Growing Economies Through Gender Parity

Thursday, January 17, 2019
31-year-old Haruka Hirokawa and 35-year-old Sayaka Kishi take part in a women-only financial seminar in Tokyo, Japan. October 4, 2018. Issei Kato/REUTERS
Ray W. Washburne

President and CEO, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

Stephanie Cohen

Chief Strategy Officer, Goldman Sachs

Jamille Bigio

Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Introductory Remarks
Rachel B. Vogelstein

Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

The Women and Foreign Policy program's Growing Economies Through Gender Parity report demonstrates that closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion to the global GDP. Despite the potential gains from women’s economic participation, however, our Women’s Workplace Equality Index finds that not a single nation of 189 covered has a level playing field for women at work. OPIC President and CEO Ray W. Washburne and Goldman Sachs’ Stephanie Cohen explore the role of government and the private sector in promoting women’s participation in the workforce, and share insights from OPIC’s 2X Women’s Initiative, the G7 2X Challenge, and the Goldman Sachs Launch with GS women’s investment initiative. 


VOGELSTEIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I lead the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which analyzes how elevating the status of women advances U.S. foreign policy objectives. I want to begin by extending my gratitude to our esteemed speakers for joining us, and to all of you for participating today.

Our discussion this afternoon is focused on an issue that has been part of our national and global dialogue for well over a year, how to level the economic playing field for women. In capital and boardrooms, in the workplace and on the streets, through hashtags and social media, good women and men alike have grappled with the persistent barriers that hamper women in the workplace in the 21st century, and what we should do about these barriers. To help answer this question, scholars and the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at the Council, have created several new tools to analyze the status of women in the workplace around the world and help explain why leveling the economic playing field for women is so critical to prosperity and stability.

First, to illustrate the cost of gender inequality in the workplace, we’ve recently launched a new interactive report entitled Growing Economies Through Gender Parity which outlines the economic stakes by visualizing data from the McKinsey Global Institute showing that closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion to global GDP. Both advanced and developing economies alike stand to benefit if women are able to participate in the labor force at the same extent as men. The U.S. economy could grow by 19 percent, China’s by 20 percent, Mexico’s by 43 percent, and India by up to 60 percent. You can use our new digital report to understand the effect of women’s economic participation on global, regional, and national GDP, and even to compare potential economic gains in one country versus another.

Second, given the economic importance of women’s inclusion in the workforce, which barriers still stand in the way? To identify the obstacles we’ve just released the first ever Women’s Workplace Equality Index, a global ranking of countries based on gender equality at work, drawing on an important dataset from the World Bank. Under CFR’s ranking, Australia comes in first, Canada second, and Mexico is fifth. Notably, the United States is not even in the top ten, falling at twentieth. And Iran, Sudan, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen round out the bottom of our list. The index highlights the pervasive nature of legal barriers to women in the workplace, finding that over 100 countries restrict the kinds of jobs that women can hold, fifty-nine lack any legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace whatsoever, and not a single nation of 189 covered has a level legal playing field for women at work.

Third, to illustrate the effect of legal barriers highlighted in our index, we’ve also issued a new report on women and the law, which analyzes the five areas in which the greatest obstacles to women’s economic participation persist—financial inclusion, land rights, workplace discrimination, national identification laws, and family law. This report reflects field research by CFR scholars in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Pakistan. And you can find each of these reports in the materials at your seat and online at The bottom line from our research is this: In the 21st century, nations simply cannot get ahead by leaving half of their populations behind. Leveling the playing field for women in the workplace is not just the right thing to do, it is a strategic imperative that promotes economic prosperity and stability, both at home and abroad.

Today’s discussion affords an opportunity to take stock of the barriers that persist for women at work, to explore policy approaches in both the public and the private sectors, and to ask hard questions about the way forward. And we have two terrific speakers to do just that: the honorable Ray Washburne, the president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, who will talk about the U.S. government’s new 2X Women’s Initiative, and Stephanie Cohen, the chief strategy officer at Goldman Sachs, who will tell us about the new Launch with GS women’s investment vehicle. Before we begin, a special word of thanks goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has generously sponsored our work on women and economic growth, and in particular to Raseed Denashmi (ph) and her colleagues for their leadership and continued support.

With that, please join me in welcoming our wonderful moderator today, CFR Senior Fellow Jamille Bigio, and of course our featured speakers. Thank you very much.

BIGIO: Wonderful. (Applause.) Thank you so much, Rachel. Thank you.

We’ve heard how women’s labor force participation is an economic imperative. But what you’ve both done from where you sit—at OPIC, at Goldman—is to actually try to convince your organizations and your partners to invest in women’s economic opportunities as the economic imperative that the data suggests it is. I wonder, first, what you’ve found in those conversations. What has resonated with leaders in finance, in the private sector, and the government to actually convince them that these kinds of investments advance their core mandates, and advance growth?

COHEN: It’s great to be here. So maybe I’ll start where you just finished, which is—you called it a strategic imperative. I’ll just call it a business imperative. I think the conversation has migrated from being about the right thing to do—which everyone still believes it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing not to leave 50 percent of the population behind. But it’s also a business imperative. And it’s a business imperative at multiple different levels.

So if you talk about just companies, for example, I think there’s now tons of evidence that diverse teams make better decisions. Whether that’s decisions in the boardroom, whether that’s investing decisions, whether that’s decisions in just a meeting. When you have different perspectives at the table, you get to a better answer. And that companies that have diverse population actually perform better. So I think that resonates with people.

Then you get to this investing question. And in a world that is awash in capital—I think you can turn on the TV, flip to a channel, and someone’s going to talk to you about how much money there is chasing whether it’s private equity or venture capital-type investments. If you look at that, and you look at the venture capital space, something like 85 to 90 percent of all venture capital money goes to all-male founded teams. And that—just reading that statistic, I think it’s not—it’s a pretty small leap to that is a really good investment, because there must be a lot of really great women who are not getting the money that they need, deserve, and that’s going to be helpful to the world.

