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How sustainable finance can advance women’s health

by Ana Lopez
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CEO and board member, Organon.

Investing in women’s health is one of the greatest opportunities to generate social and economic benefits worldwide, but a lack of funding and resources remains a major obstacle.

Research suggests that if women participated in economics, like men, an additional $28 trillion (26%) could be added to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. This, combined with shrinking budgets and the pressure of healthcare spending on economies (those 10% of global GDP in 2018, with women’s health making an important contribution), it is necessary to find new ways to promote women’s health and economic growth.

Innovative sustainable finance methods represent a promising approach to addressing this challenge and unlocking the potential of women’s health worldwide.

Promoting women’s health through sustainable finance

Sustainable financing, which has already been used successfully in environment-related projects, prioritizes investments that have a positive impact on society and provides a framework for evaluating the social impact of investments. They can be used to fund initiatives in a variety of ways, from developing telemedicine solutions that give women in remote areas access to health care, to tackling gender-based violence and discrimination, to funding clinical trials targeting diseases that disproportionately affect women.

One sustainable finance tool that I’ve found to be particularly promising is a health-focused social impact bond – which uses a pay-for-success model – which offers governments and investors a way to try new interventions without much effort. have to do. risk, as capital flows can be linked to specific, measurable results.

As of 2020, only health-focused social impact bonds are represented 10% of the 190 billion global social bond issuance. And while they are currently being explored in areas such as prevent chronic conditions, the opportunity in women’s health is still relatively untapped. The good news is that the exploration of health-focused investments with social impact is starting to take seed and grow as governments and banks see the potential of sustainable finance to advance global goals in sexual, reproductive and maternal health, especially once we are able to show what the return on investment is for GDP and the health of a country in general.

Several pioneers have already proven the viability of this approach. In 2022, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) issued a $500 million bond issue focusing on many issues including healthcare. And in 2021, the Banco Interamericano de Desarollo (BID) issued a bond to fund projects that support women in Latin America and the Caribbean, raising $122 million.

Growing and scaling sustainable finance in women’s health

While the initial exploration of sustainable finance in women’s health has shown that there is a huge untapped opportunity, it is still not widely understood. My company has connected governments, development banks, nonprofits and other multilateral agencies and helped them understand the value of sustainable funding mechanisms to promote and improve women’s health. With programs currently running in phases in eight countries, we have 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 basis of decision-making in today’s world, especially when it comes to convincing leaders to invest in something new to them or their industry. We have found that when meeting with potential public and private sector collaborators to discuss women’s health initiatives, providing data that demonstrates both the pressing societal need and the opportunity to grow GDP is critical in giving them a reason to give to believe and invest.

And at least as important is to establish a measurement framework from the start. We found that indicators such as the number of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 giving birth each year, the percentage of teens having a subsequent pregnancy (within the next 18 months), direct costs associated with unintended teen pregnancies, tax costs generated in the treatment of medical complications of unintended teenage pregnancy and its impact as a percentage of GDP – describe a very real and impressive picture that can trigger action.

2. Create a holistic policy that focuses on women’s empowerment.

Many policies enacted to address women’s health issues fall short because they respond to a single issue. To move the needle, we need to approach barriers from multiple angles. For example, unplanned pregnancies cannot be prevented with birth control alone. This requires policies and initiatives aimed at improving access to health education and services, removing financial barriers and more.

3. Find like-minded partners in all industries.

Collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders who share a common vision for better health equity for every woman around the world can allow sustainable finance to take off for women’s health, as well as for environmental initiatives. Major societal challenges, such as access to sexual and reproductive health services, cannot be solved alone. We need to leverage each other’s expertise, resources and networks to drive change.

Making progress for women’s health

In my opinion, we need to unlock the financing opportunities that sustainable financing instruments provide for economic progress for women and girls. Now is the time to scale up – more innovation, funding, access, advocacy and attention to the value of sustainable finance in women’s health – to reap the benefits we know are possible.

I hope that more organizations and governments will recognize this opportunity and come together to jointly promote more sustainable health outcomes, not just in sexual, reproductive and maternal health, but across the spectrum of women’s health. We are at a critical time, and as I often say to our employees, if not us, then who? If not now, when?

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