Soundbites: Gender as a Screen for Public Equities

Toni Johnson joins Nia Global Solutions’ Kristin Hull to discuss their use of gender lens investing and trends in the impact investing space.

niaglobalsolutions

This is Toni Johnson with Heron.org Soundbites. I’m here today with Kristin Hull, the founder of Nia Global Solutions. Hi Kristin. 

Hey Toni.

Thanks for coming on the show today. Can you tell our listeners what is Nia Global Solutions and why you got involved with it? 

Sure, well thank you for having me on the show. Nia means intention and purpose, so doing money with intention and purpose. And I really felt that we needed an investment product that was focused on solutions that also have diversity and leadership. And so I built a team and decided that we really needed to provide this, particularly for women who were interested in getting into impact investing. 

Nia focuses on what some people would call gender lens investing. Can you talk a little bit more about why that’s important and how that relates to more traditional investing and what it might mean for economic outcomes?

Sure, Nia is really a solutions focused fund, and we see that gender inclusion and all inclusion is part of the solution. And so of course we’re going to have that woven throughout the product. 

90 percent of the companies we look at don’t make our by-list because they don’t even have one woman on executive C-suite or the board.

Are there are stories you’d like to tell? I think, give the listeners a sense of what does that look like on the ground?

We are cap agnostic meaning that we will look at any publicly traded company of any size, and those that are doing really innovative work in one of our six solutions themes. So we are  looking for companies that are really working on solving our world’s problems, and one of those is exclusivity. So, can we have leaders at the top that are making solid decisions? Interestingly enough financial returns are also are equated to companies that have diversity in leadership, so it’s a win-win.

Why women? Why not Latinos, or African Americans? What is the value proposition for picking gender?

Well that’s such an interesting question because we do look for diversity of all kinds, and yet with SEC disclosures gender is one thing that we can count for and we can measure. And so if a company is thinking about gender we can think that maybe they’re going to think about other types of diversity. Ninety percent of the companies we look at don’t make our by-list because they don’t even have one woman on executive C-suite or the board. 

So what’s happening here? Woman are roughly half the population of the country and what I’m hearing you saying is a lot of companies don’t even have women in leadership positions. 

Exactly, so for our economy to really work and thrive we need to have women contributing and we need to have them thriving as well, and participating in the economy. As we do for all of our citizens and all of our people and so Nia is focusing on having that exclusivity. 

So it’s called Nia Global Solutions. Can you talk a little bit about how much is US focused versus internationally focused? I know there was some come to aha moment in international development, where they discovered that if you invest in women that economic outcomes improve across the entire economy in emerging markets and lower income countries. Do you think that’s true here and if so, how is that playing out?

We are looking around the globe to find our companies, and it turns out about 50 percent of them are US based. That’s headquarters, that doesn’t mean that business activities are taking place globally. We’re really looking for solutions, and so to think that all of the solutions would come from the US would be mistaken. We’re really going around the globe looking at answers for some of our biggest climate issues as well as our inclusion issues and a lot of that is financial. So one of our companies, Sanlam out of Africa, is really working on financial inclusion for those that have been underserved in the past. 

So we’re here on the sidelines of the Confluence Philanthropy event in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And the conference has been really focused on philanthropy and how philanthropy can get into impact investing and what are the bright lines between making money and doing good. Can you talk a little bit about the trend, from your point of view? I know we’ve met at other conferences and so I’m really interested to hear what you’re seeing and the trends that are happening right now. 

Sure, well this is a great venue at confluence because it’s really helping philanthropists to become investors. And so instead of focusing on a 5 percent grant payout, Confluence is really helping the people at foundations to really understand that they have 95 percent of the endowment that they could also be investing towards their values, towards their mission, and goals at the foundation. And so this can be a really catalytic place to be. The other place that I see a lot of traction and movement is from the divest-invest movement that has started on college campuses and so really waking up university endowments and then the general public to really look to see what is it that we own? And does it match our values? and whether that’s in fossil fuels or oil, or other types of investments. The first step is really understanding what we own and then trying to make some changes. 

So do you have anything you’d like to say, or anything top of mind really given all that we’ve heard this week with the different speakers, or in your work? Is there anything top of mind that you just want to talk about? 

Sure, well I really do believe that when we see our investments and banking practices as an expression of ourselves, that is going to be game changing. So to the extent that we can have institutions and products that match our values and at a price point where individuals can invest with their values we’re going to make some big changes. 

Thanks Kristin. With SoundBites at Heron this is Toni Johnson. 

Thank you Toni. 


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