26 Oct 2021

BEYOND 2021: Cross-border Collaboration to Uplift Gender Lens Investment in Southeast Asia

How supporting traditionally underserved groups makes good business sense and fills gaps in the local market

When we at Spring Activator, ANGIN, KisStartup, Invest2Innovate and Villgro Philippines started Beyond 2021: Investing Across Borders and Innovation we knew this was and is an important time to support and invest in women entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.

“If a region wants to create greater economic opportunity and stability,  it’s important for women to be able to achieve financial equality and independence,” says Spring Activator’s Director of Strategy and Operations Luan Tolosa.

Women make up 50% of the population in Southeast Asia and have great untapped potential, so it was important for us at Spring to engage in this project with partners who align and see the importance of this work.”

As separate organisations who shared this same goal, the Frontiers Lab Asia program provided us with the opportunity to combine our efforts into a practical, systems-focused solution. With the support of the Australian Government, the program facilitated a rigorous but coordinated process of rapid design that leveraged the expertise of our peers through a series of sprints and evaluations. 

Beyond 2021: Investing Across Borders and Innovation is the first-of-its-kind event ever hosted in Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. Consisting of both a virtual summit, and a training and networking series, the goal of Beyond 2021 is to promote local and cross-border investment with investors worldwide. It does this by connecting investors with women-led ventures in South and Southeast Asia to increase capital access and economic equality. 

During the training, the following dimensions were covered:

  • The landscape of investing in South and Southeast Asia Relationship management and working with co-investors
  • Deal sourcing: Southeast Asia and Cross Border Unpacking Bias
  • Due Diligence with a Gender Lens Investing view

“[In a short period of time] the Beyond 21 program attracted over 40 investors from Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Singapore, among other countries, and guest speakers from around the globe including Dubai, Switzerland, Canada, and the US. The momentum created has left global investors and women-led ventures asking ‘what’s next’,” explains Spring Activator CEO, Keith Ippel.

New challenges give rise to  new opportunities and investment growth

Though COVID-19 has been and continues to be a global challenge, it created the opportunity for investors interested in Southeast Asia to meet local companies, assess investment opportunities, and provide post-investment support virtually. This has led many investors to the realisation that they can invest anywhere, despite the constraints of the pandemic. The result has been massive growth in investing in various regions, including Southeast Asia. 

Luan adds that “In a relatively short period of time, we have been successful in proving that there is a demand and need for international investors who see the value in gender lens investing in Southeast Asia.

By continuing to build on the momentum that has been created and growing our global community of like-minded investors wanting to make an impact, we continue to make strides toward our vision of connecting investors across Southeast Asia in order to increase access to capital for women-led ventures in the region.”

A new concept needs a new way of doing

Gender lens investment (GLI) is a new concept, especially in Vietnam, and there are many misunderstandings surrounding what it is and what it means for businesses. Making full use of online communication and media channels is a key to increasing market awareness of gender lens investing. 

In parallel with improving market awareness, organising the summit and three-day intensive training, KisStartup conducted three online lunches for investors to discuss learning content, share experiences and analyse potential projects. The investors were quick to learn that they need each other to do better due diligence and to add more value to the projects they are investing in. By working together, they will have more confidence in each deal decision. As a result, the concept of GLI and its opportunities have been mentioned by more than 20 media channels in the country. 

After more than two months of project implementation, a small group of local angel investors (who mainly are women) has also been formed with the common interest investment themes developed after the pitching session – a part of the online lunches. This hybrid model gave the KisStartup team encouraging initial results that motivated us to move on to the next steps.

“This cooperation has indeed not only brought KisStartup new activities and new perspectives to contribute to the Vietnam startup ecosystem, but also contributed to the introduction of valuable new concepts on GLI in the emerging market,” states KisStartup CEO & Cofounder, Minh Nguyen Dang Tuan.

“We believe, more than an approach, GLI is an important investment strategy that promotes the effectiveness of the investment journey, opening capital sources and further promoting economic development” 

What’s next for gender lens investing in Southeast Asia?

Mehvish Arifeen, CEO invest2Innovate, is keen to keep supporting GLI to grow in the region. 

“In the past year, Pakistani startups have seen the highest number and amount of deals close. The majority of these deals have been invested in by international VCs,” she states. “We are eager to create an environment that will be conducive to increased cross-border angel investments as well, especially GLI since the dearth of GLI in the region is alarming.

We believe that angel investing is imperative for laying the foundations of a sustainable investment cycle in the region. Beyond 21: Investing Across Borders and Innovation is a stepping stone towards building a pipeline of GLI Angel investors in the country and region.” 

Beginning as different organisations from different parts of the world who were all independently promoting GLI in the region, we have all been able to connect with one another and combine our efforts, with the great support from Frontiers Lab Asia. We are now collaboratively developing the GLI community in the region, and in each country specifically, through a series of events, training and coaching sessions. 

This next phase will focus on continuing to demystify the GLI opportunity in Southeast Asia through educational workshops that cover investing, GLI, and cross-border investing. These will have a particular focus on accelerating community-building while building on specific outputs and outcomes related to investor community-building, as well as catalysing the activity of cross-border and GLI deals. 

We are also proposing a focus on increasing capital from women investors, increasing access to capital for women founders, supporting the advancement of SDG 5: Gender Equality, and creating greater economic opportunity and stability for women in the region.



For more information on Beyond 21, or to get involved in the next phase of this solution, visit the Beyond 2021 solution page.