Women of Impact Investing Championing Change

Gayle Peterson, Associate Fellow, Programme Director Oxford Impact Investing and Social Finance

Saïd Business School
5 min readMar 24, 2021

In the year since the pandemic began we have seen that, like other crises, Covid-19 is not gender-neutral.

Globally, women have been hit hard by the pandemic. There are several reasons: women tend to earn less, have fewer savings and are disproportionately represented in the informal economy. They have less access to social protections and are more burdened with unpaid care and domestic work, often forcing them to drop out of the labor force. Women make up the majority of single-parent households.

By the numbers: In 2021, the pandemic will push an estimated 47 million women and girls into poverty, bringing the total number of women and girls living on US$1.90 or less to 435 million globally.

Violence against women in also on the rise, as are child brides. An estimated 11 million additional girls may leave school by the end of COVID crisis, and evidence shows many will never return.

Women remain at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities. Globally, 70 percent of health workers and first responders are women. Moreover, at 28 percent, the gender pay gap in the health sector is higher than the overall gender pay gap (16 percent).

McKinsey confirms that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable during the pandemic than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 per cent of global employment but account for 54 per cent of overall job losses. Without action to stop this trend, this gender-regressive scenario could lower GDP globally by an estimated $1 trillion in 2030. Conversely, taking action now to advance gender equality could add as much as $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

A Call to Action and Leadership

This March, the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, focused on women’s leadership as it gathered to discuss gender equality and women’s empowerment. Skillful women leaders are redefining value and success; creating a big, bold compelling vision; and sharing power and credit. They are building strong communities within and beyond the walls of their organizations and fearlessly tackling the systemic causes stopping the empowerment of women and girls.

Without new action and leadership to face the unprecedented challenges of our time, UN Women believes it will take 130 years to reach gender equality in the highest positions of power.

Celebrate Women of Impact

At this important crossroads and nexus of need and skill, we celebrate the women of our Impact Portfolio — faculty and alums — who can help fill the leadership void. These are women who, in the words of poet and advocate Audre Lorde, “Are deliberate and afraid of nothing.” They are fearless at tackling the most intractable, wickedly difficult challenges our world faces. These issues are embodied by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and call out the issues that face women and girls most profoundly — climate change, gender inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of access to education and peace and justice.

Hope for the Future: Women Leaders in Impact Finance

We highlight just a few of the leaders we admire among our alums and our faculty (and offer case content to illustrate their efforts).

Phyllis Costanza and Safeena Husain, Phyllis leads UBS and Society and is CEO UBS and Society and UBS Optimus Foundation and Safeena Husain is CEO Educate Girl — Educate Girls Development Impact Bond are pushing the envelope on ambitiously using social finance to advance the needs of women and children.

Fay Twersky, President at Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation — The Power of Feedback: Solving Wicked Problems through Listening and Learning. Fay is an advocate for creating feedback loops with communities being served by philanthropists and impact investors to measure impact and ensure positive change.

Ellen Dorsey, CEO Wallace Global Fund — Investing in Climate Action and Clean Energy Access: Views through a Gender Lens. Ellen supports divestment in fossil fuels while investing in low carbon alternatives using a gender lens.

Jenn Pryce, CEO Calvert Impact Capital. Jenn has been teaching on OIIP for more than five years. She grounds our students in best practice in impact investing, including Gender Lens investing.

Hope from highlights of OIIP alumnae:

Tapping Finance to End Climate Change. Shuen Chan, after OIIP, Shuen became deeply concerned about climate change and putting her years of asset management and capital markets to work. She launched Sustineri, a purpose driven boutique advisory to advance low-carbon and sustainable futures. Today she heads ESG, Real Assets for LGIM (Legal & General Investment Management) which manages £1.3 trillion in assets.

Supporting Women Entrepreneurs to Help Tackle Corruption. Sombo Chunda a native from Zambia and certified accountant, chose a path of activism and academia following OIIP. She has won the American Society for Public Administration’s international young scholar award and the Mandela Washington Fellowship. She is currently getting her Ph.D. at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University where she is writing about ways to support women entrepreneurs tackling corruption in Africa.

Banking the Unbanked: Helping Migrant Women Gain Financial Security. Padmini Gupta ambitiously started two organizations since attending OIIP. rise offers financial services to migrants, particularly unserved women. Recognizing an enormous gap in banking for 250 million migrants. rise is bringing essential financial services from a migrant’s home country and host country on one platform. In 2020, Padmini launched Xare an app allows users to share access to their debit or credit cards to trusted family or friends.

Blending Public-Private Partnership to Help Women Succeed. Sujata Lamba is Director, Finance & Private Sector, Competitive Value Chain, The World Bank managing a $2B portfolio. Over 30 years, Sujata has worked in 45 countries including Chad, Peru, India, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Turkey. She takes a systems approach, as she supports women entrepreneurs during post conflict and business development. Sujata has also been a guest faculty member sharing her experiences with OIIP students.

Building Capacity. Monique Aiken is Managing Director of The Investment Integration Project, which helps investors understand how healthy environmental, social, and financial systems support long-term sustainable investing. She describes her busy schedule raising a two-year old and working as, “There is no rest for the wicked.” (We think she is referring to the Wicked Problems we discuss in class.) Monique also hosts a podcast with Impact Alpha called The Reconstruction; serves on the nonprofit boards to support women founders and builds capacity of nonprofits and social enterprises.

We applaud our women leaders in our community working hard to improve the lives of women and girls through creative capital with purpose. We are fortunate that the Impact Portfolio is evenly split on gender — often the scales are tipped and we have a majority of women attending.

We look forward to greeting our new class of inspiring leaders in April 2021.

List of sources:

  • UN Women, Women leaders we admire, March 2020 https://un-women.medium.com/women-leaders-we-admire-46ee179ec4ca
  • Azcona, Ginette, From Insights to Action, Gender Equality in the Wake of Covid-19, UN Women 2020
  • UN Women, COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers, Sept 2020
  • Magdavkar, Anu, COVID-19 and gender equality: countering the regressive effects. McKinsey & Company, July 2020



Saïd Business School

At Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, we create business leaders who lead with purpose.