And then the last piece of this is, that’s a little bit more of a micro around companies and investing. But then when you get to the greater population, we’ve done a lot research, there’s other people that have done a lot of research, that actually getting money in the hands of women actually helps society. So at all levels we’ve moved from saying this is the right thing to do, to saying that this is actually going to allow all of us to benefit from a societal perspective.

BIGIO: What have you found, Ray?

WASHBURNE: Well, when I came into OPIC—if those in the room don’t know what OPIC is, it’s the United States’ economic development institution. And my personal experience, I had never been in government. Never been in bureaucracy. I’d built a number of companies. And when I have 4,000 employees in a big restaurant business, all my senior employees are women. I’m a big real estate company, my senior employees are women. Not that I ever really thought about it that way.

But when I came up here, the thought began. My wife and I have been going to Zambia for a number of years. We built an orphanage and a hospital outside of Lusaka. And when you go to the villages there, into the—well, they call them compounds. In the United States we’d call them slums. But you go in there, you saw the women were desperately looking to lift themselves up. But they were spending their days collecting water, having no access to any kind of credit whatsoever—even just pennies. And they’re all selling tomatoes by the side of the road.

So when I came into OPIC, I had the opportunity now to have an institution that at the time had about $30 billion worth of money to invest. And as we looked around at our loan portfolio it was like—it just occurred to me. I said, why aren’t we making women’s loans? And no one had really kind of looked at it through that—through that lens. And with the Trump administration making OPIC part of our national security strategy for the first time, it gave us the ability to go and do things.

And part of our national security of having OPIC is how do we make low-interest loans in countries to sustain them through jobs—sustainable jobs. Not just going in and doing aid, but actually build things that create it. So since that time, we’ve initially committed around $300 million. We have since, in the last year, put out almost $800 million that’s catalyzed another billion dollars-worth of investment. And a few examples are, like, in India we supported a thing called Water Health. We put not a lot of money in it, $10 million. But now it brings water—ten thousand people now get clean water every day. Well, that frees people up to go and do other activities rather than just what we take for granted here in turning the water on. Now they have time to go do things.

We provided loan facilities to banks. And we require a certain percentage of them—between 20 and 25 percent—to go to women-owned businesses. As well as today with payment plans on your cellphone, someone can get—the payment system has gotten so inexpensive now in these countries, someone—primarily women—now have access where someone can’t go take the money away from them, that they can go pay their bills—five cents, or ten cents, or transfer money across. And they can create small and entrepreneurial businesses. Really what makes countries—and I started—I sold carpet door-to-door through college, OK? So I know what it takes starting and working up to a company that now has thousands of employees. What people want is just a chance. And they need access to credit. And they also need access to a rule of law.

It’s another thing OPIC looks at, is in these countries you pointed out—that’s a great map. I want to get a copy of that to show our team—what countries have still issues with women. We’re going to start looking at that a little closer now that I saw your map. But it’s an exciting time to be doing what we’re doing at OPIC, to have the backing of the administration. And, you know, Ivanka’s gotten very involved in this. And we happen to be an organization that had the capital. And now with the BUILD act that’s gone through, we’ve gone from 30 billion (dollars) to 60 billion (dollars) in size. So we have a lot more room to do things. But we’re actionable. And I think doing a billion dollars in a year is pretty good.

BIGIO: It is impressive too to see that based on OPIC’s work to mobilize more resources to invest in female entrepreneurs, it inspired the other G-7 development finance institutions to do something similar.

WASHBURNE: That’s right. At the G-7 in Quebec this summer we went up, and the other organizations have now catalyzed behind us. I was at the G-20. And they all, you know, have taken, you know, our lead. Fortunately, we’re all getting involved. And we built a great team. A lady named Katie Kaufman, who some of you in this room might have met before. And I was fortunate to recruit her in when I first started. And, you know, I can’t keep up with them. (Laughter.) No, seriously, they’re on the road all the time. They’ve doing a great job.

BIGIO: And to have it translate into actual dollars and investment, which is what you’re trying to do at Goldman now with Launch with GS, to try to actually translate that into investment of firm capital, of investment capital.

COHEN: Yeah. So in June we announced Launch with GS, which is our first for-profit investing initiative with a gender lens. It’s our commitment to investing $500 million of firm inclined capital to close what we would call the gender investing gap, which is the percentages that I talked about earlier. And it really builds on the insights and thesis from our 10,000 Women program, which was—which is very similar to yours, which is that the economic empowerment of women makes good sound sense for the world. And, you know, Launch with GS, the way that we’re running it is absolutely for-profit initiative, completely embedded in our business. That initiative is not ancillary to the business. It is part of the business. When we talk about our investing, we don’t talk about Launch with GS and then everything else. We talk about all of it together. And that means that the full power and might of Goldman Sachs and all of our clients is behind it.

And so with Launch with GS we’re doing three things. One, we’re investing directly firm capital in women founded owned and led businesses, with a focus on growth equity. We’ve already invested over $100 million in six months. You know, just as an aside, when we first launched we were—we got asked a lot of questions about the pipeline, about whether or not there were going to be enough women entrepreneurs for us to invest in. And I can tell you, there’s way more than enough women entrepreneurs for us to invest in. And that’s why we’re really trying to work with others and partner with other investors and institutions, because there is so much that we can do if we can get that capital pulled together.

The second thing that we’re doing is we’re raising client capital to invest in women managers. And the reason for that is because we want to change not only the complexion of the founder space, but also the complexion of the investing space for the people that actually control the capital and are directing that capital. Because we all know, it’s a lot easier to really—to have a connection with someone who looks and feels more like you. So the more that that investing community is diverse, the more that we think the actual investments will be diverse.

