Kelly Roberts-Robbins & Fran├žois Ritchot - Sep 07 2020
In Conversation: What is LGBTQI Lens Investing?

Across the globe, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) people face oppression and inequality. From the lack of protection of rights, dangers to life and physical safety, discrimination in the workplace, to criminalisation, lack of visibility and respect, and more, this community faces barriers at every turn.

The ability to access finance also plays a critical role in oppression, which means that there is also a role for capital in creating solutions for the LGBTQI community. While gender lens investing has long been a focus of impact investors, LGBTQI lens investing is a relatively new, but essential, concept, and one that builds and expands beyond the foundation of gender lens investing.

Kelly Roberts-Robbins, Palladium Associate Director, contributed to the research and creation of the Criterion Institute’s recent guide on Investing with an LGBTQI Lens: Rethinking Gender Analysis Across Investing Fields. According to the Criterion Institute, the guide “is an invitation to a range of individuals and institutions – including asset holders, asset managers, philanthropic funders, and gender lens investors – to think about how finance, as a system of power, can be engaged to address the marginalisation and oppression of LGBTQI people.”

Kelly discussed some of the findings of the guide and why it’s important for impact investors to consider with François Ritchot of Palladium's capital advisory team.

François Ritchot (FR): Is LGBTQI lens investing new? How and when did Palladium start working on LGBTQI lens investing?

Kelly Roberts- Robbins (KR): This is something that we as a company and I personally have been mulling over for the past couple years as a way to expand the social equity work that we do. The first step was to reach out to others in our impact investing communities to see what had already been done in terms of research or investments in LGBTQI businesses.

At the GenderSmart Summit, we met with a group of other investors and impact investing ecosystem players who were also thinking about LGBTQI issues in impact investing and out of that collaboration eventually came the idea for the research and guide that was recently published by Criterion, which helps investors think in a new way about how to be LGBTQI friendly in investments. So, while this came to us from our commitment to gender lens investing, we now see it as an opportunity for any investor committed to diversity and inclusion.

FR: It sounds like a lot of the thinking has evolved from gender lens investing and the report draws parallels with the gender lens investing field. We know that oppression of some gender identities and expressions harm LGBTQI communities. There are also inequalities that affect those with oppressed sexual orientations, for example, which is less obviously related to gender. Can you explain more about how gender lens investing and LGBTQI lens investing are related?

KR: As someone focused on gender lens investing myself, I do think the gender lens investing community should act on this issue. Gender lens investors are dedicated to justice of all kinds, including LGBTQI rights. So, there’s work for gender lens investors to do in thinking about ourselves, and our own history and how inclusive we have been in the past of those along the gender spectrum.

There are some parallels between LGBTQI lens investing and gender lens investing. However, marginalisation of different groups is – of course – different. For example, the lived experiences of oppression and lack of access to capital of a bisexual cis man will be very different from the experiences of a straight woman. We can’t assume that the way gender lens investors work today will translate directly to LGBTQI lens investing. Not to mention, it is problematic to lump all LGBTQI communities into one group. That acronym suggests one homogenous whole, where in reality there is a diversity of needs, experiences, and ways of identifying.

Sometimes investment innovations can work well across several marginalised groups. Of course, we have to think about when that isn’t true and make sure we are being as inclusive as possible and acknowledging that their lived experiences can be very different from each other.

That’s work that all inclusive investors need to do, whether they focus on gender lens investing or not.

FR: I understand that in preparing for the publication of the guide, the research team spoke with a lot of investors. How much appetite is there right now and how many investors are interested in adopting this LGBTQI lens to their investment strategy?

KR: I think that we’re living in a very exciting moment when LGBTQI rights and considerations are at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds and when social equity in general is getting a lot of attention in the impact investing world.

We are seeing some investors who are interested in doing LGBTQI lens investing and some investors who already have a significant track record in doing this work. We’re now at a time when there are examples of investors who are doing it well and doing it successfully, including in a financially successful way.

Palladium is dedicated to systemic change and that means taking time to increase our skills and knowledge in this area, as we’ve done by participating in this research. It also means leading our clients to think about these issues and working with our partners to think together about what we can do to drive more change. We believe access to finance and support of inclusive businesses can improve the lives of marginalised and vulnerable populations.

"It is problematic to lump all LGBTQI communities into one group."

FR: From my perspective working in this space, when you pitch to investors something that is new to them they will often ask ‘OK, but who else is doing it and can you give me concrete examples of similar strategies that have been adopted and were successful?’ Do you have an example you can share?

KR: One investor who has been leading the way in both research and applying an LGBTQI lens to their own portfolio is Trillium Asset Management, which uses a total portfolio activation approach. That’s a set of tested tools for aligning a multi-asset class portfolio with social and environmental impact goals. Trillium has led the way in using this approach for LGBTQI issues, in particular rethinking investment selection and network effects.

I would also like to draw attention to an investor who has been thinking about this in a really innovative way, including one that involves technical assistance for businesses, and that’s Dreilinden. They funded this guide and are walking-the-talk with their work in South Africa and Mexico. Dreilinden invests into companies and provides grant capital and advice to incubate businesses in their growth stage.

Of course, investors alone cannot create all the lasting change we need. There must be an ecosystem of actors, including accelerators and incubators to help businesses start and grow, chambers and alliances to share best practices, and other intermediaries to support the business and market growth. We believe there is a role for intermediaries like us, who structure and channel impact capital to companies that are making a difference, and that is why we are working on sharpening the LGBTQI investing lens.

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