How equity grants are putting Root Capital's gender lens in focus

A view of the panel session titled “Women and Girls: Catalyzing Change in the Climate Crisis” at the 2018 Skoll World Forum. Photo by: Skoll Foundation

OXFORD, United Kingdom — Willy Foote, the CEO of Root Capital, said that even with an investment strategy that explicitly focuses on women workers, the Root team found that female workers continued to face barriers to access.

Foote’s firm targets “highly gender-inclusive” agricultural businesses, which “enable women farmers, who have very unequal access to productive resources and assets, deliberately creating jobs and opportunities for women within the business and local communities,” he said.

But despite these investments, some disadvantages persisted, surveys revealed. For example, that female employees at a macadamia nut processing facility in Kenya were losing out on wages and hours due to childcare. Employers similarly expressed frustration at the high turnover of pregnant workers and new mothers.

Speaking at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford on Thursday, Foote said “With funding from the IKEA foundation and the [Wagner Foundation] we have piloted gender equity grants up to $20,000 to particularly high-performing gender-inclusive businesses where they can take the grant funding as opposed to debt financing or training and do things like, in the case of Kenya in Meru, build childcare facilities next to the processing plant for working moms,” Foote told Skoll delegates at a session called “Women and Girls: Catalyzing Change in the Climate Crisis.”

The grants act as both an award and an incentive to boost gender-inclusiveness in businesses already thriving on Root capital. Currently piloting in Kenya and Peru, the grants have so far been used to construct safe crop storage facilities closer to women’s homes, for training women in crop diversification, making mud bricks, financial management, as well as creating savings groups.

The grant to the macadamia facility, the Village Nut Company, went toward construction of daycare centers, but not much else. Foote said the daycares are already self-sustaining and managed by the Village Nut Company.

“This is a relatively new project for us founded by the IKEA Foundation and the Wagner Family Foundation, based in Boston, and it’s not a huge amount of capital, but I think the highlight is that we believe deeply in pathological collaboration with unlikely partners,” Foote said.

“You need to create a lot of partnerships to drive into the different flavors of capital, from grant funding to impact investing dollars, to meet the whole need, especially as you get into these issues around childcare, and the daycare facilities around processing plants, for example,” he said.

Foote added that Root Capital managed to assemble its donors based on the firm’s inclination to seek out “unusual partners,” but said the model — using small grants to boost impact in a certain sector or area — could be facilitated by a number of players.

“That could be Agra, could be Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa, East African Enterprise Challenge Fund, but you have to be able to be aware of what the needs are and then put the mosaic together,” Foote told Devex.

Editor's note: Devex traveled to the Skoll World Forum with the support of the Skoll Foundation. Devex retains full editorial independence and responsibility for this content.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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