And the last thing we’re doing is building an ecosystem. And the reason for that is investing is hard work. It’s a tough business. And you say no a lot, just because there’s a finite amount of capital and you’re making investing decisions. But when we say no to an investment for any given reason, we often don’t want to say no to that founder, or to their idea, to what they’re doing. And so we want to take our community, which includes the people inside Goldman Sachs, our clients—whether they’re big corporates or small companies—the institutional investors—bring all those people together to help these women to start and run their business.

So we’re creating what’s now, I call, an analog community. So we’re—you know, the people on my team are working very hard to connect people, to help them build their business. But overtime, that will become a digital community. And, you know, our initiative is a global initiative . And if you look at our investments they’re global. If you look at the events that we’ve had thus far, they’re global. Because part of the power of this is bringing our global footprint to businesses all around the world. Because a lot of these women have aspirations to build really large, big, global businesses. And allowing them to connect with people who are trying to do something maybe on the other side of the world, we think is incredibly powerful.

BIGIO: So what did it take to move this investment from being ancillary to Goldman, into actually being core to its work, and having the full might of the company behind it?

COHEN: I think as an organization we felt very strong about women for a long time. And 10,000 Women is a good example of that. We have a new CEO, David, who’s very passionate about this in terms of the importance of diversity in the broader community. And then the last piece of it is, honestly, we work in an organization where numbers have a lot of weight. And those numbers that show that women are—get significantly less investment, for us, was recently a good example and a lot of proof that this was going to be an area where we were going to be able to invest real amounts of capital and get a positive return.

The other thing is that if you look at our investing businesses, we have 13 senior women who lead investing businesses across our firm. And those women obviously felt very strongly about the initiative. But we also felt like this was going to be a tremendous opportunity to allow them to have leadership positions around the world in driving these investments. So in some respects, you know, diversity creates more diversity, in my view. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. So the more that we have diversity in the investing community, in the founder community, you know, in our own employee base, you’re going to see that people are going to look at these opportunities and realize how exciting they are.

And one of the interesting things that we hear from women founders is when they go to meetings to raise capital, and there’s all men on the other side of the table, sometimes their business—it’s very hard for them to understand the business, because it may be something that’s related to women’s health or other issues. And that by changing the complexion of that investing community, you actually get people who translate what that business might look like in a different way than if you had a different audience. So that’s why when we decided to do Launch with GS, we are doing—we’re doing three things. Not because, you know, we like to make ourselves crazy busy, but because we thought it was really important to have a full-circle of change in order to have a real impact.

BIGIO: Ray, you mentioned the BUILD Act. That will shift things for OPIC and for what the U.S. does with its development finance. What are the impacts of that on the investments that you’ve been making around women’s economic opportunities?

WASHBURNE: Well, for the last—OPIC was set up in 1971, and really had never adjusted its—to the modern world of finance. And so one thing the other—our brethren in other countries are doing is putting equity in the project. And we didn’t have the ability to do that. So that was the most important aspect of the BUILD Act, was having the ability to club up deals with others on an equal status, because we were getting left behind on our projects. So as far as on the women’s initiative that we have in, like, sub-Sahara Africa is, I was telling you before, that when you go over—when I travel, and I travel extensively around the world—is in the ’60s, you had the Peace Corps kids that were going on, not really sure what they were going to do and just kind of showing up. And today what you have are these social entrepreneurs that are going over. Not only do they want to do good, they also want to build real businesses. And a majority of them are women. They kind of want to bail out of society here to go over there to make a difference. And those are a lot of the companies we’re backing.

We have lady who—she and her brother started a company that’s a cross-border logistics business. And that’s—so we started an initiative at OPIC called Connect Africa. And it’s how do we take the borders and make them more transparent, to where you can drive things back and forth without getting graft and corruption and waits of trying to go back and forth, and just being available. And so we give a lot of loans to banks, local banks, and let them break it down into much smaller loans so someone can go out and buy a truck or expand their business in that way. So it’s been very exciting for us.

BIGIO: And good to have opportunity to be looking for investments like this, because I could imagine, you know, these entrepreneurs were out there. OPIC may not have been identifying those opportunities just by not asking are they there, and looking for who can we invest in.

WASHBURNE: Sure. And, you know, the majority of growth anywhere in the world is small businesses having access to capital. The big ones, like GE, they can get money. And so for us to put $200 million in a project, I’d rather take 50 million (dollars), put it in a local bank, and let them break it down into hundreds of small loans, because each one of those people is going to hire one or two people. And that is a much greater job creation ability there.

BIGIO: So I know these initiatives are both fairly young for your institutions. But I wonder as you look further down the road, what do you see as the next frontier for investments in women’s economic opportunities? And what do you see as the biggest challenges that you’re facing right now?

WASHBURNE: Well, one thing we’re trying to do is our other—the DFIs around the world—is get us all to come together. Which the G-7 was the first time. And it’s amazing. We’ve never all kind of gotten together because there’s been such a competition between them all, which is really ridiculous. We’re all trying to, you know, solve poverty issues around the world, and develop. So having us all come together, have a common goal for what we’re trying to achieve, and invest, and look at through that lens. And then partnering with the people like Goldman Sachs and others. They have incredible expertise they can bring to the table. And it’s really not just having another big conference, but actually everybody sitting down and saying: What can we make happen now? And let’s put it on the table and go achieve that.

COHEN: I think you’re just starting to see a lot of the impacts. And I know there’s frustration with the statistics, because if you track them on a monthly, weekly, yearly basis, they don’t feel like they’re making enough progress. And I think impatience is a good thing. But if you—if you think today, you’re a young woman who hears about all of these places where there is potentially capital available, I think everyone when they decide whether or not they should take a job or start a business, they’re doing a little bit of a probability calculation in their head. And the fact that there is more and more capital that is going after this I think will make people make different decisions. So, one, I’m more optimistic that we are going to see step function change.

