Designing to close the gap

November 7, 2018

NOTE: This article has been repurposed from a speech Vicki Saunders gave during the Gender Smart Investing Summit.

A few years ago I started SheEO to radically transform how we support, finance, and celebrate female entrepreneurs.

Many people were deeply perplexed by our model, especially those in the finance world.
A 0% interest loan? How will you maintain your fund?

Not taking any equity in these companies? How are you compensated for your value?

Only investing in Ventures that have high social impact? Are there enough?

Trusting the intuition of hundreds of women to pick ‘winners’? No expert panel?

Giving the same power to select the Ventures to a 14 yr old as to an ‘expert’ who is the CFO at one of the largest banks in the world…What???

Asking the entrepreneurs themselves to allocate the money amongst themselves on their own terms (what is the highest and best impact of this money) without us in the room. Trusting them over controlling them?

Loaning out money on 12 questions and no collateral. Yes, you heard that right, 12 questions (no pitch decks, no attachments, no jargon).

A 0% interest loan, with limited or no collateral, yielding triple digit revenue growth and 100% payback rate is now a thing.

This is part of the new world women are building.

How can it be a model that will scale and impact the world if you don’t get a financial return on your investment? At least not right away.

Why is now the time to radically redesign how we are doing business?

Firstly, we have a predominant mindset in the world that has put us on the brink of extinction.Currently 5 people have the same wealth as 3.5Billion people and that is the direct result of our winner takes all mindset. Our accumulation culture has trashed the planet. It doesn’t need to be this way.

There are other cultures that were organized differently. The Indigenous peoples had a collective economy based on the potlatch before we outlawed it as uncivilized. Individuals would accumulate until they had too much and then they would have a party and give it all away because the spoils belonged to all, not just to one person who happened to be a gifted trader. They valued the act of giving as the highest form of citizenship- not accumulation.

We are obsessed with “go big or go home.” I hear university students tell me that their professor told them their idea wouldn’t scale so don’t bother starting. First off, what does a professor know about what will scale? And who said scale is the only way forward? Winning the market at the expense of everything else has created insane inequality and fails 9 times out of 10. I do not know one single woman who would design an investing thesis where 9 out of 10 fail and say, “Awesome! Let’s do that.” It’s highly capital inefficient.

Going forward with our investments, if we don’t change anything about our systems and simply create a female version of our existing male economic model, we are going to accelerate our path to extinction as a species.

We cannot simply design for the gap that we see between men and women and work to level the playing field. We need to create an entirely new field.

In 2008 when the markets crashed in the US the Americans found $17T to bail out the banks in 3 weeks– $17T. That’s the equivalent of 600 years without hunger on the planet. We found that money in 3 weeks. We have enough money to dramatically transform our communities, our society and our world, and we need to rethink what kind of world we want to live in.

We need to move from a mindset of winner takes all to a collective economy. And, we need to move from a mindset of scarcity to abundance.

Let’s talk about women

We are all living in systems that are not designed by us or for us. We were not at the table when all of this was made up. If we were, we would have acknowledged that women have children and we would have the appropriate childcare and maternity care policies. These are not hard things to solve and the fact they still persist as barriers for women, pretty much says it all about our culture.

This game is up. Women are not prepared to lean in, be fixed or blamed. We are connected, engaged, and ready to lead on our own terms. And we have money like we’ve never had before – we are set to inherit 75% of the largest wealth transfer in history. You are forewarned that if you are a wealth advisor in the building, the first thing we’ll do when we inherit money is to change our male advisors.

As entrepreneurs we generate revenue from the beginning from actual customers, we get to
profitability more quickly than our male counterparts, and we are extremely capital efficient.

If you look at this as an asset, vs a deficit as we do these days, (ie.. if you get to profitability quickly you aren’t growing fast enough). If you assume this is actually a good thing to create sustainable jobs, flexible workplaces, and focus on doing good with our business, you need to create a very different ecosystem to support companies.

Women make 80% of purchasing decisions, if you design that asset into your ecosystem support model you create a way to find customers. When you have women vote on companies they care about, they are more likely to become customers.

And according to Stanford, less than 7% of us create businesses as a way to make money. We are motivated by solving real, tangible problems that we see. Turns out that’s exactly where women like to spend their money – on making a difference.

Like Be, who designed the Alinker, a replacement for the walker and wheelchair. 50% of people in wheelchairs can still move their legs but we haven’t created any device for them to stay active.

Or Callisto who created an app for women to self-report, time-stamp, and file sexual assault to be submitted when another woman reports the same abuser.

Or Abeego which designed breathable foodwrap to dramatically reduce waste

Or Chelsea from Loliware that has created the first seaweed-based, edible straws that last 8 hours to replace plastic straws

And Ilana from 21Toys who developed toys that teach empathy and failure.

Or Nadia from Magnusmode who invented an app for people with cognitive special needs to live more independently.

In every single community around us, there are thousands of incredibly meaningful businesses that generate revenue and create sustainable jobs that are starved of capital because most investors are out chasing unicorns.

All Ventures selected in our SheEO network are creating a better world

And many of them are process innovations rather than product innovations. We notice that many women flock to process because we see things holistically and understand the relationship between things. The challenge funding process innovations in our current world is that they don’t fit easily into a sentence like “airbnb for cats”. As we automate more and more of our society, the human-centric innovation will become increasingly important as societal trust erodes.

Valuing our Innovators

In the way we invest today, a few people with a LOT of money sit on a stage, arms crossed, cynical and jaded and make us perform like caged animals (dragon’s den, shark tank, etc) for their scraps. The power dynamic is one way and top down.

At SheEO we ask women to share their dreams, their vision, and their impact and we trust the intuition of our community to pick Ventures that will create a better world. We are honoured to help them grow their impact- globally. And in our model, they are the ones on stage, not us.

Recently, Kat Taylor, the founder of Beneficial State Bank in California said to me, “A 0% interest loan is not radical. We already have negative interest rates in Europe. In the future we will pay our social innovators who are gifted at turning money into high social impact, to take our capital to create solutions in our communities that benefit all of humanity.”

We need to move from a world that is optimized for greed and growth, to one that is optimized for wellbeing and inclusion.

Our new challenge is to figure out how to redistribute capital to strengthen communities and reduce inequality and make a return – both financial and social.

We need all of you to fund thousands of innovators, of intentional actions, of really systemic-level experiments to figure out how to redistribute capital for the insane situation we find ourselves in – 5 people having the same wealth as half the planet.

The energy you see around women’s initiatives globally is the very beginning of a wave of awareness, action, innovation and new models coming our way.

We are all at different stages of development, some not yet visible, and I can guarantee you that when women find their voice, their power and (most importantly) when we come together, a “winner takes all” mindset is the last thing you are going to see emerge.

We are not here to win, we are here to transform.

More Media

More Media