Reducing gender-based violence has long been a focus of the social sector, but little thinking has been done about how these efforts intersect with business and finance.

Reducing gender-based violence has long been a focus of the social sector, but little thinking has been done about how these efforts intersect with business and finance.

Criterion Institute, a nonprofit think tank that works to expand the number of people who see themselves as able to affect financial systems to achieve social good, launched a program in 2017 focused on using finance to address gender-based violence. One of the tactics Criterion has employed is supporting companies that are having a positive impact on gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence is rooted in the power dynamics and imbalances that arise from assumptions about gender norms in any given circumstance — dynamics that are also influenced by factors such as race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Looking at how a given company impacts gender-based violence must take two forms: 1) analyzing how its policies, practices, and culture affect its own employees of different genders, races, etc., and 2) analyzing how the company’s business model and offerings may be addressing the incidences or root causes of gender-based violence in the outside world.

The importance of doing these analyses when creating or assessing a company has been highlighted by the spate of revelations in the past year about how various companies have been encouraging or covering up instances of gender-based violence. The consequences so far have varied, but the scrutiny is here to stay, and investors increasingly understand the risk that public revelations of violence can pose to a company’s bottom line. In short: assessing how companies deal with gender-based violence is non-negotiable for responsible investors.

Criterion’s most straightforward strategy for using finance to effect positive social change is to take capital away from companies that negatively impact the issue in question and direct capital toward companies that are having a positive effect. As part of Criterion’s broader work, the institute has identified a portfolio of more than 25 for-profit companies that are addressing gender-based violence.

The following five companies are diverse in terms of their goals as well as the ways in which they are having a positive influence. Gender-based violence is complex and rooted in a host of cultural, economic, and social factors; accordingly, these companies are tackling the issue at different levels. Some have developed business models that enable them to financially support nonprofits that provide services to survivors of violence; another is working to reshape cultural norms with alternative consumer entertainment; still another is publicly refusing to adopt practices within its own sector that protect perpetrators and further gender-based violence while also training survivors of violence to build careers.

Be sure to conduct your own due diligence before undertaking any investment; Criterion intends these cases to merely illustrate the possibilities: there are myriad ways companies can reduce the incidences of gender-based violence and myriad ways for consumers and investors to support them.


Fightback

Vikrant Pandey, Founder, Fightback

• Year founded: 2013

• Size: 8 full-time staff and 15 contractors

• Based in: Nepal

• Operates in: Nepal

Core business model

Fightback provides safety training to women and girls in Nepal to reduce the risk of sexual harassment and violence that is prevalent in schools, homes, public spaces, and communities. Its trainings incorporate mental, vocal, and physical strategies to give girls and women the ability to detect early warning signs of sexual violence, understand high-risk zones, and manage their own fear, among other things. Fightback has trained over 7,000 women and girls in Nepal, with 95 percent reporting an increase in confidence and skills. It conducts regular evaluations of its work to ensure its programs are increasing women and girls’ confidence and ability to defend themselves.

Impact on gender-based violence

Gender-based harassment and violence is prevalent in Nepal. Fightback’s programs approach the issue from multiple angles, not only teaching women and girls how to fight back physically but also to assert themselves in various situations. While Fightback provides trainings in all settings, such as classrooms and corporate workplaces, the company believes its most effective programming is focused on populations most vulnerable to violence: for example, adolescent girls in Nepal who are not accustomed to asserting themselves using their voice, body language, or physical power, as well as programs for visually impaired people. It also runs trainings for teachers, parents, and boys that aim to shift social norms away from victim-blaming.


Level Forward Inc.

Adrienne Becker, CEO and Co-founder, Level Forward

• Year founded: Predecessor companies founded in 2007 (Fork Films) and 2014 (Killer Content), merged and incorporated as Level Forward in 2018

• Size: 12 employees

• Based in: New York, New York and Los Angeles, California

• Operates in: the United States

Rachel Gould, Co-founder and Head of Business Affairs, Level Forward

Core business model
Level Forward works on film, TV, live entertainment, and innovative tech platforms that level the playing field for women in the industry and help consumers make socially conscious decisions about the media they consume.

Angie Wang, Co-founder, Level Forward

Impact on gender-based violence

Level Forward was born out of an effort to disrupt the pervasive culture of sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse of power in the entertainment industry. The company works closely with a network of foundations, NGOs, and community groups focused on gender-based violence, engaging them in the production of storytelling so they are influencing the cultural currency coming out of Hollywood. For example, Level Forward asks partners to read and comment on scripts and to provide issue-based training to casts and crews. The partners benefit through having a model of financial participation via fees built into production budgets and profit participation so that they can sustain programs that support survivors and prevent abuse.

Abigail Disney, Co-founder and Chair, Level Forward

Level Forward builds campaigns that tackle rape culture, bystander behavior, and issues of consent as well as lift survivor stories. For example, the company created a multimedia impact portfolio of properties called “Believe In This” (BIT), which delivers powerful stories dealing with survivors and the transformations of diverse women. The BIT portfolio includes the musical “Jagged Little Pill,” the female-focused short film series “Shatterbox” from Refinery29, and the “#MeToo” documentary. Additionally, Level Forward has made investments in services such as Rotten Apples, which not only analyzes films and TV shows that have been tainted by gender-based violence but also provides a path to restoration through fan engagement in positive social actions.