The second piece of this is, I think there’s a lot of people going after various segments of the market. And in this space, I think people really want to work together, because whether it’s debt, or equity, or a small business, or a large business, all of it—there’s no place in that chain where there isn’t a need for more capital. And in some cases, debt’s the right answer. In some cases, equity is the right answer. Sometimes they’re starting out as a very small company and they become a big company. Sometimes they start out as a small company and they stay as a small company. So I think working together, public and private partnerships, I think you’re going to see a lot more of that because it’s not a one-size-fits-all, in much of the same way that there’s actually a reasonable amount of press today about whether or not the—is venture capital, as it’s defined today, the right answer for every single type of start-up company? And the reality is that different securities make sense for different people. I think you’re going to find that in this space.

WASHBURNE: Well, and I think also the world is working together. Getting grants to people and then just walking away doesn’t do any good. People—women, men, whoever—you need to loan them money, even if it’s a low interest rate, and it needs to be paid back. If you do that, you have a real business and you have real long-term prospects. Otherwise, they—in the past when grants were just given to people, they’d just go spend it and just think they’ll get another grant. And they never build a foundation on it. So I think working to—especially with professionals like, you know, Goldman—is able to come in here and help us understand how to do that better.

BIGIO: There’s a lot of opportunity for these kinds of networks. I know we’ve got a lot of people in the room that are working in organizations that have been really invested in this area too. So I’d love to open up the floor now to questions.

If you could raise your placard. We’ve got microphones coming around the room. Please introduce yourself, and your organization, and share your question. Just a reminder that this portion of the conversation is also on the record. Let’s start with Caren Grown please.

Q: Hi. My name is Caren Grown. I’m the senior director for gender at the World Bank Group.

And you probably all know we created something recently called the Women Entrepreneur Finance Initiative, modeled partly after the 10,000 Women initiative. I’m here. My colleague Henrietta Kolb is here with the IFC. And I know she’ll have her own question. And I have two questions. One, I really—and a comment. I really agree with the comment about the ecosystem. I think it’s really, really critical. And I agree with the idea that we need to really work together. We’re hoping that We-Fi can actually be an umbrella to bring some of the big initiatives together. But I think we really have to think about how we make that work, because there’s so many new initiatives going forward now. And I think it gets complicated when we’re in countries where we might not have the pipeline that you’ve described we have here. And we don’t want to be tripping over each other to find deals going forward. So I’d really like to push you a little bit more, particularly in the lower-income and not just the emerging market where there may be more deals, how we actually get there and start to do that.

The other thing I’d like to ask about I something that we care a lot about and which we hope we’ll do through We-Fi. And that’s the use of digital technology and digital platforms, because that’s a promise for scale in a way that we haven’t really thought about that before. Platforms that might be e-commerce platforms, or platforms that bring together the finance of the marketing side and build them. And as we think—I’d like to hear your plans for encouraging that and encouraging those platforms in ways that also don’t embody unconscious bias and have the potential sometimes to hurt women. So I’m really curious about that.

BIGIO: Great.

WASHBURNE: I think on the digital side, I’ll start with that. But the digital side, as I said earlier, you know, we give loans to banks now that can load, you know, payment plans onto phones and things like that, mobile devices. And that’s the quickest way, we think, to get money down at the lowest, lowest level, because at a lot of villages you have to pay your electricity every single day. They’re not going to go collect it at the end of the month. They want, you know, twenty cents a day to have electricity stay on in your home. And what has happened is in a lot of these villages, and I see this in Zambia, is it’s always the woman has to walk down to the little kiosk in the middle of the compound and pay her five or ten cents, so you can leave electricity on for the day.

What a waste of time. What a waste of productivity. And so by bringing that out, it’s just freeing more and more—the more time we can free up of just your basic chores enables them to go out and start businesses and be entrepreneurial. And so we’re very, very involved in that right now. I don’t—

COHEN: Well, I’m going to go to the digital one, and then we go back to the other one. On your digital question, one, we’re actually quite focused on building a digital community. And we’re very open to doing that in partnership with other people, because we do believe that in order to connect women and men across the world, where people have different expertise but have the same questions, or crossover expertise, that the right way to do that is digitally. And the way we think about it is if a Goldman Sachs person has to stand in between someone every time they have a question, we’re never going to be able to scale this the way we want to scale it. So we’re quite focused on that, and very open to dialogue around that. We also have no interest in building that from scratch. There are a lot of platforms that already exist. So we’ll do that.

The second question around unconscious bias, if it makes you feel any better, we actually, interestingly, had a conversation—I’ll leave their name out—with a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley that came to us and said: We use a lot of data to make decisions about investing. And we’ve realized actually half our portfolio is women. And we never really thought about it before, but now there’s all this—all this news about investing in women. And we’re a bunch of guys, but we actually have invested half in women. So to make the question better, is it actually had the exact opposite impact, which they were making—their portfolio of companies was much more diverse than the average venture capital portfolio. That’s one data point, but I thought it would be useful.

On the lower end, it’s actually not the place where we’re, from a Launch with GS perspective, focused. And even 10,000 Women tends to be at kind of the higher end of that. But I will say, our philosophy overall is that we want to make sure that we are—when we’re investing, that we’re not—we’re not just talking the three winners and piling a bunch of money into that but finding people and opportunities that weren’t previously found. And that, honestly, for us is man-to-man combat, and getting out there, and meeting people.

BIGIO: In the back, please. Jenna.

Q: Thank you. Hi. Jenna Ben-Yehuda from the Women’s Foreign Policy Network.

