Building a translation function within INGOs to bridge the gap between gender and finance: Lessons learnt from a case study of WUSC’s Volunteer Cooperation Program
Gender lens investing is an approach that integrates a gender analysis into investment analysis and decision-making to better inform decisions and advance gender equality. However, gender experts and finance organizations often lack the capacity to integrate their analyses. This problem exists in traditional banks or microfinance institutions where women often still struggle to access appropriate financial services, and in the unequal structures of power in the broader structures of finance that shape the global economy. Translation work between finance and gender is essential to closing the analysis gap and making gender lens investing work effectively.
WUSC has been engaging in the growing field of gender lens investing for a number of years. In 2019, we conducted a mapping study of Gender Lens Investing in the Global South. We also recently launched our Accelerating Women Climate Entrepreneurs Project (AWCE), jointly implemented with our partners at the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Ande Network of Development Entrepreneurs.
As we have built our practice in this area, one of the key questions we’ve confronted is how we, as an NGO, can uniquely contribute to influencing systems of finance. In business, we ask ‘what assets do we have to deploy’ and ‘what resources and capabilities can we mobilize in support of change’? WUSC has built a global network of volunteers, drawing upon their skills, talents and energy. Our newest and largest initiative in this space is the IGNI+E Program. Over the next seven years, it will mobilize 1200 volunteers to strengthen the performance of over 70+ partner organizations to advance gender equality and economic empowerment for 1.2 million economically disadvantaged and marginalised youth.
For the past six months, WUSC has worked closely with the Criterion Institute, a leading think-tank on gender lens investment on a research project. Interviews were conducted with WUSC staff, volunteers, partners and peers to explore how volunteers and volunteer cooperation agencies can play a role in the translation between gender and finance.
Findings of this research project highlighted how volunteers are helping us to move the needle on gender lens investment. For example, a Sri Lankan national volunteer shared how she used her experience working at NGOs including WUSC and her knowledge of gender tools to inform her engagement with an emerging impact investment firm. However, the process of bridging gender and finance cannot be completed through a short number of one-off workshops. It requires time and commitment to develop local knowledge and build relationships with partner organizations and community members. In the case of our national volunteer, these were all key characteristics to becoming a good translator.
The final report points to a number of ways that WUSC can mobilize volunteers to support gender lens investment. The first and key takeaway is that many of the characteristics of individuals and organizations that make good translators are also the characteristics that make for good volunteers and volunteer cooperation agencies. These characteristics include flexibility and resilience; curiosity and a learning mindset; and a disposition towards crossing and blurring boundaries, among others. The key takeaway here is that volunteers are well placed to contribute to this important field.
Second, Criterion has offered a number of recommendations to WUSC and like-minded Volunteering for Development Agencies. These include the need to develop strategies to influence change, build partnerships, engage donor agencies, and identify how to best mobilize the talents of volunteers. Given the complex needs of translation, prioritizing longer term volunteers who can develop relationships and understand context, and identifying new and innovative mechanisms for hybrid volunteer placements, which may include staggered in-person and distanced-based e-volunteering, can bring in the skills of volunteers who may wish to stay engaged in their current employment.
The final recommendation, and one that resonates with those of us who work in volunteer cooperation, is to enable returned Canadian volunteers to use the knowledge and skills that they gain overseas to continue to advocate for change within financial systems when they come home.
The findings of the report and our emerging experience in IGNI+E and other programs indicates that volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism can do a lot to contribute to breaking down the boundaries between gender expertise and that of finance. Doing so can only help but contribute towards a world where financial systems support equality for all.
This report was produced by WUSC’s IGNI+E Program, which is funded by Global Affairs Canada’s Volunteer Cooperation Program.
By: Erin Bateman
Director, Volunteer Cooperation Program