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Women’s participation in green, caring economies holds key to empowerment - AVPN CEO

Women’s participation in green, caring economies holds key to empowerment - AVPN CEO
30 Mar 2024 09:46

Mays Ibrahim (ABU DHABI)

The current landscape in the region is witnessing a noticeable surge in government and private sector initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability, empowering women entrepreneurs, and addressing gender disparities through education, training, and investment in sectors, and at times, companies led by women, according to Naina Subberwal Batra, CEO of AVPN, the largest network of social investors in Asia.

 

In an exclusive interview with Aletihad, Batra delved into the current landscape of gender-responsive financing, emphasising persistent challenges and promising strides in empowering women economically and socially. Batra underscored the transformative potential of collaboration and the crucial role of green and caring economies in sustainable development and women’s empowerment. 
The AVPN Global Conference 2024 is on the horizon, set to convene in Abu Dhabi in April, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Court for Development and Fallen Heroes’ Affairs, and Chairman of the International Humanitarian and Philanthropic Council.


To be held from April 23 to 25 under the theme “One Asia, One Future”, the three-day event will bring together over 1,500 global social investment leaders to discuss mobilising capital for social impact. Batra highlighted its significance as a platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and action to address pressing social and environmental challenges.


Current Landscape of Gender-responsive Financing 


Batra discussed the persistent challenges encountered in gender-responsive financing, highlighting certain socio-cultural factors that impede women’s progress in the region. She cited the findings of the Women and Investing in MENA report, which revealed that there remains a gap in investment literacy among women, particularly in the MENA region, despite the implementation of policies aimed at fostering inclusivity.


The report showed that approximately 38% of women in the region perceive their investment knowledge to be at a medium level, while only 7.5% consider it to be high. Additionally, more than 62% of those surveyed expressed a desire to become more actively involved in investing decisions.
Batra noted that addressing these challenges can play a pivotal role in bridging the gender gap. She emphasised the transformative potential of collaboration, which enables the utilisation of diverse skills and perspectives to drive meaningful change in socio-cultural norms. By engaging various stakeholders, Batra believes it is possible to cultivate a supportive environment conducive to the empowerment of women and girls across communities.


Empowering Women in Green and Caring Economies


Batra discussed the vital role of green and caring economies in sustainable development and women’s empowerment.


She said: “Green economies promote sustainability by reducing environmental impact. They conserve resources and they foster eco-friendly practices. Caring economies emphasise social wellbeing, including healthcare, education, and support systems for vulnerable populations. Women’s participation in both green and caring economies can lead to empowerment through financial independence, through skill development and through the promotion of leadership opportunities.”
Promising Strides in the UAEIn the UAE, a tangible commitment to sustainability, especially post-COP28, is evidenced with robust policy backing and widespread awareness across government and business sectors. There’s also a palpable interest in gender empowerment, exemplified by the country’s decision to host platforms like AVPN Global Conference 2024, Batra said.


Notably, the UAE has made substantial strides in enhancing female workforce participation through government-led initiatives and policies, she added, citing as an example a 2021 decision by the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (ESCA), requiring all listed companies in the UAE to have at least one woman on their board.


Utilising the Continuum of Capital to Address Gender DisparitiesBatra highlighted ways through which the continuum of capital can effectively tackle gender disparities, ultimately accelerating global progress to empower women economically and socially. 


She explained that the continuum of capital encompasses a range of financial resources tailored to meet specific investment needs. This includes philanthropy, loans, equity investments, or a combination thereof, to support diverse initiatives. For instance, philanthropic grants can provide essential support to nascent startups led by women, enabling them to build their capacity before becoming attractive to investors.


In cases where banks hesitate to extend loans to new businesses, grants offering guarantees, for instance, can mitigate the perceived risk for lenders, added Batra, noting that utilising different financial instruments along this continuum proves invaluable in scaling companies and startups dedicated to advancing women’s economic empowerment.


Strategies for Supportive 


EcosystemsThe CEO of AVPN outlined crucial strategies for creating supportive ecosystems and networks for women changemakers, including establishing mentorship programmes that pair seasoned women leaders with emerging changemakers. This type of initiative offers invaluable guidance, advice, and networking opportunities for newcomers entering the workforce, she said. 
Batra further highlighted the Asia Gender Network, a pioneering initiative by AVPN, uniting women philanthropists and business leaders to drive positive change for women and girls across the region. She said: “This is the first pan-Asia network that looks at moving capital to causes that actually empower women and girls across the region.” According to Batra, three women from the UAE are joining this platform. 


She also emphasised the importance of supportive policies and initiatives to create an enabling environment for women changemakers to thrive and encourage more women to join the workforce. Batra particularly underscored the need for policy interventions to provide support for caregiving responsibilities, citing the disproportionate burden on women in childcare and eldercare roles.


AVPN’s Vision for Gender 


Lens InvestingBatra outlined AVPN’s vision for gender lens investing, emphasising education and awareness building as top priorities. She highlighted the importance of considering women and girls in investment decisions, noting that they represent 50% of the population and play a crucial role in product development and marketing. 


AVPN aims to mainstream gender lens investing by integrating it into all aspects of philanthropy and investment, according to Batra. She noted that this leading social investor network mobilises capital towards women-led ventures by supporting women entrepreneurs and facilitating knowledge-sharing through events like their upcoming conference in Abu Dhabi. 


Batra also stressed that efforts to scale gender-responsive investments require education, networks, clear metrics, and collaboration with governments to strengthen policy frameworks.


Bridging Knowledge Gaps in the MENA RegionBatra proposed multifaceted strategies to navigate the transition to a green and caring society, ensuring women’s full participation in economic opportunities, particularly in regions like the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). 


She suggested integrating financial education, such as investing courses, into university and school curricula to empower women with the knowledge needed for financial decision-making. She also emphasised the importance of instilling sustainable practices from the school level to foster a generation conscious of environmental responsibility. 


Mentorship and networking platforms also play an integral role in sharing knowledge and facilitating discussions to empower women, said Batra. She further stressed the need for collaboration among various organisations, including government, international nonprofits, and companies, to develop integrated policies and funding mechanisms that empower women and girls in transitioning towards a greener and more caring society.


With Asia poised for significant growth, Batra highlighted the importance of collective action and engagement from leaders worldwide to drive positive change, underscoring the significance of the upcoming AVPN Global Conference 2024 in Abu Dhabi as a platform for advancing women’s economic empowerment.

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