“I discovered that the people in my GenderSmart circle are just like me, in one way or another. We’re all trying to make the world fair and equitable, just in different ways.” Bibi Gertrude Annoh Quarshie, Director of Operations, African Women’s Development Fund
Financial systems engage with and benefit men and women differently– particularly women of color. That’s why the GenderSmart community works to bring gender balance into finance, in terms of who makes investment decisions, and who gets investment.
Hoping to spark real and lasting global change, GenderSmart works to educate and network senior investment professionals, fostering innovation and collaboration in service of a more equitable world.
What began as a community of 300 investors four years ago has grown to 2,500 women and men across 50 countries, representing the climate crisis, education, health, and human rights. GenderSmart’s next chapter is an upcoming merger with 2x Collaborative: in January 2023, the two organizations will become 2X Global.
Fresh off their 2022 annual Summit, we caught up with co-founder Suzanne Biegel and Head of Programs Stella McKenna to learn how Circles has played a significant role in their community.
Can you share more about GenderSmart’s mission and values?
Suzanne: Our mission is convening people and connecting them together, to build relationships, increase their capacity for investing work, advance their practices and standards, and expand their imaginations.
GenderSmart is collaborative and values-driven. We try to be intentional with who’s in the room–they really need to have a mindset that is committed to this issue, thinking about not only their own organization and progress, but also advancing as a field.
Our team works very hard to create a safe space to connect as humans. We want people to feel like they have a place to commiserate, celebrate one another, and learn from each other–and also identify what’s not working. We work hard to think about where people are coming from and what the next step in their journey could be–to meet people where they are and push them a little bit further.
When so much of the world went virtual–is that when Circles came into the picture?
Suzanne: After Covid happened, we quickly learned how to flip to a virtual organization. I had experienced Circles as a participant as an Aspen Fellow, and brought it to the GenderSmart team because it’s an exciting approach and technology–I thought it could be a really important part of what we do.
For 2022, we planned three months of virtual programming consisting of formal sessions and expert hours, and we added the Circles component so people could connect in a different way and allow for more peer-to-peer sharing.
Stella: I was struck by how Suzanne described the impact of her Circles experience. We had all been online for 18 months at that point, and while people were getting creative on Zoom, Suzanne went through Circles and felt like it offered a next-level connection experience. In a world where people had lots of different virtual communities pulling them in, circles felt like an opportunity to really engage our community in a different way, and deepen those peer-to-peer connections.
Our hypothesis was that if we planned a content-heavy program and ran Circles alongside it so people connected with their peers, those elements would enrich one another, and people would increase their committment.
“It was a humbling experience because we shared challenges, difficulties and struggles, and everyone was honest about who they are and how they do their business.” Cecile Sevrain, Co-founder and Impact & Sustainability Warrior at TIIME – advisor, trainer and public speaker, France
How has Circles helped your community connect and grow?
Stella: We sorted members into groups based on their level of experience, and it really allowed for peer-to-peer connection. In the future, we’d like to try sorting the groups in different ways–thematically, geographically etc.
Suzanne: People just love the platform–how it makes them feel, the way more voices get heard. There’s just something about it that’s really special.
Stella: I think something that potentially connects a group of people virtually and also in person is amazing. We trained facilitators to run the circles, and I contacted them before our in-person Summit to let them know which members of their circles would be in attendance, so they could also connect in person.
When I spoke with GenderSmart members who went through Circles, the number one theme that stood out to me was that they felt like they weren’t alone. They really felt the connection was on a human level.
Stella: Yes. One of the standout moments of my year happened in a circle I facilitated. Someone who was a pretty active part of the GenderSmart community, and who I perceive as a well-connected person in the field, said “I’m very much still the gender nerd in the corner. In my organization, people either want something from me–because they’ve been told that they need to think about gender in their process–or they dismiss me as unimportant.”
Participating in circles was a chance for her to be around a table where she didn’t have to justify commitment to gender–everyone was already committed. It was a really good reminder to me that she still really needs that, even as someone who does this every day and is committed and making things happen.
“Sometimes at GenderSmart, we are peers but also competitors. In circles, those barriers come down” Luis Marquez, Director of Advisory Services / Gender Lens Investing, Maputo, Mozambique
I know you said your Summit was a huge success, and I’m so glad–the work you’re doing is so important, to me personally and the entire Circles team. What’s your vision for the future of your community?
Suzanne: First, we’re very much about building the capacity of the sector by connecting people with their peers. Second, we want to advance the standards and practices within the field. Third, to influence the broader market–and to get people seeing that this is just smart investing. We want to influence the financial system overall.
One important component are these communities of practice that are coming together. They will be fundamentally virtual, so using technology as a part of the solution is important. People really love to convene in person, but it’s not practical–we had people from 44 countries at the Summit.
Despite what’s going on in the economy and gender setbacks, at GenderSmart we’re very clear on what our role is in the world.
At Circles, we’re honored to connect and grow communities like GenderSmart. Learn more about the incredible work they’re doing in the world here.