Singapore-based Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) announced in December that it has raised US$50m for its fifth Women’s Livelihood Bond (WLB5), which will invest in enterprises advancing gender equality in Kenya and several Asian countries. The bond is part of the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series, which has raised US$128m since its inception in 2017.
The proceeds of the WLB5 bond will be used to make loans to enterprises operating in the sectors of microfinance, SME lending, clean energy, sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, and affordable housing. The investors of the bond will ultimately receive the interest payments from these loans.
The bond, which is listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), has a diverse group of investors from around the world, including American asset manager Nuveen, Norwegian impact financier Laerdal Finans, fund manager Pathfinder New Zealand, and US-based family office Ceniarth, among others. In an interview with the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, Natasha Garcha, a senior director at IIX, revealed that the bond was listed on the SGX for transparency reasons and to make it accessible to investors who are only permitted to invest in listed products. Additionally, Garcha stated that a presence on the SGX positions the bond as a mainstream investment product. “We don't want investing in women empowerment and gender equality to always be seen as a niche product.”
Garcha explained that Kenya was selected for investment due to the presence of numerous companies meeting IIX's investment criteria: mature businesses with a significant impact on the livelihoods of women, and in need of debt financing. While the firm had intended to expand to additional African countries with this bond issuance, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted those plans. However, Garcha stated that IIX intends to include more African countries in future bond issuances.
WLB5 is the first bond issued in compliance with the Orange Bond Principles. Similar to green bonds – which were introduced to mobilise capital for environmentally sound and sustainable projects – orange bonds represent a new asset class designed to build a gender-empowered financial system. They were named after the colour of Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality.
The Orange Bond Initiative was spearheaded by IIX and is supported by a host of development institutions, including the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) among others. To align with Orange Bond Principles, capital must go to projects and enterprises that substantially benefit women or gender minorities, ensure a gender equitable workforce and/or inclusive value chains, or are majority women-owned or led. Additionally, bond issuers must maintain a diverse leadership team or staff working on the bond and be transparent in their investment process and impact reporting.
In Africa, the majority of entrepreneurs are women, but these businesses often struggle to grow due to various challenges. While the gap in access to credit between genders has narrowed, funding remains a major issue for African women entrepreneurs. They are less likely to receive investment from private equity funds and are often unable to obtain bank loans. Additionally, many do not have the connections to find and secure capital from angel investors. A report by the African Development Bank estimated that the funding gap between men and women in Africa is approximately US$42bn, pointing to a significant untapped funding opportunity. Investing in women entrepreneurs could even yield higher returns. A global study found that businesses owned by women generate more revenue per dollar invested compared to those owned by men, making them potentially more lucrative investments.
‘Profiting from parity: Unlocking the potential of women’s businesses in Africa’, World Bank Group, 19 March 2019
‘How to empower women entrepreneurs to grow Africa’, World Economic Forum, 09 March 2020
‘The business case for investing in African women’, Women’s World Banking, 15 December 2020
‘Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) closes the Women’s Livelihood Bond 5’, IIX, 08 December 2022
‘The Orange Bond Principles: A new model for investing in women’, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, 15 December 2022