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How Sarona is Leading the Way in Gender Lens Investing with the 2X Challenge

By

Ralitsa Rizvanolli

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4 min read

At Sarona, we believe in the power of investing for positive change. As a company dedicated to making a difference through our investments, we understand the significance of promoting gender equality and diversity. That is why we became a part of the 2X Global Initiative, a global association that is working towards advancing gender lens investments.

Aimed at understanding the current state of women’s representation within the Sarona portfolio and assessing alignment with the 2x Challenge, our Impact Team has investigated each Fund Manager and their portfolio companies’ internal operations including leadership and over-all workforce, policies and practices to promote workplace gender equality and diversity. Investments have been categorized by sector to further gauge women’s economic participation and inclusion.

Purposeful Alignment

The Sarona Global Growth Markets Funds (SGGM), our flagship program, has two funds with a total of $235 million in committed capital and works with 21 Fund Managers, investing in 26 funds and 11 co-investments. The portfolio comprises of 126 companies across Africa/MENA, Asia, Latin America, and Emerging Europe.

Sarona observed increased women representation across various roles over the last two years. Overall, 67% of the 21 Fund Managers are 2X aligned, with 14 meeting the criteria for women in management positions and women employees. In terms of leadership roles, there is a 23% median of women in Executive/Partner roles, which is close to the 2X benchmark of 25%. However, there is underperformance in women on Boards and on investment committees, with a median of 0%.

Despite underperformance in certain areas, Sarona will continue to work towards better alignment in the future. Technical assistance programs have been made available to support our Fund Managers to improve these areas, and 89% of our Fund Managers indicated an interest in such support.

In terms of policies, Sarona’s Fund Managers perform well, which we owe to the fact that many are well-established firms which already have stated objectives related to social and/or gender impact.

Most of the 126 companies operate in sectors of consumer goods and services, industrials, financial services, and technology. 77% are 2X Challenge aligned because the number of women employees meets or exceeds the 2X threshold of 30%-50%. In addition, there is above average representation at management levels, with 36% women managers in 2021. Similarly, to what we observe at the Fund Manager level, the representation at senior levels at the companies, in particular Boards, lags at 14%, which is below the benchmark set by 2X.

Sarona holds a unique position as an investor in a global emerging market portfolio of funds and companies with the ability to influence gender patterns by indicating this as a priority early in the engagement and by being able to benchmark an individual investment’s performance to a larger portfolio.

Leading by Example

As a firm, Sarona is 2X Challenge aligned according to the leadership and consumption criteria. Women are represented in Board (33%), Investment Committee (37.5%) and Partners (25%). One of the impact mandates that Sarona manages, the Emerging Impact Investment Fund (EMIIF), is focused on making gender lens investments. Our firm has gender conscious policies, including flexible work, generous parental leave, and sexual harassment prevention. With diversity and inclusion (D&I) as priorities, we have an active D&I Committee. Sarona has also authored a series of benchmarking reports for our Fund Managers containing specific recommendations with the purpose of informing and improving a common approach to gender lens investing.

Sarona Asset Management

Sarona is a private investment firm, investing growth capital in companies and private equity funds in Global Growth Markets. We support our clients in implementing impactful investment strategies and operating to the highest standards of business, ethical, social and environmental excellence.

Sarona is a member of AVPN, the largest platform and networking organisation for social investment in Asia.

Further details of how Sarona and our Investees aligned with the 2X Challenge objectives are available in the report here.

More about the 2X Challenge: https://www.2xchallenge.org/

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Ralitsa Rizvanolli

Partner, Head of Investments at Sarona Asset Management

Rali is accountable for investment selection, execution and monitoring of investments for Sarona’s funds and impact mandates on behalf of third-party clients such as governments and non-profit organizations. Rali ensures that ESG and impact are embedded into the investment process. Rali is passionate about deepening the gender lens and climate risk assessment capabilities at Sarona, believing that investing with both lenses leads to better financial and sustainability outcomes.

Prior to Sarona, Rali was an investment manager at Triple Jump. Rali built a portfolio of private equity and fixed income investments primarily in Africa and MENA for a fund of funds (Dutch Good Growth Fund) funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prior to that Rali was a Portfolio Manager with responsibility for credit risk analysis and top-down allocation for microfinance funds. She started her career in microfinance, holding various positions at MIX Market, a data and market intelligence platform for the microfinance industry.

Rali holds a B.A. in International Relations from Pomona College in California and an M.A. in International Development from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Rali was born and raised in Bulgaria and has spent extensive time working and living in emerging markets including Albania and Mexico. Rali currently heads Sarona’s Singapore office.

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