners? Why is this important?

We are continuing to gather and communicate evidence of the business case for organisations to promote women’s leadership. Having more women leaders and more women in the workforce is not just something that is ‘nice to have’. Making any organisation more inclusive helps attract and retain talent, and employees who feel truly valued are more satisfied with their jobs, which can boost productivity. A more diverse workforce enables more diverse views and experiences to be taken into account, which can help develop products that better fit customers’ needs. Moreover, increasing women's presence in the leadership can influence organisations’ financial and commercial performance.

In addition to demonstrating the business case, we aim to identify lessons and approaches about what works and what does not in practice, to further support our partners on their own journey towards increasing gender diversity.

The new impact report shows that energy poverty has a strong gender dimension. This is one of the report’s highlights. Can you elaborate and tell us how Oikocredit is acting on this issue?

In the absence of other sources of energy, especially in Africa, biomass such as wood and charcoal are used for lighting or cooking. Women and girls are generally tasked to collect firewood. This task is time-consuming and energy-intensive, which means they are prevented from doing other things. In addition, the use of polluting cooking fuels has a negative impact on the health of women and girls because they inhale smoke from open fires and traditional stoves.

Alleviating some of the burden on household budgets through access to affordable clean energy can help resolve some of the challenges women and girls are facing. Access to clean cooking helps women and girls avoid negative health effects and gain better control of their time. With this additional time, they can engage in other productive or leisure activities.

At the same time, more research would be useful to understand how to further increase impact and further empower women and girls through the renewable energy sector. For example, increasing women representation within the leadership of organisations in the sector would most likely also deliver useful benefits for their clients.

The new impact report also focuses on agriculture. What are the challenges of empowering women in agriculture?

In agriculture, women are equal participants, doing as much or even more than men. Unfortunately, a lot of that work is unnoticed or undervalued.

One challenge is to make women’s contribution more visible and valued. Part of the issue is that women are more often not owners of the land. Cooperative membership is sometimes linked to the person who owns the land title, whereas work on the land is often a household activity involving many members, including women. In this respect, it is important to work with partner organisations to ensure that the benefits of cooperative membership, such as access to training and inputs, can be extended to the landholder’s family members, who are also contributing to caring for the land and ultimately to the production sold to the cooperative, and where possible, even to the wider community.

In some value chains, such as the cashew nut value chain, women’s contribution is very visible. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer and exporter of cashew nuts, women are key actors throughout cashew value chain, from production to picking and processing. Some of our partners in the sector have taken concrete steps to enhance the presence of women at all levels of the organisation. A deeper dive would help us better understand how they benefit, the challenges they face and how they compare to their male counterparts in the same value chain. Such a deep dive would also help determine how Oikocredit can support partners to promote gender equality and enhance impact. More generally, to address gender inequality and make agricultural value chains more inclusive, we need to do more research to assess the biggest challenges women face and identify concrete interventions to further enhance women’s empowerment with our partners.

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