Picture this… Stunning beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters filled with vibrant marine life and bordered by pristine white and pink sand. Here, all people have equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their religion, sex, gender identity or socioeconomic status. The government identifies and responds to the different but equally important needs of its diverse population.
Women, youth, people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas, especially entrepreneurs and those in agriculture, sustainable tourism, and creative and cultural industries, have equal access to adequate financing to start and scale their businesses, increase their incomes, and contribute to their country’s economy. Here, women are confident in the marketplace because they have the necessary skills and resources to operate profitable businesses and get paid equally as men, for work of equal value.
Isn’t this fabulous? This is truly paradise.
This is what realising gender equality looks like. Through funding from the UN Joint SDG Fund, the ‘Building Back Equal through Innovative Financing for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment’ Programme aims to advance women’s economic empowerment. Both governments of The Bahamas and Bermuda have made significant progress in advancing gender equality, however, there remains significant work to be done. The programme, which is implemented by UN Women and UNDP in Bermuda and UNESCO, FAO, UNDP and UN Women in The Bahamas, is set within the context that GDP alone does not tell the full story of the vulnerabilities a country and its residents face. The programme therefore promotes using gender equality as an accelerator for economic empowerment. Gender lens investing and private-public partnerships are strategies being used to strengthen new and emerging industries in which women and youth are likely to be most involved and further advance their empowerment to build more equal societies.
At the launch of the national programme in The Bahamas on May 30, 2022, the Honourable Lisa Rahming, the State Minister in the Ministry of Social Services & Urban Development, said: “As we economically empower our people, no social or demographic grouping is to be left behind. Further, we are to remain sensitive to the customs, culture, way of life, values and integrity of the physical environment of the communities and markets in which we conduct business and commercial trade.”
As an outcome of the programme, more women and youth will benefit from increased access to capital for their businesses through the establishment of Inspire Capital Solutions, which shall have the capacity to invest in these businesses. This new funding source is underpinned by innovative gender-responsive financing tools, including the adoption of the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) by private and public sector financiers in the region.
Representative for UN Women Multi-Country Office – Caribbean, Tonni Ann Brodber, shares that: “UN Women and Portland Private Equity, a Caribbean-based private equity and venture capital firm, have pioneered a partnership which hopes to bring in USD500M of gender smart risk capital to advance impact-driven investments for SMEs and medium-large companies in the Caribbean. This is what we hope, that through this programme women and youth entrepreneurs will be able to benefit from.”
Honourable Tinee Furbert, Minister of Social Development and Seniors, said at the launch of the Bermuda national programme: “This UN-Bermuda programme intends to provide a mix of solutions to assist Bermuda to build back equal, post COVID-19, but become a best practice example that will showcase how innovative financing vehicles, digital platforms, and Women’s Empowerment Principles can be leveraged to successfully close the financing gaps that [women] and youth entrepreneurs face.”
Since the start of the programme, UN Women has coordinated two capacity-building activities to promote the adoption of innovative financial tools by financiers in the Caribbean. From July 19-21, 2022, 20 fund managers from national development banks, private equity firms, commercial banks, and other financial institutions including participants from Bermuda and The Bahamas supported by the Joint SDG Fund, attended the first Gender Lens Investing workshop in the region. The workshop was hosted by UN Women Multi-Country Office – Caribbean and partners, notably: Development Finance Institute Canada Inc (FinDev Canada), Portland Private Equity and Caribbean Alternative Investment Association (CARAIA). In May 2023, 17 participants from the government, local financial institutions, and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation received training in gender lens investing and public financing policies and instruments for gender equality and women's empowerment in Bermuda. The gender lens investing training included the identification of gender-based factors such as gender disparities, which can influence all stages of the investment process, and outlined the steps to invest in women-owned and women-led enterprises, businesses that promote gender equality in the workplace, and products or services that substantially improve the lives of women and girls.
On May 3, 2023, UNDP hosted a workshop with public sector experts on appropriate financing policies and instruments for gender equality and women's empowerment to develop a gender-sensitive entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Toni-Tanille Kerr, a partner at Portland Private Equity, reflected on the limited capital available to women and youth owned Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs): “When we compare the Caribbean to other regions, the Caribbean remains overlooked and underserved by the global capital markets.”
“The paucity of capital is even more pronounced when we look at the limited amounts directed to companies focused on serving women and youth,” Kerr said.
Ms Kerr added: “Our work with the UN Joint SDG Fund will allow us to be a source of innovative financing to women-owned [and] led businesses and youth entrepreneurs in the region, enabling a more holistic approach to helping these businesses scale and grow. Through our upcoming Fund, PCF III, Portland Private Equity will support a more inclusive rebuilding of Caribbean economies COVID, whilst also delivering on our mandate of providing superior risk-adjusted returns to investors.”
One of the beneficiaries of the capacity building trainings, Erica Smith, Executive Director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), said: “The exposure we have had to the knowledge and experience of the UN Women and UNDP teams has been incredible and will bode well for growing Bermuda's entrepreneurial eco-system - especially those demographic sectors - women, youth, and persons with disabilities - who need bespoke policies, programmes, and products to level the playing field.
Ms Smith further stated: “Thus far the learnings from the various trainings we've been exposed to have been shared across our entire organisation. In addition, through the Building Back Equal programme, BEDC has been able to expose some of our entrepreneurs to training and opportunities overseas. BEDC has also had exposure to global experts in both financing/investing and incubators/accelerators and we are excited about the eventual outcomes of that exposure.”
The key messages that support this programme have been amplified across traditional and digital media with 22 articles, videos,TV and radio interviews, and 12 complementary social media posts. The media coverage focused on how the programme is driving the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 – Gender Equality, SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth and SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
Bermuda and The Bahamas can expect increased technical skills among youth and women in sustainable and micro business management, climate resilience, and the application of digital innovations for the development of Agro-food systems. This will be focused in Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma, and Andros and will feature the establishment of a Business Incubator and Accelerator for women and youth entrepreneurs to train and scale up on Resilience Building, Sustainable Tourism, and Creative Industries. The programme will also feature the development of networks and digital platforms to support coordination and cooperation among women-owned MSMEs (in the Agriculture, Tourism and Creative industries).
Under this programme, The Governments and People of The Bahamas and Bermuda are making significant leaps towards achieving an inclusive society where women, youth and people with disabilities can even more meaningfully participate in the development of their economies.
The Joint SDG Fund's joint programmes are under the prestige leadership of the Resident Coordinator Office and implementing United Nations Agencies. With sincere appreciation for the contributions from the European Union and Governments of Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and our private sector funding partners, for a transformative movement towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.