Appreciate the comments. I wanted to go back to something that Karen started touching upon, Stephanie, with the—this notion of what I’m kind of hearing is donor coordination in maybe World Bank parlance. (Laughs.) But, you know, BlackRock has come out and issued a commitment. Several other investment firms, increasing number of women VC efforts coming up, there’s Angel, former Twitter senior leadership. How do you kind of harness that? And, you know, I think part of the scalability of this is connecting the dots amongst all kinds of folks that are interested in doing this and creating maybe commitments across the investment community to harness this. So a question too. And I know you’re early days and this is maybe a down-the-road thing. You know, to what extent you’re thinking about that.

And then, Ray, to your comment on the incredible additional amount of capital that OPIC is putting out, how are you thinking about evaluating those efforts with a gender lens? Is there somebody in the organization who is taking gender into account as part of the evaluation process and selection? And how is kind of gender being incorporated, or not, or to what extent you think that is useful in a venture organization.

WASHBURNE: As I said earlier, we have a whole department that focuses on that. And every loan that comes—every single loan that comes to OPIC now is looked at through a gender lens—every single one of them. And so especially on these bank loans that we do, where we—as I said earlier, we put money into a bank and they break it up into loans, there’s a requirement that 25 percent of that has to go to women. And so every loan we have is, you know, you check on whether it’s, you know, human rights, whether there’s environmental issues, and then we have a gender lens on that as well, to be sure that’s been a consideration going into it.

COHEN: And maybe to build on that, just to give you a little bit more perspective on how we’re running Launch with GS, we have multiple different investing areas across Goldman Sachs. And Launch with GS is actually embedded in all of them. And so I don’t want to make little of your first question, but nobody asks the question of: Why are there so many investment firms going after male-founded businesses? Like, in our mind the focus here was, in the same way if someone said we think XYZ trend is really good investment opportunity, let’s make sure we focus on that. In some respects, that’s what Launch with GS is, which is that we feel that there is a whole population that doesn’t seem to be getting the capital that they need, deserve, that will be good for not only those companies but the world. And we should figure out what good investing opportunities exist for them.

So that’s kind of the broad thing. It’s not—really the way that it gets prosecuted is no different than the way we prosecute other investments. Practically, you know, this is one of those moments where I think a bunch of people who we may call competitors, who certainly operate in the same space, have all decided to come together and say, we—there is so much available opportunity out there that we’re going to work together. So what you’ll find, underneath the covers of what’s going on, is that we have met with all of those people and all of those firms, or all the people that are focused on this. And we all agree—we share ideas, probably in a way that maybe doesn’t happen in everyday business. But our perspective is that there are certain places where BlackRock makes sense, or Blackstone makes sense, or KKR, or Sequoia, or Goldman Sachs, or Benchmark, or whoever the right place is. And All Raise is another good example of an organization in Silicon Valley. And we’ve kind of all committed that we’re going to work together.

But it’s a competitive world. And of course, there’s a lot of capital, and there’s investment ideas. And so we compete the same way we compete in all cases, for which investor is the right for any given company. You know, the other piece of this around—and this relates to the ecosystem—I think is something different given the size and scale of Goldman Sachs, versus some of the other institutions, is, you know, some people decide to start a company, and they either have a lot of friends and family, or a background where they really understand what the process is. They have a lot of people who help them with the presentation. They have twenty people who they can call for advice. You know, we have found probably that generally women have less of that network. So the other thing that we’re doing is in places where we may not want to invest, we’re trying to be helpful. And so we’re trying to really in some respects serve as a mentor to businesses where it may not make sense for us to invest, but we do help them understand what the investing community is looking for.

Because there is a situation, if you have one type of person on one end of a table and another group of people on the other—whether that’s a woman on one end and an all-male team on the other side, or a black, Hispanic. They’re not always speaking the same language. And the way someone says something and the way it’s interpreted on the other side of the table is different. And so while we can’t fix all bias in the world, we have tried to help translate that so that people have a better chance of actually raising the capital.

BIGIO: We’ve got a question here. Aubrey.

Q: Hi. I’m Aubrey Hruby with the Atlantic Council.

Question for you, Stephanie, about engaging U.S. pension funds. So I’m part of an organization called Private Equity Women’s Investment Network, PEWIN. We have 500 members, all LPs and GPs, all women. And one of the things we’ve found over the years is that there’s a high concentration of women working for U.S. pension funds. And if you look at CIO positions in particular, there are a lot of women there. And we’ve had generational challenges, even with PEWIN, where kind of the older generation, who are roughly sixty-plus, the women who are often the LPs in the pension funds are against quotas, don’t like necessarily full-women programs that highlight it, because they feel that, you know, maybe there’s undeserving folks that would get through, or the perception would be. So are you engaging with the pension funds, because they already have women LPs? And if so, are there challenges of cross-generational conversation and how you’re kind of building that out?

COHEN: So we’re absolutely engaging with them. The second part of what we’re doing is raising client capital to invest in women managers. And a lot of that will be institutional capital, in addition to private wealth capital. So as part of that conversation, we engage with that community, or we’re right now in dialogue with them. The one comment I make is that the fund that we’re raising is completely—it’s not a double bottom line fund. If people want to put it in the ESG bucket, that is their choice. But it doesn’t have to go in there. It absolutely hurdles. So our view is that it should go in the alternatives bucket. If someone wants to put it in the ESG bucket, that’s their choice.

And so that’s part of the way, I think, we stop that conversation. Which is, we’re not asking you to invest in our vehicle because you think investing in women is a good idea. We’re asking you to invest in our—in our vehicle because investing in women is a good investment. And for us, we think that’s completely changed the dynamic of the conversation. There will be some people who feel really passionately about investing in women. And that’s great. They’ll get a good return by doing it. But there are others where we’re just making the case on investing in this vehicle versus any other venture capital or private equity vehicle.

