Gender-Smart Practices in Climate Entrepreneurship Support: Insights from an ecosystem workshop

Authors: Elisabeth van Holthe tot Echten (PFAN), Marko van Waveren Hogervorst (PFAN), Renée Hunter (Value for Women), Silvia Emili (Value for Women)


Gender equality and a just, inclusive and equitable energy transition are two global goals that are intimately linked, and mutually reinforcing. There is a vibrant ecosystem of organisations that support and invest in clean energy and climate adaptation entrepreneurs and their businesses, and increasingly, these organisations are looking to actively apply a gender lens to their undertakings (evidenced, for example, in the high levels of engagement around the recent Gender & Energy Compact). While there is a common understanding of the necessity amongst the ecosystem (‘the why’, if you will), many organisations are not quite sure on how to practically incorporate a gender lens in their programmes and investments (‘the how’). 

To assist with this question, PFAN organised the virtual workshop ‘Embedding Gender-Smart Practices in Climate Entrepreneurship Support’ on 16 September 2021, in partnership with Value for Women. This workshop was a practical step to move further UNIDO and PFAN’s commitment made at the GenderSmart Investing Summit 2021 to call upon organisations to step up capacity building efforts for organisations involved in gender lens investing and entrepreneurial support for clean energy and climate change adaptation businesses. The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness, influence and inspire entrepreneur support organisations (ESOs) in clean energy and climate change adaptation to become more gender-smart in their operations, ultimately mobilising more capital for a just, inclusive and equitable energy transition.

This article highlights some of the key insights shared by participants to this workshop.


Gender inclusion in climate entrepreneurship: The right thing to do


Climate change disproportionately impacts women, and the linkages between climate impacts and gender inequality are evident and well understood. Many businesses, entrepreneurs and organisations providing innovative solutions to the climate crisis understand the need to involve women as agents of change for climate smart solutions, but often they tend to lack practical guidance to be more gender inclusive. 

“The support for climate and gender nexus has never been better or more important than it is today. Gender action needs to cut across all sectors, and provide practical tools and capital to entrepreneurs to make a real impact in reducing gender inequality as well as save the planet.” – Sasmita Patnaik, Tetra Tech (WE4F Asia)

To really hone in on the impacts of gender equality for a just, inclusive and equitable energy transition, however, it is critical that organisations move beyond a narrative that focuses on women as victims. Instead, vast opportunities open up when organisations make better use of women’s strong contributions as innovators and leaders in the sector. PFAN, UNIDO and Value for Women are committed to the understanding that striving for gender equality is the right thing to do. Or, in the words of Christine Verheijden, from ADB, “considering gender is not only good development practice, but also good business practice”. We are convinced that an important role can and should be played by entrepreneurial support organisations (ESOs). On the one hand, these organisations can implement gender-smart activities and actions inspired and mandated by donors. On the other hand, they can develop gender smart investment opportunities for investors to enable them to fuel a just and green economy transition. 

ESOs have a key role to play in overcoming the hurdles faced by entrepreneurs, thus unlocking the important contributions of women as innovators and leaders. Given the particular challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and women in the energy sector, and the need for climate entrepreneurs to adopt gender-smart practices, ESOs need to also look critically at the way in which they do their work. Even with gender-inclusive intentions, ESOs’ delivery, content and structures may still be unconsciously biased – for example, data from the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI) indicates that women entrepreneurs are underrepresented in acceleration programmes, and receive less benefit from the programmes in terms of investment raised afterwards. Luckily there are a number of practical ways that ESOs can move towards becoming more gender-smart, such as:

  • Setting clear targets for inclusion of women-led or gender-smart entreprises;
  • Reviewing selection criteria and procedures for businesses to be selected into the programme, to ensure that this process isn’t inadvertently exclusionary;
  • Inclusion of content, coaching or capacity-building on gender-smart business practices; or
  • Catering specifically to the development needs of women entrepreneurs, for instance by providing targeted training and mentoring for women.

