CEO and board member, Organon.
Investing in women’s health is one of the greatest opportunities for generating social and economic benefits globally, but a lack of funding and resources remains a significant obstacle.
Research suggests that if women participated in the economy equally to men, an additional $28 trillion (26%) could be added to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. This, combined with shrinking budgets and the strain of healthcare expenditures on economies (which comprised 10% of global GDP in 2018, with women’s health being a major contributor), necessitates finding new ways to promote women’s health and economic growth.
Innovative sustainable financing methods represent a promising approach to addressing this challenge and unlocking the potential of women’s health globally.
Advancing Women’s Health Through Sustainable Financing
Sustainable financing, which has already been used successfully in environmental-related projects, prioritizes investments that have a positive effect on society and provides a framework for evaluating the social impact of investments. They can be used in numerous ways to fund initiatives, from developing telemedicine solutions that enable women in remote areas to access healthcare services to addressing gender-based violence and discrimination, to funding clinical trials that focus on diseases that disproportionately affect women.
One sustainable financing instrument that I’ve found is particularly promising is a health-focused social impact bond—that uses a pay-for-success model—which provides governments and investors with a way to try new interventions without taking on a great deal of risk, as flows of capital may be linked to specific, measurable outcomes.
As of 2020, health-focused social impact bonds only represented 10% of the 190 billion global social bond issuances. And while they are currently being explored in areas like preventing chronic conditions, the opportunity in women’s health is still relatively untapped. The good news is, exploration of health-focused social impact investing is starting to take seed and grow, as governments and banks are seeing the potential for sustainable financing to advance global goals in sexual, reproductive and maternal health, particularly once we are able to showcase the return on investment on a country’s GDP and health overall.
Several pioneers have already proven the viability of this approach. In 2022, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) issued a $500 million bond focused on many issues, including healthcare. And in 2021, the Banco Interamericano de Desarollo (BID) issued a bond to finance projects that support women in Latin America and the Caribbean, raising $122 million.
Growing And Scaling Sustainable Financing In Women’s Health
While the initial exploration of sustainable financing in women’s health has shown that there is a huge, untapped opportunity, it is still not widely understood. My company has been connecting governments, development global banks, non-profit organizations and other multilateral agencies, and helping them realize the value of sustainable finance mechanisms to advance and improve the health of women. With programs currently running in eight countries in different phases, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to help economies realize the value of sustainable finance:
1. Never underestimate the power of data.
Data has become the foundation for decision making in today’s world, especially when it comes to convincing leaders to invest in something that is new to them or their sector. We’ve found that when meeting with potential public and private sector collaborators to discuss women’s health initiatives, providing data that demonstrates both the urgent societal need and opportunity to grow GDP is critical to giving them a reason to believe and invest.
And, equally as important is establishing a measurement framework from the outset. We have found that indicators—such as the number of girls between the ages of 10 to 14 giving birth every year, percentage of teenagers that will have a subsequent pregnancy (in the next 18 months), direct costs associated to unintended pregnancies in teenagers, fiscal costs generated on treating medical complications of unintended teenage pregnancies and its impact as a percentage of GDP—describe a very real and impactful picture that can unleash action.
2. Create holistic policies that put women’s empowerment at the center.
Many policies enacted to address women’s health issues fall short because they are responsive to a single problem. To move the needle, we must address barriers from multiple angles. For instance, unplanned pregnancies can’t be prevented with contraception alone. Doing so requires policies and initiatives aimed at increasing access to health education and services, eliminating financial barriers and more.
3. Seek like-minded partners across sectors.
Collaboration between stakeholders from across the public and private sectors that share a common vision to better health equity for every woman around the world is what can enable sustainable finance to take off in women’s health, as it has for environmental initiatives. Big, societal challenges, like access to sexual and reproductive health services, can’t be solved alone—we must leverage each other’s expertise, resources and networks to drive change.
Making Progress For Women’s Health
In my view, we must unlock the funding opportunities that sustainable financing instruments present for economic progress for women and girls. Now is the time to scale—bringing more innovation, funding, access, advocacy and attention to the value of sustainable financing in women’s health—to achieve the gains we know are possible.
My hope is that more organizations and governments will recognize this opportunity and come together to collectively promote more sustainable health outcomes, not only in sexual, reproductive and maternal health, but across the spectrum of women’s health. We are at a pivotal moment, and as I often say to our employees, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?