So I think we’ve seen less of that because of that question. And, you know, I was on a call earlier today on a potential investment that we were talking about. And, you know, you could hear in the dialogue how important it is that we’ve made this very clear statement that everything hurdles, and that it—that you’re not granting people money. That you’re giving them money, and you expect a return—whether that’s to get paid back from a debt perspective or to get an equity-like return. We think that completely changes—gets rid of this question of are you just investing in them because they’re a woman, rather than because it’s a good company or a good idea.

WASHBURNE: As a follow-up to that, the way the investing world’s going, a lot of these foundations have first loss money. And what that means is, in the past you might have had a foundation that would put, hypothetically, you know, $10 million into a project, and they really didn’t have the expertise to kind of follow it, and then all of a sudden the money just kind of disappeared and they’d go down there, and nothing had happened. So with us now, a project might only underwrite to being a, let’s say, $8 million investment, but it took 10 million (dollars) to build it. It didn’t make economic sense at ten (million dollars), but it did at eight (million dollars). The first loss money would be a foundation, or a pension fund, or others would put it in, kind of a hope that they’d get it back, but realizing it’s more of a kind of a grant. But it made a real business opportunity work to where we could underwrite it to get our money back. Because we’re a for-profit institution of the government. We’re not a grant thing. And same with others. So that first—so that’s an evolving thing in our—in our ecosystem that’s developing.

The more that that can happen, these big, big huge foundations—like the Gates and other—they can look at us and say: We—they’re depending on our expertise to go in, realizing—and then instead of giving 10 million (dollars), they can have 2 million (dollars) they can put in, you know, five different projects, and really expand this. I’m sure you’re experiencing the same. But that’s something that’s evolving of use other people’s expertise, you get your grant money out that you want to get out, and it makes projects that otherwise would never happen be able to happen.

BIGIO: Question in the back.

Q: Hello. I’m Shelia Lirio Marcelo. I am founder and CEO of

So first of all, thank you both for your leadership. Stephanie, having been a founder and entrepreneur, and building the company, and taking it public, I can tell you how hard it’s been. And what you guys are doing is phenomenal. And putting the Goldman brand not only from a perspective of raising the fund, but actually saying you’re going to make a meaningful different in the marketplace, as well as what Aileen’s doing with All Raise I think has been terrific. So and then thank you. I was born and raised in the Philippines, Ray. So I know that many family members and people have benefitted with OPIC, and the contributions you guys have made in the past.

So my question really is, how do you guys think—to build on Caren’s question—on investing in digital with respect to domestic founders in the United States that’s making an international impact on women? Because we’re, like, in twenty countries. We could have done this in Asia, but why in the United States? Because it’s a much more efficient marketplace to raise $350 million, right? It’s harder. And now we’re servicing the world. Or how are you thinking about it as international companies, you know, founded by women? And how do you think about those? You know, how are you making the tradeoff of investment decisions? Or is it primarily focused on the United States?


Q: Other than OPIC, of course.

WASHBURNE: Yeah. On—we can’t—by statute, I can’t do anything domestically. So OPIC can’t do anything even in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, any of that. So everything we have to do is internationally. The other is, we’re not a venture capital fund. So if someone came in, and came with this great digital idea, and it’s a startup, and you’re in your garage inventing this thing—we don’t do that. We have to take existing businesses, or business ideas that are more hard-asset oriented to go forward. Now, if you went ahead and had a digital, you know, software thing that, you know, could embed up into something that’s already developed out—but we’re not in the venture capital business, so. Yeah, just—I mean, just so people don’t come to us with some great ideas. I mean, you could be the next Apple Computer in your garage and I can’t even touch it. So, sorry.

COHEN: So our program is international, by design, on purpose. In many respects, playing to what we think is our strength, because we have our—we have a global footprint. I think a lot of these initiatives, the organizations that they stem from tend to be either domestic in the U.S. or local in their individual country. And I think uniquely we do have a global footprint. We happen to also have a global investing footprint. So those thirteen women that I talked about, our investing businesses, they’re all around the world. So we actually see as much kind of outside the U.S. as we see inside the U.S. Like, if you looked, we’ve gone—since we’ve launched, we’ve gotten 2,000, basically, in-bound inquiries. We’ve met with over 800 founders, investors, nonprofit agencies. They are all over the world, and global. And so we have a team that’s doing that. We’re not—the team that sits in New York is not doing that.

And we do believe that uniquely, I think, in terms of picking the places where we’re going to invest, we are probably likely, actually, to lean into some of these companies that are U.S. trying to go international, or international trying to come to the U.S., again, because we think we can add real value to them from both a footprint perspective, but also from, if you think about our corporate footprint and all the relationships we have with very large corporations, we think that’s very valuable to this community and probably something that we uniquely bring to it. As it relates to—I’ll do digital twice—digital on the investing side, because what we’re doing tends to lean more growth. So what we’re—if you look at the parameters of what we’re investing in, our check size tends to be $5 to $50 million with companies, with at least $5 million in revenue, growing double digits. So that’s kind of later-stage growth equity, generally. The only place we’re really doing seed or early stage investment is in fintech, where we have real expertise.

And so we’re seeing a lot of digital businesses. We have a very big technology practice. And so, again, I think we can add real value to that space and have a view on where those businesses are headed. As I mentioned before, you know, the place where—I think we’re quite proud of our progress over the last six months, but it’s only been six months—the place where we need to make a lot more progress is on this—is on the digital side for us. Meaning, the—so we’ve had events in Sydney, in Hong Kong. We have things coming up in Stockholm and in Paris, in addition to New York and San Francisco. And that’s obviously a very analog way of doing this, right? There’s people flying all over, going to those places physically. And if we’re going to do this right, we’re going to make it really easy for that entrepreneur in Stockholm to reach the entrepreneur in Sydney, who both happen to be in retail businesses and can talk to each other and solve their problems.

