Beyond targets: the Catalyst Fund’s multipronged approach to empowering women for climate resilience

Women have lower access to resources and information. This makes it more challenging for them to prepare for, navigate, and rebound from the impacts of climate change as both workers and caregivers. For example, most women in Africa are employed in agriculture, a sector that is quickly losing productivity due to drought, erratic rainfall, pests, and higher temperatures. During periods of drought or erratic rainfall, women must work harder to secure income for their families, and must also work harder to secure energy and water for their households. 

To ensure we bring a gender lens to investment, Catalyst Fund uses our AAA framework when selecting our portfolio companies. The acronym stands for Affordable, Accessible, and Appropriate. The second 'A' for 'Accessible' ensures that climate solutions reach even the most remote or underserved areas, reaching women and individuals who might not typically access resources and opportunities through traditional marketplaces.

As a result, our investment strategy revolves around prioritizing business solutions that place a strong emphasis on the end-users. We are particularly enthusiastic about collaborating with tech companies dedicated to building climate resilience while actively involving women as essential end-users. Our portfolio companies work in various sectors, including agriculture, waste management, water management, land restoration, insurance. To date, Catalyst Accelerator companies have reached over 46 million vulnerable users and going forward, Catalyst Fund aims to benefit an additional 25 million users via a diverse set of climate resilience startups. 

For example,  one of our portfolio companies, Farm to Feed, founded by Claire Van Enk, helps farmers increase their income by providing a ready market for their second-grade produce that would otherwise be discarded. This reduces food wastage, mitigates CO2 emissions, and boosts farmers' income. Farm to Feed currently serves over 5,000 farmers, nearly half of them women. 

We have also invested in Bekia, which enables users (both companies and households) to monetize their waste while ensuring safe and environmentally responsible disposal. Remarkably, 95% of their 75,000 users are women.

“Our platform targets women, because in Egypt they are the ones who are normally responsible for waste disposal in their homes, therefore they are able to play a key role in tackling the challenges that lack of proper waste management can do to the environment” - Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia

Our investment goes beyond providing startups with capital to actively participating in hands-on venture building, allowing us to put our gender values to work in practice. This means we go beyond coaching and mentoring. Our team of experts actually comes in to support founders to find solutions to challenges preventing their businesses from scaling. Our team also collaborates with our portfolio companies to embed a gender lens in their product development to serve women better. Including other gender-focused strategies such as gender disaggregated data analysis, which enables us to provide guidance to startups on how to enhance product market fit, particularly for women and girls. Consequently, companies can make informed decisions on whether to adjust their messaging or redesign their products. 

To invest in solutions that benefit women, we invest in women founders since they are more likely to address social needs. Although women founders will be critical to addressing the climate crisis, women founders receive less than 7% of investment capital in Africa. In the past eight months, we've reviewed more than 2,000 pitch decks and so far, have invested in 16 companies, 35% of them run by women.

“Women-run startup companies find it hard to access funding. So, women lose even before they get anywhere. We have a mandate that 40 percent of our portfolio has to be female-founded or co-founded so that we increase the capital flow towards women-run companies” - Karen Serem Waithaka, Chief Investment Officer at the Catalyst Fund

Evidence shows that just as women founders create solutions for women, women investors support women founders: in fact, women investors support women founders at nearly twice the rate as men. Karen adds, “One way to tackle this problem is by having women-led funds with women in senior leadership positions who influence how much capital goes to female-founded startups.” Women make up the majority of the leadership team at Catalyst Fund: Our Managing Partner, Chief Investment Officer, Head of Impact and ESG,  Head of Strategy and Operations, and Head of Marketing Communications, are all women. It's worth noting that, despite the fact that women asset managers outperform their male counterparts, women still represent only 12% of fund managers, and they often face challenges in fundraising. 

In all, we believe that women play a crucial role in building climate resilience around the world. Climate change disproportionately affects women, particularly those in developing countries, which experience the brunt of climate change impacts. However, women are also key actors in building solutions and adaptive capacity, and therefore need to be empowered with the necessary resources to lead climate resilience and adaptation efforts. 

This post was written with contributions and support from Wairimu Gitahi and Maria Puch.

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