Relevée

Relevée was founded by Meredith Lockwood and Sarah Symons (not pictured)

• Year founded: 2015

• Size: Female-led executive team of 4 and 18 full-time female jewelers

• Based in: New York, London, Amsterdam, Jaipur, and Kolkata; training academies in India and Thailand

•Operates: Globally

Core business model

Relevée is a jewelry company with an innovative social mission: to economically empower women who have survived hardship or abuse by providing a pathway to a career as a jewelry designer. Relevée also sources only ethical metals and precious stones, such as Kimberley-certified diamonds and recycled gold. The company partners with the international nonprofit Her Future Coalition to provide women with career opportunities through its jewelry-training academy. Upon graduation, they join the Relevée studio as master goldsmiths.

Impact on gender-based violence

Relevée’s work addresses the problem of gender-based violence in two critical ways. Most obviously, it provides women who have experienced abuse and other forms of hardship with the skills for a sustainable career. It runs two-year jewelry academies in India and Thailand, and once women graduate, the company hires them as designers at the Relevée studio, providing them with salaries that enable them to live independent lives. This profession is typically male in graduates’ regions, so in addition to changing their own trajectories, these women are changing norms within their own communities.

Relevée is also changing the norms on gender-based violence by eschewing common practices in the jewelry sector that see large companies taking advantage of unethical labor practices, including slavery, and sourcing materials whose supply chains are murky or rife with abuses.


CNote

From left: Co-founders
Yuliya Tarasava and Cat Berman

• Year founded: 2016

• Size: 10 employees

• Based in: Oakland, California

• Operates in: the United States

Core business model

CNote creates competitive financial products embedded with positive social impact. The company was founded by two women, Yuliya Tarasava and Cat Berman, who after decades in finance, wanted to create a product that would mitigate the  wealth gap in less-affluent communities. Based on the belief that consumers should not have to choose between their financial security and their values, CNote creates financial products that earn a competitive return while putting that money to work to create safer, stronger, more inclusive communities across the United States. Every dollar invested in a CNote product is invested in things like affordable housing, schools in low-income communities, and minority-led businesses.

An example of CNote’s offerings is its web platform,
mycnote.com, where consumers can put extra cash to work and earn a competitive return with no fees and no minimum. One hundred percent of that cash is invested in underserved communities.

Impact on gender-based violence

Financial insecurity is the number one reason women and men stay in abusive relationships and environments. CNote is working to address that in two ways. First, it aims to drive more capital to financially underserved communities so that female entrepreneurs have greater opportunity to gain financial independence. Second, it is developing a new anonymous emergency fund for victims of domestic violence, abuse, and harassment to empower them to get out of abusive situations safely and with a host of support services so they can start a new chapter. CNote is co-creating this product with nonprofit organizations across the country that have expertise in the patterns and causes of gender-based violence to enable the product to be as targeted, accessible, and successful as possible.


AS ShesGotThis

Isabelle Ringnes, Co-founder, AS ShesGotThis [Photo by Kristoffer Myhre]

• Year founded: 2018

• Size: 4 founders and 2 full-time staff

• Based in: Norway

• Operates in: Oslo and Stockholm, hoping to scale globally within a short period

Marie Louise Sunde
Co-founder, AS ShesGotThis [Photo by Kristoffer Myhre]

Core business model

AS ShesGotThis is a nonprofit that aims to mitigate the influence of unconscious bias and gender stereotypes on institutionalized gender discrimination. AS ShesGotThis is building software that will help companies ensure gender balance and equity. Using the tool, companies can record data from research-based indicators that measure gender equality, which includes information on turnover, pay, recruitment, and more. The tool will then provide the companies with an overview of how gender-equal they are, highlighting problem areas and suggesting solutions on how to solve problems based on the best available research.

    Many companies recognize that increasing their gender balance is both the smart and right thing to do, but struggle with how to do it. Little research exists on validated measures for improving gender equality, and what does exist is difficult to translate for the purposes of the business community. And there are no user-friendly tools to measure gender equality sufficiently.

Impact on gender-based violence

By addressing unconscious gender bias, AS ShesGotThis is targeting deep-seated ways of thinking and behaving that lead to issues like workplace harassment, inequity, and violence. The company’s two founders, Isabelle Ringnes and Marie Louise Sunde, have deep experience with workplace inequities in the tech and medical sectors. By creating a tech tool that levels the playing field, they are aiming to mitigate biased decisions in workplaces, resulting in less harassment and more equal opportunities for all genders.

Joy Anderson

Joy Anderson is the founder and president of Criterion Institute and a prominent leader at the intersection of business and social change. Her leadership and expertise have been at the forefront of the development of the social capital markets over the last 12 years, including her work helping to found the field of gender lens investing.

Tia Subramanian

Tia Subramanian is the director of Criterion Institute’s program to combat gender-based violence. She has years of experience in philanthropic strategy, impact investing, and a range of gender equity initiatives, including supporting the design of innovative investment vehicles aimed at achieving social change.
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