Impact Entrepreneur Experience One Woman Story as Example to Increase Awareness

As the impact investing activities emerge more and more in Indonesia, let’s take a look at the reflection on how it works and how it can be better, including utilising pressing points of how gender lens awareness is being advocated in the country.

Editorial: INTRA


Budding Woman Entrepreneur Journey: I Wish I Networked More

Graduating MBA in 2013, I certainly felt like on the top of the world. Confident and eager, I feel like representing the generation that everyone was talking about at the time: the millennials, the one who will change the game. The world was standing at the end of the subprime mortgage crisis tunnel. Optimism everywhere: Startups booming, Silicon Valley flourished, Mumbai rising, UK social entrepreneurship trending. The nerds were IN (I was never in the cheerleader squad stereotype, so it felt sooo good) and I am ready to jump my way into the exciting career adventure of the tech-enabled startup world. 

With all the school and experiences from abroad, my middle class mind went back to Indonesia with this spirit. 

As many other fresh grads, I got into testing the knowledge I got in university immediately. I bootstrapped some capitals doing whatever gigs I could do, met some old friends, then set up my first startup venture: an online based cosmetic and beauty shop catered to a niche market. Co-founding it with my two other mates. I remember those nights we spied on our competitors: then Sociolla (way smaller back then) and some others.

We managed to get two early stage investors, who both are now actively investing. The 3 years journey ended when the startup was sold to a bigger company and now dissolved. We had a good run, nice growth. But the dissolution was not scaling up. We made good money from our shares sold, sure, but the reason was not as glitzy. One of my co-founder of the company needed to leave Jakarta, inherited one of her fathers’ big manufacturing companies in Semarang, and left her as sole potential CEO for her family business. I did not want to go on growing the startup alone, especially considering my personal role at the time, as a new mom of a 2 years old, where meeting some investors / vendors meant I needed to prepare a specific time for my daughter. A partner also meant I get to discuss any strategic moves together, especially when dealing with investors, or to exercise some business development to build our cosmetics and wellness brand together. The co-founders meant to stick together!

Reminiscing that, I wish I knew the ecosystem. I wish I met, let’s say, people in ANGIN, who was starting the first Women Fund in Indonesia at the time. Or I wish I allocated more of my time to network more. And in my case at the time, my existing investors were not coming from the sector, thus the mentorship in terms of business development and network were lacking. I wish I could hang out more in coworking spaces (WeWork has not arrived in Indonesia yet) to meet fellow founders and investors, to widen my horizon. I would get more input, especially related to my understanding on startup fundraising (including gender lens). Instead, I hung with my familiar circles: MBA graduates who work in corporations, BCGs fellows, World Bank consultants, non-Jakarta humanitarian workers. 

Fast forward to today, knowing more and being the part of the investor side in the ecosystem makes me think. As a female founder, landing on the investing side makes me realize the importance of awareness, knowledge and network access, alongside the capital itself. 

Based on this, I would like to put an example of one of the impact investment themes that is trending in Indonesia: gender lens investing. 

Context, Common Goals, and Impact Measurement 

If we zoom out, the year 2020 marks an important milestone year for women’s health and gender equality.  There were International Women’s Day (IWD) meetings in Mexico and Paris, planned to reorient and re-galvanize global commitments in women’s rights and gender equality amidst public health concerns after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  It was agreed that the crisis situations intensify gender inequality. In Indonesia, work from home instructions are strongly advised by the government. Since women tend to take primary responsibility for child care relative to their male partners, the increased need for child care by parents related to school closures will likely affect women disproportionately, meaning that they, more than their male partners, will stay at home where they would find it difficult to work; especially with young children who need constant attention. 

Thus, Indonesia government through the Ministry of Cooperative and SME’s Strategic Plan 2020-2024 actually endorses SMEs as one way out to boost the economy post pandemic. The boosts are a clear direction that the government will focus on developing and empowering SMEs, including the ones we see through a gender lens (women in leadership, products impacting women, women in value chain). 

The question is, how does this national agenda goal affect the actual impact investors, who are aiming to invest in SMEs using gender lens as their thesis? I take the case of what actual investors are doing: Virginia Tan’s Teja Ventures fund, one of the active investors using gender lens in Indonesia in the past 5 years, with her strong track record and various efforts such as She Loves Tech and her 10 million USD fund (read it here). How does the national agenda synergize and empower investors (Beacon Fund, Patamar) to achieve the common goal of empowering SMEs? As the impact measurement post investment thesis (impact maintenance) seems to become a non-strict one if it’s about the gender lens investment.

Past three years ANGIN has been invited by the national government to talk more about the impact investment (including gender lens) and what it actually means. We do see that there is an interest from the regulator side to understand more: this startup-investing-unicorn-impact investment business. Though in some of the meetings we did see some misconceptions, such as integrating impact investment as CSRs, infrastructure development, women micro-loans, or charity.

