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Gender Lens Investing in Bangladesh

As  impact investor, we unlock the capacities of especially agri-food businesses in emerging economies. One of the SDGs we aim to contribute to is SDG 5 by supporting women-owned and  gender-focused SMEs. We have a focus on fair distribution of profit, value and power along the value chain, which also means power for women, giving them the opportunity to excel, and add value. As a leader in impact investing, Truvalu is committed to promoting inclusive and equitable entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.

Background to this GLI journey

For that reason, in 2023 Truvalu initiated a project with support from the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, and in collaboration with the B-Briddhi programme. It consists of the organization of two multi stakeholder events on Gender Lens investing (GLI), supplemented by local research and global expertise. This will result in a knowledge product containing tools, cases, and an impact framework to guide providers of capital and of capacity on using a gender lens. We aim to help entrepreneurs and capital providers understand gender imbalances created by social norms, to identify solutions to address these imbalances in the form of a business, to promote the importance of supporting gender-focused entrepreneurs among relevant stakeholders,, and to facilitate the measurement and monitoring of impact related to Gender Lens investments.

GLI is a journey, in which different players in the financial landscape play a role. We strongly believe that together with others in the ecosystem, we can achieve good results and learning, go faster and with much more impact.

Ms. Humaira Azam highlighted the role of financial institutions in promoting gender inclusion. “Financial Institutions should take necessary risks to bolster the women entrepreneurs, who have the capability to upscale their business but require finance in the initial stage of their business. We need to ensure that women have equal access to financial services and products.”

Both Truvalu and the B-Briddhi programme are working on addressing the capacity gaps in SMEs and startups as well as on providing innovative blended finance solutions for these enterprises. Both aim to promote GLI, support gender-focused businesses in Bangladesh, and are working to achieve impact in terms of Gender Equity and women economic empowerment, along with ensuring social and environmental impact.

Following the definition of GIIN (Global Impact Investing Network), we aim to meet the objective of capacity building and access to finance for:

  • Women-owned or women-led enterprises;
  • Enterprises that promote workplace equity (in staffing, management, boardroom representation, representation of women along their supply chains, employee composition, policies, management and practices such as recruitment, promotion, talent management, equal pay, parental leave, flexible working conditions, sexual harassment prevention); or
  • Enterprises that offer products or services that substantially improve the lives of women and  girls.

The first seminar

On 2 March 2023, the first seminar took place, focussing on the opportunities and prospects for GLI in Bangladesh. The main objective of the seminar was to build ecosystem awareness on GLI to facilitate the growth of women-led and women-focused businesses in Bangladesh.

The event highlighted what GLI is and what the opportunities, prospects, and challenges to implementing GLI are throughout all sectors and all types of businesses (rural/urban/startups/SMEs) in Bangladesh. We invited investors, banks, NBFIs, women entrepreneurs, owners of impact enterprises with a focus on women, and industry experts to the seminar.

The seminar featured a diverse range of keynote speakers, panelists, and moderators who shared their valuable insights and experiences on gender-focused business solutions and GLI.

Keynote speakers

Ms. Corinne Henchoz Pignani, Deputy Head of Cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, opened the event and emphasized the importance of gender diversity in investment portfolios. She stated, “Switzerland has been supporting impact investing in Bangladesh since 2019. In 2021, we conducted a gender analysis, which helped us to better understand the gender dimensions in impact investing. An obvious follow-up was to deep dive into gender lens investing. We understand GLI to be an investing strategy that takes into consideration gender-based factors across the investment process, advances gender equality, and better informs investment decisions. This is fully aligned with Switzerland’s ambition to leave no one behind.”

Ms. Machteld Ooijens, Director Programs & Partnerships at Truvalu, in her keynote speech, highlighted the business case of investing in gender diversity for companies, the financial sector, and society at large. She emphasized the need to address gender-specific barriers that women face in the workplace and as entrepreneurs, in accessing finance, market, and technologies. She also presented the opportunities of GLI for the financial sector, for example to various ways of using capital for gender equality and how to integrate a gender lens in the investment lifecycles. “Investors have a unique role to play and together with others in the ecosystem, they can form a strong network to offer financial as well as non-financial support, learn about successful models and demystify assumptions that are hampering a faster growth of GLI.