Applying a gender lens can be challenging, and many stakeholders in the climate entrepreneurship ecosystem experience common difficulties. This workshop was an opportunity to exchange experiences, discuss learnings and good practices, and explore avenues for collectively influencing ESOs and investors to apply a gender lens to their activities.


Crowdsourced insights from the workshop


The workshop was well attended by 29 participants spread over ESOs, investors and donors. Three organisations with extensive experience applying a gender lens to their entrepreneurial support provided the audience with insights from their own journey. Contributions were made by Ryan Thew from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)  (a key donor in this space), Tracy Dolan from the Energy and Environment Partnership Trust Fund (EEP Africa) (a challenge fund, to bring in the intermediary perspective), and Tanya Kothari from the Shell Foundation (bringing in an investor’s point of view). This was followed by in-depth discussions in break-out rooms, in which the audience shared their main challenges and needs for (peer) support moving forward.

A key take-away from the discussions was that many organisations struggle with the gender focal point or gender champion being the only person to focus on gender inclusion in their organisation. This often leads to delays in the implementation and gender inclusion being considered as a ‘side project’. One of the investors in the room highlighted the need to break the silo between impact and investment teams and to fully embed gender practices in the investment process by training investment professionals that are directly in contact with investees.

Organisations experienced key gaps in terms of skilled human resources with appropriate knowledge to implement gender smart practices across investment processes and advisory support to entrepreneurs. They agreed that more training, sensitisation and awareness building were required to ensure that stakeholders external to their organisations – such as financial advisors and investment experts – are also trained. 

Other resources required are more data and case studies to further support the business case for embedding gender-smart practices, as well as sector specific tools on how to embed them in, for instance, the mini-grid sector. 

Finally, support organisations indicated the need for a value chain or ecosystem approach. Each organisation focuses on a relatively niche area of entrepreneurial support (e.g. stage of the start-up to scale-up journey), and may need to rely on linkages with organisations in other niches to adequately support businesses to become more gender-forward and investment-ready.  Audience engagement after the event supported this drive towards greater ecosystem collaboration. Most  respondents indicated that creating a Community of Practice would be the best way to achieve this long-term objective and they see expert webinars, workshop series and training sessions as the most interesting types of activities to take this forward successfully.

“Great initiative by PFAN to spur practical discussions around gender-smart practices in the energy space and challenges faced by the investment community to embed such practices in our work. Hoping for more practical resources that can be used by investors to encourage entrepreneurs to incorporate a gender lens to their operations!” – Dhriti Bhatta, Oikocredit International


Next steps


“It was great to discuss the importance of gender inclusion along the whole clean energy value chain. Companies need to move beyond seeing women as beneficiaries and ensure they are integrated as leaders and agents of change at every stage of business development. Investing in women must be a core strategy in all climate financing, and productive workshops like this help all stakeholders learn from each other.” – Tracy Dolan, EEP Africa

From workshop engagements and questions posed, it was clear that this was only the first step on our journey as an entrepreneurial ecosystem to collaborate more towards more gender-smart practices. At PFAN, we are committed to continuing this conversation in partnership with Value for Women and workshop participants. We are exploring the possibility of establishing a Community of Practice on Gender-Smart Climate Entrepreneurship Support – complementing existing groupings such as the Gender and Energy Compact, and the Gender Smart working groups – or hosting more events and discussions around the topic.

We invite interested organisations to reach out to us for the following:

  • Events, discussions and workshops on topics related to gender-smart climate entrepreneurship support;
  • Connecting us with other ESOs offering support during the start-up to scale-up journey; and
  • Designing and implementing pilots in gender-smart climate entrepreneurship support.

In the meantime, we invite you to the PFAN and Value for Women websites for useful resources on this journey. 

Finally, interested parties are also encouraged to read and join the Gender and Energy Compact to catalyze action to enhance gender equality and empower women for a just, inclusive and equitable energy transition.


For more information, or to find out how you can get involved, please reach out to: