Credits UN Women/Gustavo Stephan
Published on June 4, 2021

Women in Leadership


In the podcast episode of a “Time to Act”, Women in Leadership, features an insightful discussion on the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head of Joint SDG Fund Secretariat, Lisa Kurbiel interviews Graham Macmillan, President of Visa Foundation and Najada Kumbuli, Head of Investments at Visa Foundation on women’s economic advancement and inclusive economic development. Gender equality and women’s full and equal participation in all areas of life, especially decision-making, are integral to the Decade of Action. Indeed, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will only be possible when we recognize the value of women front and centre, together, leading the way and rising for all. With 400 million USD in assets and 200 million USD commitment over the next five years in both grants and investment capital, the Visa Foundation is advancing economic opportunity though philanthropy and investments in support of women entrepreneurs worldwide.

The discussion kicks off with an insight to the foundation’s commitment to gender equality. On this commitment, the President of Visa Foundation, Graham Macmillan emphasizes that “when you invest in women, enterprises controlled by women and investment vehicles that are controlled by women there is going to be a tremendous amount of benefit that flows through”.

The conversation then proceeds to discuss how the foundation employs different capital to advance gender equality. Najada Kumbuli, Head of Investments Visa Foundation provides that it is imperative to note that one form of capital cannot solve development challenges. At Visa Foundation “we therefore employ grant capital as a vehicle to support women entrepreneurs and investment capital to provide these entrepreneurs with a just foundation to get to their next stages of business development.”

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, last year, the Visa Foundation launched a signatory initiative called the equitable access initiative. This is an initiative that has supported small and micro businesses access different forms of capital and different forms of services to grow and thrive. Visa Foundation has also put in place a five million investment in one of the most sustainable agriculture lenders in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa whose main beneficiaries are women small holder farmers.

Whereas the Visa Foundation is focused on risk, return and impact, at the Joint SDG Fund, Head of the Joint SDG Fund, Lisa Kurbiel, highlights that the fund “opens doors to de-risk and debunk risks”. The fund is further cognizant of the systemic barriers that exist that bar women from sustainable participation in different economical spheres.

At Visa Foundation, Najada Kumbuli notes that their commitment to gender diversity transcends to the organization internal structures such as leadership where gender and inclusion have been mainstreamed. The foundation also uses data to provide an integral view on gender equality progress. In Southeast Asia for instance, there was an accelerator program in which the data revealed that women businesses were earning less than they usually would have earned after participating in this accelerator program. This reality drove Visa Foundation along with other key stakeholders such as USAID and IFC to intervene by conducting research to see how to best address this growing concern.

The foundation has further played a critical role in the advancement of gender equality in Vietnam. One of the success stories is a young woman entrepreneur who was able to start a wet wipes business with 5 women employees and has now grown her business to an enterprise with 300 employees. This young Vietnamese is changing the lives of women and families in Vietnam by empowering them to be self-reliant through her enterprise.

It is fundamental to note that gender equality varies from place to place. However, despite this reality it is “our fiduciary duty to make the most impact in the societies we live in” and realize gender equality.

Listen to Women in Leadership Podcast and learn more!