Millions of women around the world marched last weekend in a show of solidarity. And they are finding other ways to support one another. In particular, more women are investing in businesses led by women. The latest example: the Women’s Capital Collaborative, a fund created by RSF Social Finance, announced investments totaling nearly $1 million in four women-led ventures.
RSF, a San Francisco-based nonprofit and impact investing pioneer, is part of a wave of investors stepping up to support women and minority entrepreneurs and close a gaping funding gap. Less than 5% of companies receiving venture capital in 2016 were led by women. Women also lag behind their male peers in the number and size of bank loans they receive.
Unlike venture capital firms and other conventional funding sources, RSF deploys a flexible mix of capital, including grants, loans, loan guarantees and investments, as well as a network of advisors, to meet the unique needs of entrepreneurs.
By Women, For Women
The Women’s Capital Collaborative was created in 2016 to support the diverse needs of women-run social enterprises. It supports U.S.-based ventures that are owned or led by women, and that serve or provide opportunity for women and girls around the world. The Collaborative is funded by the gifts of women donors; a lead donor kicked off the fund with a $1 million commitment, although the minimum donation is $1,000.
The women’s fund is one of five such collaboratives created by RSF, including themed funds focused on biodynamics, fair trade, soil health, and local food. They are called collaboratives because they actively engage donors in the investment process and create a supportive circle among the donors and entrepreneurs.
RSF previously granted $150,000 from the Women’s Capital Collaborative to women entrepreneurs participating in a Shared Gifting Circle. The new funding includes $906,000 in loans and two grants totaling $40,000 to the following four companies:
Akola is a nonprofit jewelry brand that provides training and livelihoods to women facing high barriers to employment in Dallas, TX and Uganda. Each piece of jewelry is handcrafted by one of the hundreds of women employed—and empowered—by Akola.
Brittany Merrill Underwood, who founded Akola in 2007, needed cash to fulfill orders pouring in from major retailers, including Neiman Marcus and the Home Shopping Network. But traditional financing options were either unavailable to a nonprofit or too expensive. The Collaborative stepped in with a $250,000 revolving line of credit at an affordable rate.
Akola’s mission is to have its entire supply chain—fabrication, assembly, shipping and office work—benefit women in need. In Dallas, it has provided $15-per-hour jobs for over 100 women who were living in poverty, including single mothers, formerly incarcerated women and survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. In Uganda, it has provided job training, professional development and living wages to about 550 women, benefiting entire communities.
Run by a mother-daughter team, New York-based Eu’Genia Shea is a high quality, ethically made shea butter brand. Eugenia Akuete launched the brand in 2015 as an extension to Naasakle International, which has supplied hundreds of tons of natural shea butter butter from their native Ghana to cosmetics producers and distributors since 2000. The company follows organic and fair trade principles and employs and empowers women throughout its supply chain. Eu’Genia Shea will use its $300,000 line of credit from the Collaborative to expand production capacity. Without this funding, the company would have faced making painful tradeoffs against its mission.
Eu’Genia Shea, now led by daughter Naa-Sakle Akuete, provides its pickers and processors in Ghana (pictured, top, courtesy of Eu’Genia) with benefits such as financial literacy training, savings programs and education funds. The company eventually hopes to move all its production to Africa to enhance the economic benefit to producers.
Kreyòl Essence makes hair and skin care products from100% natural Haitian black castor oil, known for promoting hair growth, and Haitian Moringa oil, prized for its moisturizing and brightening properties. Founder Yve-Car Momperousse believes that Haiti can benefit most from jobs, not aid. So her Miami-area company hires women farmers and producers to grow and make its products, providing valuable jobs in Haiti. In addition, Kreyòl has planted 100,000 castor trees, which help to regenerate degraded land, allowing farmers to intercrop food plants.
Thanks to brisk demand, including from newest retail partner Whole Foods, Kreyòl needs to expand production. The Collaborative is providing Kreyòl a $200,000 revolving line of credit that will provide working capital and enable the social enterprise to set up an additional production facility in Haiti. It’s also issuing a $20,000 technical assistance grant to help Kreyòl Essence support business growth through marketing.
Operating one of the only programs for girls focused on empowerment through the arts, Spotlight: Girls uses year-round camps and a multimedia platform to educate, inspire and activate girls and women to take center stage. Cofounded by Lynn Johnson and her wife, Alison Kenny, the California Benefit Corp and certified B Corp has trained more than 1,600 girls to date. Their signature Go Girls! Culture Code is a five-point social and emotional learning framework centered on the skills needed for girls to love themselves and each other so they can transform their own lives and confidently take on leadership and advocacy roles.
The Collaborative has approved a $156,000 loan as well as a $20,000 technical assistance grant that will help the Oakland, California–based social enterprise develop a franchising strategy and scale across the country.