Ms. Sana Kapadia, Director of Strategy of 2X Global and an international expert on gender lens investing, spoke about the role of impact measurement and evaluation in promoting gender inclusion in businesses and investments, stating, “We need to evaluate the impact of our investments on gender inclusion and ensure that we are promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels of business.”

The seminar also featured three entrepreneurs, Sadia Huq, Co Founder of Sharetrip (one of the leading online travel agencies in BD); Syeda Sharmin Rahman, founder of Clay Station (a one of a kind boutique pottery studio and recreation center), and Tauheed Bin Abdus Salam, Managing Director of Classical Handmade Products (investee company of Truvalu, export manufacturing company for handmade products using natural fibers and garment waste). They shared their stories of building successful businesses that focus on addressing gender imbalances.


Ms. Sharawwat Islam, Managing Director of Tuvalu Bangladesh moderated a panel discussion. The panelists highlighted various challenges and opportunities of GLI in Bangladesh, such as the need to engage with women entrepreneurs and investors, and promote gender diversity in investment portfolios.

Ms. Humaira Azam (Managing Director & CEO of Trust Bank Limited) highlighted the role of financial institutions in promoting gender inclusion. She said, “Financial Institutions should take necessary risks to bolster the women entrepreneurs, who have the capability to upscale their business but require finance in the initial stage of their business. We need to ensure that women have equal access to financial services and products.”

Mr. Syed Javed Noor (Partner of IDLC VC Fund, Deputy Managing Director of IDLC Finance Limited) highlighted the importance of gender diversity in the workplace and the benefits it can bring to businesses. He said, “Investors prioritize the quality of the Management Team and the growth potential of a business more than anything else. So women founders should develop the skills of successful entrepreneurs to attract investments.”

Ms. Maxime Cheng (Impact Intelligence and Education Lead at Roots of Impact) shared some of the innovative approaches that Roots of Impact is implementing to measure and evaluate the impact of gender lens investments. She said, “Companies need to focus on the impact data as to how men and women are reacting to their products. The inclusion of women, how they are served, and their experiences are very important which allow the world to be more creative and business to grow.”

Mr. Bijon Islam (CEO of LightCastle Partners) emphasized the need to develop a gender-sensitive investment strategy and to engage with women entrepreneurs and investors. He said, “The one thing that sets Bangladesh apart from its peers is the female participation in the workforce, which is 35% greater compared to the neighboring countries. It is evident that women are playing a great role behind the country’s overall development.”

Interactive sessions were also held, where participants engaged in discussions, asking questions and sharing their views on the topic.

The next seminar: September 2023

In September, Truvalu, together with the B-Briddhi team, will organize a follow-up event. Topics to be covered are amongst others:

  • How to use the lens to understand problems caused by exclusion of women and identify the particular challenges for female entrepreneurs (legal, access to finance, training/ skills, access to markets, technology).
  • How to identify business opportunities from gender imbalances.
  • How to access capital allocated to GLI.
  • What makes gender lens investing different in terms of scouting, BDS, due diligence, impact measurement, etc.
  • Examples of gender-focused businesses and investments.

A collection of tools and practices

We will combine feedback from the two events, which will be supplemented by local research (including focus group discussions, interviews and desk research), and global expertise. We deliver a powerpoint of about 20 slides, containing tools, cases, and impact framework as a guide for providers of capital and capacity. This will also highlight the connection between impact measurement and identification of business opportunities keeping in mind the unique needs of Startups vs SMEs.

With the content of the guide, a handbook will be published and launched formally in 2024 to a target audience of banks, financial institutions, investors, women-focused businesses, capacity providers jointly by Truvalu and Biniyog Briddhi.