Seeing Investing from a gender perspective. Gender lenses: Not a Static Term

As a definition itself, gender lenses grow over the years. In Indonesia, it was started as the investment thesis looking at women entrepreneurs. GIIN with its gender lens initiative this year redefine the definition of gender lens as investing with the intent to address gender issues or promote gender equity, including by:

  • Investing in women-owned or women-led enterprises
  • Investing in enterprises that promote workplace equity (in staffing, management, boardroom representation, and along their supply chains); or
  • Investing in enterprises that offer products or services that substantially improve the lives of women and girls

And/or investing with the following approaches to inform investment decisions:

  • a process that focuses on gender, from pre-investment activities (e.g., sourcing and due diligence) to post-deal monitoring (e.g., strategic advisory and exiting); or
  • a strategy that examines, with respect to the investee enterprises:
    1. Their vision or mission to address gender issues
    2. Their organizational structure, culture, internal policies, and workplace environment;
    3. Their use of data and metrics for the gender-equitable management of performance and to incentivize behavioral change and accountability; and
    4. How their financial and human resources signify overall commitment to gender equality.

If we see the definition years ago, where the focus was the gender of the entrepreneur, or to the product (impacting women), we can see how the gender lens in investing is subjective, and keeps on improving and adapting itself to the needs of both investors and investees in each context. 

Collective Effort, Support Group to further advance market in Indonesia

Indonesia is becoming more and more exposed to gender effort. Country’s gender based statistical data has been enforced by Indonesia’s commitment to SDGs, championed and implemented by the Ministry of Women Empowerment and the National Statistic Bureau. The World Health Statistics has presented a more comprehensive sex-disaggregated data across different programmatic areas. Indonesia is also keeping the data publications consistently to a sub-national level, though limited. This sex disaggregated data will help countries understand the gender dynamics of the disease and develop suitable policies. The further question is, how does this translate to the impact vision, how will these efforts help the advancement of gender lens in investing?

“The challenge of gender lens investing writ large is that too many family offices are financing in ‘two pockets.’ In the first, they invest to make a lot of money, and in the second they give to a charitable organisation. They see women as beneficiaries, not as business owners who could be profitable.” – Kaylene Alvarez, BIDUK stated this.

Several gender lens investors and gender lens advocates have actively raised awareness in regards to gender lens investing activities in Indonesia. SEAF data by Value 4 Women on gender lens for instance, stating the numbers representing Southeast Asia as a region, has a deep dive on Indonesia gender lens investing numbers. She Loves Tech, the global startup competition with gender lens is also consistently placing Indonesia rounds annually, in search of tech-utilising startups with gender lens. UN Women Indonesia was also publishing a spotlight publication through ANGIN, showcasing gender lens practitioners in Indonesia last year.

Whilst investing in women enterprises is a business exercise, not a pure philanthropic effort. Mason Tan stated this. “Investing in women’s enterprises is not a philanthropic activity. Investors should realize the scalability and sustainability of these enterprises.”.

These efforts create opportunities to further advance gender lens investing practice in Indonesia. One way is to connect the context between foreign based gender lens support groups (such as the ones that DFI and philanthropy funded), with Indonesia’s local stakeholders. The attempt can start by developing a measure set tailored to Indonesia context. This is aligned with what SEAF reported: that a creative way to close the gender gap in Indonesia is needed, and gender lens investing is one way to do it. SEAF made the case by its Women Opportunity Fund case of investment to Beau, a women-led bakery in Jakarta. 

The case, though, may not be too ‘creative’ and might even be considered in the play-it-safe zone. Investing in a trailblazer women entrepreneur Beau (foreign educated, able to speak english), in the creme-de-la-creme region of Jakarta, might not be enough for hundreds of enterprises throughout Indonesia that can be seen if gender lens utilised contextually. 

Source: ANGIN Report The Voice of Entrepreneurs: Impact Investment Reality in Indonesia
The Trailblazers are the ones whose business models are innovative, translated as tech-enabled, the growth are aggressive, the impact scale are focusing on reach, its progress is already matured, the sectors are hot, proficient in communicating to investors and market, have financial literacy, are exposed, and located in Jakarta.
The misfits are the one whose enterprises has an offline business model is less innovative, translated as offline, the growth path are conservative, the impact scale is focusing on depth (for instance, focusing on certain beneficiaries in certain site and marketed in limited locations), are early stage progress-wise, unable to communicate with investor and market clearly, have relatively low financial literacy to be investable, are unexposed and have their company located outside Jakarta.
The in-betweens are the ones whose investability aspects may be reaching to the Trailblazers while some other aspects are closer to The misfits.

To advance the space, the DFIs and donor funded advocates might need to see beyond Jakarta, beyond the trailblazers entrepreneurs. There are opportunities to see how the sub-national potential investees are, and who are actually investing using the gender lens (and other impact lenses), Including understanding what their challenges are and how they can be empowered in the country. 


1 ANGIN did some report on The Voice of Entrepreneurs: Impact Investment Reality in Indonesia which showcase entrepreneurs’ perception on the investors and can be accessed here