How Women’s Growing Financial Power is Unlocking Global Wealth

By Shelley Zalis

Alone a woman has power, but collectively women have impact: It’s a saying I’ve been coming back to in recent conversations about how women can unlock global wealth and bring economic empowerment to themselves and others. In fact, women’s wealth is growing, and there is a trend toward women wanting and taking control of their finances, according to UBS research.

To discuss this trend, I recently sat down with two social entrepreneurs from emerging markets, Ajaita Shah, CEO and founder of Frontier Markets, and Joanna Bichsel, CEO and founder of Kasha Global. We explored how women’s growing financial power is bringing positive social impact and sustainable growth to the global economy, why it’s so important for women to take financial decisions into their own hands and how to approach financial conversations with male investors.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Shelley Zalis: Ajaita and Joanna, please tell us about your businesses and what is happening in your countries that reflects the growing financial impact of women globally?

Joanna Bichsel: Kasha is a digital retail platform optimized for women’s health and self-care. We provide access for the mass market across east Africa and across emerging markets. Kasha started because we realized women are extremely intellectual consumers, but when we talk about women’s health, it’s often seen as a charity case. Women actually drive more than 80% of consumer purchases. Women are also the decision makers when it comes to the health of families. The business case is quite clear. It’s a huge opportunity.

Ajaita Shah: In India, it’s very similar. We have 800 million customers living in rural India, of which 51% are women. Women are the smartest salesforce you could possibly invest in because they are ultimately influencers, but they are also trust carriers. When given the right technology and tools, women collect the most incredible data that allows you to create deep insights that we can use for good and to create and design innovative solutions.

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That’s really what Frontier Markets has done: Over the last 10 years, we have evolved from being a non-tech, energy-only, non-gender-inclusive company to a social commerce platform with an all female salesforce, catering to a multitude of services from agriculture, to finance, to healthcare, to essential services, to climate that is all data driven. It’s all through 12,000 plus powerhouse women who helped a million of customers buy better solutions to address their life problems in a profitable way.

SZ: Let’s talk about male investors in female-led businesses. How can women entrepreneurs build the confidence to ask for capital?

JB: When I first started a company and raised capital, I wasn’t as comfortable. However, as the business grew and we grew more revenue and our margins were stronger than our competitors, I became more confident. You learn over time. As you grow your business, the important thing is having confidence in who you are, what you have built and what you do. Your confidence to ask for capital grows once you have the data, the traction and the growth to back it up.

AS: When you sit in front of investors, the confidence to understand “we are equals” is critical to dealing with the challenge of asking for money. I think the lack of confidence for women is that we only ask for “just enough,” rather than asking for a lot of capital. I always ask the investor what their thesis is, what they have to offer and what capital they can offer. But it’s beyond capital: it’s also the strategy, the partnership and the vision. We, as female entrepreneurs, represent some of the few companies that give both profit, growth, scale and incredible impact. Male investors are now realizing the strategy behind the gender inclusion element.

SZ: I love that, we are going to create a whole new gender-lens investment model. What can you tell us about investing in female-led businesses and how it’s growing and changing?

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AS: It’s shifting from “why do we do this” to “how do we do this.” It’s wonderful to see more and more funds asking for tools that will enable them to assess organizations and companies with a deeper lens. I think having funds like GenderSmart, 2X Collaborative and all the initiatives out there actually providing the tools is nice to see the shift from “should we put money behind women” to funds asking “how do we identify gender champions better.”

JB: When I started fundraising, about 99% of my investor calls were investors asking, “Why would you focus on women? Why would you not open it up to everyone?” They did not have the understanding that if you win the hearts and minds of women, you win the hearts and minds of the majority of the population and the market. There was a lot of education in the early days. Fast forward five and a half years, I think I answer that question for maybe 10% of new investor calls. I do not have to explain why we focus on women and where the opportunity is with women. It’s a given.

I’m also seeing more women being involved in the decision making of investment funds. There is clear understanding that women are a key opportunity in the market. Women are decision makers and leading investment funds like Five35 Ventures, Alitheia IDF out of Nigeria, Norrsken22, Beyond Capital Fund, I could go on and on. It’s a huge change — there’s no longer the mentality that women are a charity case but women are a huge business opportunity.

SZ: You nailed it. As more women are in leadership in Fortune 500 companies, we are moving past the return on investment (ROI) to the return on impact. My last question: What’s the secret sauce for getting the “yes,” or more specifically, how did you get the yes from male investors?

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AS: In the early days, it was really about focusing on the poverty story and the impact story. My mentality was to take as little as I needed because I had to prove something to the sector. Whereas today, I talk about market and scale opportunities and why it is a million dollar business. You are suddenly speaking a very different language. It’s a big shift. It shows you are capable of managing that type of money and taking it to scale, which has gotten VCs excited. VCs are finally seeing that women have a track record to back up their ability to take business to the next level.

JB: I think the wonderful thing about being an entrepreneur is personal growth — you have to improve yourself in many ways to grow your business. In order to get the yes, I think it’s about traction. A fraction of male founders make the kind of traction we are making. But I am learning and growing more confident because I know that when we say we will accomplish something, we do. When we think big and are aggressive, we will hit those numbers.



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