Women are expected to control 75% of discretionary spending worldwide by 2028, and yet they’re under-represented in business leadership roles and entrepreneurship. 

A growth equity fund based in Singapore is raising US$100 million to bridge what the IFC has identified as a $1.5 trillion SME financing gap for women entrepreneurs.

The Southeast Asia Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund (Sweef) employs a gender-lens to unlock the power of diversity and address gaps and structural challenges in the market. The fund will invest in high-growth enterprises in Southeast Asia targeting competitive returns.

Its impact thesis is that connecting capital with aspirational businesses that meet the needs of the community will also grow opportunities for women as entrepreneurs, employees, consumers, and leaders and deliver financial and social value.

Themes include education, healthcare and sustainable food systems, with a focus on high-growth sectors where there is strong potential to increase quality employment and opportunities for women, as well providing goods for vital unmet needs. 

They aim to boost the participation of women in both the workforce and leadership roles, to break down some of the social and cultural barriers that hold women back.   

Sweef has built a proprietary screening approach across 24 diversity indicators to assess how a company is performing on gender equality, which they aim to see widely adopted.

It’s aiming to offer deals of between US$2 to $10 million for growth-stage, small-to-medium enterprises, that are EBITDA positive.

The Sweef Capital team previously invested in a Vietnam healthcare group providing vital maternal services to families in the Mekong Delta region and ensuring medical professionals were being trained to the highest international standards.  In doing so this hospital group was expanding access to quality services and  relieving pressure on the overcrowded public healthcare facilities in the region.

Sweef is successor to a private equity fund developed by DFAT’s Investing in Women programme. The pioneering work of the earlier Women’s Opportunity Fund program, known as SWOF, catalysed the Sweef pipeline, led the development of the Gender ROI methodology, and the firm’s women’s economic empowerment framework.

The team, led by Jennifer Buckley, an experienced private equity investor, has significant track record in global markets and deep networks across Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“We have learned that focusing solely on investing in women entrepreneurs is necessary but not sufficient. Our diversity-driven strategies go broader to include companies led by women; companies operating in sectors with high prevalence of women employees; companies providing products and services that meet the unmet needs and wants of women and girls; and companies operating as role models by demonstrating a clear commitment to gender equality and to equitable workplaces that centre diversity, flexibility and providing quality jobs and working environment for women and other under-represented groups.” Jennifer says. 

Sweef is holding a series of webinars for those who want to know more; to be held on February 23rd, March 2nd, and March 3rd.

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