We’re not there yet. We welcome all help in trying to get there. But that’s nirvana for us, because that’s where I think you make—you make the world a much smaller place, but I think you also allow these women to really grow their business in an exponential way.

BIGIO: Let’s come back to the front table here.

Q: Hi. I’m Anju Malhotra. I’m principal advisor, gender, at UNICEF.

 I was wondering if you could tell us a little it—I mean, this is so wonderful to hear, where both of you are moving—how you’re connecting with women’s groups and gender expertise that already exists in the field that has a lot of learning about what to do, and what not to do in the past? I mean, I remember working with a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program. And, you know, small and medium enterprises. Well, most of them were small enterprises. A lot of women-owned businesses are not necessarily run by women. A lot of women run businesses that are owned by families. There is a lot of complexity to how gender and entrepreneurship works that women’s experts and women’s groups have really catalogued over the year and have thoughts on. And a lot of those groups are actually not experts in investment. A lot of them are suspicious about investment. So it would be interesting to hear your thoughts and how you connect these two worlds.

WASHBURNE: When I came into OPIC about two years ago, it was a very inward-facing agency overall. We had authorization to do 29 billion (dollars). We only had 22 billion (dollars) outstanding. So first question is—and, again, I come in from the outside, and I’m an entrepreneur. I’m like, you have $7 billion sitting there that’s undeployed? What’s going on here? Well, because it wasn’t a—there was no business development within the agency. And so on a grand scale, we built business development groups to go out and—like, this morning I spoke to a group of ambassadors to the United States, like forty of them, saying I want to do business in your countries. Bring us deals. Well, OPIC just traditionally hadn’t done that.

So on the women’s initiative that we have, our 2X Initiative, it’s the same thing. It’s Katie and her team are out. She’s in Davos right now. She left yesterday. And she’s going to several countries and then marketing. It’s just getting out and getting the word out, and marketing it. And so to your group, you know, we hope to convene more groups. Stephanie met with—our team came up and met with you. And the other ones on the street. And we’re not sitting back waiting for the phone to ring, but we’re out marketing it. So hopefully you hear so much of us you don’t want to hear of us anymore, so.

COHEN: One of the things we did, when we announced Launch with GS, we did something that is not natural for us. We announced it before we had made the investments. I think if you look at the history of how we tend to announce things, we tend to make investments and then announce it. In this case, we actually said we were going this, and then—and then made the announcement before we had actually done very much. Which, honestly, culturally is a little bit uncomfortable. But the reason was exactly for why you said, it was because we wanted feedback from the community about where we could be the most impactful. And we’ve listened to that. So in the 800-plus meetings, some of that is with people asking us for money. But a lot of that is us asking people for their—for their feedback.

And so I’ll just give you an example. When we—when we announced, we talked about where we were planning to invest. But the answer was not as crisp as the answer I gave you in terms of where we’re focused. And we did get a reasonable amount of feedback that there’s a lot of capital needed at the seed stage of investing, and that it was really important to make sure women got the first check. And we completely agree with that. We just didn’t think that we were the right first check, because there is a structure and amount of capability set that you need to support seed investors, which is just not something we at Goldman Sachs have been doing. But we want to be helpful to those women. And that’s, again, how we’ve started to build the ecosystem, and try to help them find the right place to get that first check, so that we can be a later follow-on check.

Because then we did hear from a lot of people that they agreed that the place where we could have the most impact was at that later stage, and that getting women from that very early check to then that later check, so that they can become much more larger businesses made sense for us. But that has been an active dialogue with the community. The other point on this is we do benefit from 10,000 Women, which has been around for a decade and I think had a lot of learnings from a lot of people in this room and in other places. And then we do, through our research arm, our research business has—spends a lot of time in this space, and actually has done a lot of research. But we don’t—there’s a lot we don’t know.

And so we—hopefully we’ve been clear. If not, we’ll just say it again: We really want to hear feedback on what we’re doing, where people think we should be focused, where people think we shouldn’t be focused, on mistakes we’re making, and on learnings from other people, because this is an area where we’re not going to solve this problem on our own. We’re only going to solve it together. And we know people have been focused on it for a long time. And I think we’re starting to see change, but I think we’re just at—we’re at the beginning.

WASHBURNE: Well, also, the best practices that you have, and that we have, we all just need to come together and put the best practices to use. Because anyone trying to go off on it, you know, by themselves, is just wasting time, because we all need to work together and get it done quickly. So.

BIGIO: A continued call for these kinds of opportunities of exchange. We’ve got a question in the back.

Q: Hi. Jeannine Scott, America to Africa Consulting.

When you look at the banking institutions, particularly on the continent of Africa, it’s very difficult to get a loan. And you’re saying that you want 25 percent of the loans that you put in to be distributed amongst small women—or women entrepreneurs. And I’m just wondering, how do you ensure that there’s diversity or more equity within that? Because it’s very difficult just in general, let alone for many women, to have access to that type of loan or capital. So how do you work with those banking institutions in country to ensure that that money does get to those women, and that even that there’s a bit more equity—

WASHBURNE: Well, sure. No, we monitor their portfolios. I mean, our auditing teams go in and see it. And so it’s—you know, it’s followed. Is there a penalty if they don’t do it? Well, they’ll never do business with us again, so. But—or we can cut things off. But, yeah, no, we audit it very, very closely. Just like we have to in everything else they loan on, whether it’s human rights or environmental things. I mean, it’s—you’re dealing with a government entity at the end of the day, so.

BIGIO: Critical to have that accountability. Question here.

Q: Hi. Doug Ollivant with Mantid International.

