Yaletown Partners’ Sophie Gupta explains firm’s role in Equality Fund

Equality Fund

The federal government recently invested $300 million to launch the Equality Fund, a new initiative created by three organizations, aimed at creating a sustainable model to support women’s rights organizations in Canada and developing countries. It has already mobilized $100 million and is looking to get to $1 billion over the next 15 years.

“What’s exciting for me is this idea of rethinking gender lines, investing, and social finance.”

The fund was founded by Sophie Gupta, principal at Vancouver-based Yaletown Partners, Jessica Houssian, senior advisor to Women Moving Millions, and Jess Tomlin, president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Match International Women’s Fund. BetaKit spoke with Gupta about what role Yaletown will play in the fund, and what she envisions for the initiative.

Gupta said the founders are looking to bring together philanthropic organizations, the private sector, and governments to contribute to solving the funding gap faced by women’s rights organizations. The fund is looking to do so by providing “predictable and flexible funding,” along with technical assistance to its member organizations. Current members include the African Women’s Development Fund and Oxfam Canada. The fund’s investment strategy will look to use social finance as a tool to scale and transform systems for gender equality.

There are three different investment partners for the Equality Fund: the Royal Bank of Canada, Calvert Impact, which is leading the fund’s private debt market strategy, and Yaletown Partners, a cleantech-focused venture capital firm. Gupta told BetaKit these three organizations will lend technical expertise, knowledge, and are part of a build-out for the fund.

Yaletown’s role is to support the fund with an institutional-grade investment platform, in addition to thought leadership. In 2018, the firm closed over $100 million in initial funding for its Innovation Growth Fund, and led a funding round in FinTech startup Finn AI.

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Beyond the public market and private debt strategy, Gupta is looking at creating a venture capital, private equity fund-of-funds through the Equality Fund later down the road. She added that the venture capital arm would be applicable to a variety of sectors, including information technology, edtech, FinTech, civic tech, mobility, healthtech, life sciences, cleantech, and AgTech.

“We’re looking at specifically targeting those sectors where we think that there is this intersection between the gender lens that we’re applying, as well as technology,” Gupta told BetaKit.

“What’s exciting for me is this idea of rethinking gender lines, investing, and social finance, and creating opportunities for those that are in more traditional investing communities to come and participate in this new budding and very relevant sector,” she stated.

“Money is a very specific type of power, and we believe that one of the most powerful things we can do is move significant money and control into the hands of women leaders .”

The Equality Fund hopes to use investments and social finance, which is a tool that seeks to mobilize private capital for the public good, and as a way of rethinking philanthropy. Gupta said the fund will bring the spectrum of grants, commercial investments, and impact investments under one umbrella.

A core goal for the fund is shifting how investment decisions are made by “mainstreaming gender equality.” It is hoping to ultimately achieve gender equality outcomes through impact investing and by reflowing revenues to grants that support women’s organizations.

“Money is a very specific type of power, and we believe that one of the most powerful things we can do is move significant money and control into the hands of women leaders driving change in their communities,” said Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund. “Canada and the world can do more to shift power in this way.”

Along with its $300 million investment, the federal government has also pledged to match donations for domestic programs of up to $10 million each for three groups, the Community Foundations of Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and Grand Challenges Canada.

“This is an historic moment in the fight for equality around the world,” said Houssian. “Together with global partners, Canada and Canadians have an opportunity to catalyze new investments and partnerships in support of gender equality.”

Image courtesy Sophie Gupta via Twitter

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast