Latin America: Women’s Health & Investment Opportunities

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Latin American Women + Health

Report explores impact investment opportunities for ventures in Colombia, Peru

Supporting businesses that provide healthcare services specifically to women around the world is critical to empowering their financial independence and overcoming other gender-based inequalities. These types of investments, commonly known as “gender lens” investing, have increased under the larger banner of impact investing, which seeks both social and/or environmental benefits as well as profits. Yet, even as the broader investment community increasingly views these businesses as profit opportunities, rather than beneficiaries of philanthropic giving, identifying these ventures can be a needle in a haystack.

This was the challenge facing the Linked Foundation, which invests in businesses seeking to improve the health and economic self-reliance of women and their families in Latin America. The organization turned to WDI’s Healthcare team in 2019 to explore opportunities for investment and to identify the groups that could create a network, or ecosystem, for businesses serving women’s health care needs. And that meant hitting the road, literally, in search of businesses and organizations that could bring this market into sharper focus.

Andrea Bare, Senior Advisor on WDI’s Healthcare team, led the project, along with Nora Quesada, an independent consultant based in Bogota. Their research took them to small towns and major cities of Colombia and Peru to interview entrepreneurs and established businesses, not to mention clinics, investors, universities, NGOs and ministries of health. That research culminated in a paper titled “Impact Investment Landscape for Women’s Health: Spotlight on Colombia & Peru,” which is available here.

“The level of unmet need was high—women in lower socioeconomic settings in rural and urban Colombia and Peru need better access to healthcare, as well as higher quality care, Bare said. “Our travels affirmed that the Linked Foundation was prioritizing an area of great need. At the same time, we were positively impressed by the efforts already underway, and the drive to solve the problems which women face.

In 2017, the Linked Foundation decided to focus on the reproductive health of women (including contraception), maternal health, and preventative care such as cancer screening, particularly in Latin America. While health social enterprises and nonprofits with sustainability-oriented programs are generally gaining traction in the region, the Foundation found it challenging to identify market-based, investable opportunities to improve women’s health in Latin America. 

“We see access to women’s healthcare as critical for women and their families around the world and we wanted to think about a more collaborative, effective way to look at the landscape,” said Nancy Swanson, Executive Director of the Linked Foundation, on the research with WDI. 

Swanson noted the overall goal of the WDI research was to gain a broader understanding of the region’s potential for women’s health investment, a process known as “landscaping.”

“We’ve seen impact investing growing in Latin America and globally, but we thought this would be really informative to understand the opportunities specific to women’s health that have been difficult to find,” Swanson said. “We’ve never done this type of research—methodically looking from a landscaping point of view.  

“Further, our intent was to share the completed report, in order to catalyze investment in the region. We wanted to take a very transparent approach.”

Regarding women’s health, the research validated that investment opportunities are hard to find, but they are out there, she added.

While the Foundation has previously found several investment-worthy ventures in the region, doing so is a particularly time-consuming activity for all would-be investors in the healthcare sector. WDI’s report helped with the “heavy lifting” required to better understand the regional markets and also enable investors to identify potential partners, such as NGOs, that may be working with fledgling businesses or themselves converting to social enterprises, Swanson said. 

Part of the Foundation’s mission is to “build the field,” or help to bring together a variety of private/for-profit and public/nonprofit organizations to accelerate enterprise development by creating an ecosystem for those enterprises to network and potentially court investments. Such an ecosystem also includes NGOs, universities, business incubators and government agencies. 

By finding those opportunities and organizations that are looking to support ventures focused on women’s health, Swanson sees opportunities for investors and funders to elevate the industry—much in the same way financial technology (fintech) has done in recent years and microfinance did more than a decade ago. Both industries have seen global growth, particularly in low-income markets.   

Most investors are looking for deal flow and pipeline, but it's harder to find partners that want to support this kind of research to inform the sector and catalyze the market,” said Swanson. “The report did a great job identifying the key takeaways and what the options are. “We couldn't be happier with the work that the WDI team has done.

WDI and the Linked Foundation jointly presented the findings of the report and discussed investment opportunities at last year’s Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference, IMPAQTO CLIIQ in Quito and The Latin American Impact Investing Forum. In speaking to those audiences, Bare said it has been important to demonstrate that businesses with these types of models can, in fact, be investment worthy.  Another goal of the project is helping the investment community understand how it can support development beyond funding deals.

“There definitely needs to be ecosystem development, which in part is providing support to innovators,” recognizing that organizational readiness for investment varies greatly,” Bare said. “Additionally, technology innovations in diagnostic imaging and digital health may be constrained by regulatory capability and policy structures.”

Studies indicate impact investments in healthcare across Latin America are far smaller than other industries such as agriculture and microfinance. A good reason for that is the patchwork payment structures of government and private healthcare providers in both countries. 

“We couldn’t really do the work without considering the state of health care systems in these two countries,” Bare said. “This dynamic is why investing in health care makes it almost completely different than other forms of impact investment.”

Nevertheless, WDI researchers did find several ventures developing and applying technology to improve diagnostic and treatment access in rural and remote areas, as well as creating new and evolving current business / clinical care delivery business models. Many leaders at those businesses expressed a desire to connect with universities, business accelerators, venture capitalists and other key points of contact to drive growth. 

While investors are primarily interested in funding deals, few funds are willing or able to expend the resources to do the deeper research necessary to find women-owned and/or women-focused healthcare related businesses. 

“Most investors are looking for deal flow and pipeline, but it’s harder to find partners that want to support this kind of research to inform the sector and catalyze the market,” said Swanson. “The report did a great job identifying the key takeaways and what the options are. “We couldn’t be happier with the work that the WDI team has done.”

In a recent update, Linked noted that the collaboration with WDI is informing its investment strategy as well as catalyzing interest and resources for the most-needed areas in women’s health in Latin America. The concept of a women’s health investment fund for Latin America is in the works, but with an intermediate step being planned and expected to be announced shortly. In the meantime, Linked and WDI are closely following the efforts of many organizations profiled in the report as they pivot their models during the pandemic, but retain a long-term view to serve women’s health needs. 

Pascale R. Leroueil, Vice President of WDI’s Healthcare team, said the project is just the sort of work in which WDI specializes. 

“We look forward to continued work in this arena, as our WDI Healthcare team is driven to support well-informed investment decisions by providing the voice of the market, along with analytics for criteria-driven management,” Leroueil said. “We are delighted in this type of opportunity, to foster private sector success in combination with meeting societal needs.”

Impact Investment Landscape for Women's Health

Spotlight on Columbia & Peru

Lead Photo by Jhon David on Unsplash

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