I’m not a gender person, but I do development work in Iraq. And so I didn’t go looking for gender issues. Gender issues kind of came and found me. As you say, this really is a bottom line issue. We’ve all gotten an education in the last week or two about legal guardianship issues in Saudi Arabia. Where I work in Iraq, those issues aren’t legal, but they’re deeply cultural. If you’re a woman alone in public, you must be either a widow or a prostitute. You know, you two, you’re not do-gooders. You’re—you know, you’re in business. But is there way that large institutions like yours can kind of look long and look at these types of issues? Because this is all wonderful, but if you—you know, if you can’t move around in public, you know, all the capital development we can give you isn’t going to do you any good.

WASHBURNE: Well, I can’t do business in Saudi Arabia to begin with. (Laughter.) I’ll give you a chance. That’s a good one for you. (Laughter.)

COHEN: So I guess without going—I’m not going to answer the specific, like, Iraq, Middle East question as it relates to this. But I think the broader comment around the point that you raise is a global GDP growth point, right? So if at the end of the day, if you look at any business that’s a global firm, particularly a financial institution, we’re going to benefit when the global economy is functioning, and it’s growing, and it’s working well. And I think as—I won’t speak for our institution, but institutions more broadly—I think you’ll see it all over the place. People have realized that in order to build durable businesses that are going to last—we’re at our 150-year anniversary. So you’re catching me at a moment where we’re thinking about our business not over the next one year or two years, but over a very long period of time. And only by really figuring out the way for the global economy to grow and work together does that make sense.

So we do believe that the business community getting together to solve these issues makes sense. And, you know, 10,000—Launch with GS is probably not the right way to talk about this. It’s really more 10,000 Women, because 10,000 Women was absolutely entirely outside the U.S., rather than an inside the U.S. program, and which really came from this idea that the more that we empowered women economically, the more that we were going to grow those economies, and then therefore the more that ultimately they would become places where we could transact and do business and prosper.

So I don’t think there’s—there is in some respects, you could say, a lot of daylight between us giving a company $25 million and the problem that you’re talking about. But the only way we’re going to get to a place where it’s ever going to make sense for us to give a woman $25 million in the places that you’re talking about, is by solving the questions that you’re raising. So I think, you know, broadly, the business community is supportive of that. You know, the question is, how do we—how do we do that productively by giving people, you know, the most—this whole conversation, to me, highlights this point, which is I think everyone in the room wants to do the right thing and get money to the right place, but only by doing it in a way where people feel like they need to deliver a return, give the money back. And we actually—does it actually work productively?

BIGIO: One thing that our report on women’s workplace equality shows - building on the World Bank’s Women Business and the Law research - is identifying how discriminatory laws affect opportunities for women to participate in the workplace. Family law is one example, as you talk about Saudi Arabia, that has economic effects. The extent to which women are able to open a bank account in their name without their husband’s permission, et cetera, affects how they’re able to open their own business, and grow a business, and then be able to come to either of you for loans. And so it’s something at least to be thinking about, and to recognize that that affects where your investment opportunities are. And there’s a great example with the U.S. government, where the Millennium Challenge Corporation is in fact asking explicitly about women’s legal rights as they look at whether they’re going to invest and offer a compact to a country. And so that that does have long-term implications on growth potential in a given country.

We have a question here.

Q: I’m Laura Liswood. I’m the secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders. Former managing director at Goldman Sachs. Good to see you, Stephanie.

COHEN: It’s good to see you. (Laughter.)

Q: So, and basically to you, Stephanie, what will be—I know you’re six months into this, but I still want to know—what will be the ultimate metrics for success? You know, three years down, are you going to do a comparison of male-run businesses and female-run businesses for return? How are you thinking about that?

COHEN: So we’re going to metric the business in a couple ways. One is that the way that you metric every investing business, which is on returns, multiple of money. Of course, they’ll be risk adjusted. Meaning we have—I’m not going to give you the exact percentage, because it will depend on the investment. But we will evaluate all of the investments the way we evaluate every other investment that looks like it inside the firm. So return multiple of money.

The second way, we will—we will measure what type of impact we’re having. So internally, how do we think about that? We have—we have set some parameters for how much capital we want to put to work. So have we achieved that? The next will be around the ecosystem. So as you think about how many women have we touched and helped, whether that may not be giving them money, but how we’ve actually touched them, how that’s influenced and impacted our other businesses in terms of interacting with those women, but also helping them. And then the other way we are going to judge ourselves is what’s happening in the broader world outside.

So, for example, if we put a bunch of money to work and it gets good returns and we feel good about that, and those women do well, but I’m here in a few years and we’re still talking about the fact that 85 percent of venture capital goes to all-male founder teams, I don’t think we’ve done what we said we were going to do. Because what we’ve said we were going to do, is we were going to invest in things that were good investments. But we also said that we were going to try to change the game. And that’s why we’re doing the three things. And if the three things don’t work, then we have the wrong three things. So we have to think about doing something differently.

So I think as you think about, you know, how does this at all differ from anything else that we’re doing inside the firm, there’s that added question of what’s the broader impact that we’re having on society.

BIGIO: And at OPIC, how are you measuring success for 2X and for the work you’re doing?

WASHBURNE: Well, you know, we’re a lender. So we loan money out. And where she’s trying to make a return as an investor—there’s a big difference between an investor and lender, because we’re in a senior position currently. We haven’t—our equity program hasn’t kicked in yet. And so we measure success by getting paid back, first of all. Second is, you know, we’re new in the game. We’re going to see. But we’re in the job creation. So there’s a multiplier effect on investments that we hope to make. And as talked about earlier, you are able to give a loan to a woman-owned enterprise. Hopefully they hire more employees and it has a multiplier effect off of that. But at the end of the day, I’ve got U.S. taxpayer money and I’ve got the responsibility to get it paid back, so.

BIGIO: Well, that brings us to a close. Please join me in thanking both Stephanie and Ray for speaking with us today. (Applause.)

WASHBURNE: Thank you.

COHEN: Thank you.


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