2X: OPIC launches a new women's initiative

Business owner Alicia Gomez benefitted from a project financed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation in Ecuador. Photo by: OPIC

WASHINGTON — The Overseas Private Investment Corporation officially announced 2X, its new women’s initiative on Wednesday, just ahead of International Women’s Day.

Through the initiative, OPIC will invest $350 million in projects that support women ranging from increasing financing to women-owned businesses, to improving access to water, and creating job opportunities. The goal is for that investment to bring in an additional $1 billion in investment from the private sector.

Inside OPIC's new way of looking at deals

The future holds far more "gender lens investing" for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Devex caught up with the agency's new managing director for global women's initiatives, who is now building an internal task force to embed gender considerations throughout OPIC's business operations.

Kathryn Kaufmann, OPIC’s managing director for global women’s issues, told Devex it was the largest one-time commitment by a single United States agency for global women’s economic empowerment.

“We want to change the market,” she said. “We want to send a message to the market that gender matters,” she said.

Although the initiative doesn’t have specific sector targets, it will likely be starting with the financial sector, where there is a $300 billion credit gap for women, Kaufmann said.

While local banks receiving loans or guarantees may have been asked in the past about how much of the financing went to women, they will now be required to set aside a certain amount of the funding for women, she said.

“We are asking borrowers to make institutional changes,” Kaufmann said, adding that they will need to have more diverse teams and create products for women borrowers.

If they change the way they do business, they will tap into an underserved market, and as data about investments in women-owned businesses shows, will also likely see better financial returns, she said.

OPIC does not currently have the ability to provide technical assistance or grants to provide support to train those banks and the women entrepreneurs, which is a constraint, Kaufmann said.  A new development finance bill introduced last week could change the U.S. development finance institution’s ability to have those authorities, but OPIC is partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development on this work. The agencies are working on a memorandum of understanding to help coordinate and cooperate, she said.

In addition to deploying this funding, OPIC will also be looking at all of its investments with a gender lens, asking questions of the companies it is working with to ensure that its products “are servicing a whole community,” Kaufmann said.

While it won’t be the deciding factor on a project, or hold up the approval, she said staff is committed to having it be a factor in investments. As it asks its private sector partners to look at their own gender policies and practices, OPIC will be doing the same. The agency will be looking at how to set high standards around inclusion and flexibility for women in the workplace, in part to attract the best employees and improve retention, she said.

OPIC is not setting a public target date for spending the funds, but Kaufmann said she hopes it will be invested by the end of the year. The goal is for this initial investment to be the start of a more focused, long-term OPIC strategy around investing in these areas, she said.

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    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.