17 Oct The Women’s Capital Collaborative Fund
Interview with Erika D. Williams, Vice President of Client Development with RSF Social Finance and The Women’s Capital Collaborative Fund
Jen: How was the RSF’s Women’s Capital Collaborative Fund created?
Erika: Women entrepreneurs are routinely left behind when it comes to funding. On average, women start businesses with half as much capital as men, despite women-led enterprises exhibiting faster rates of growth. A Harvard Business School study found that, even when business pitches were identical, men were 60% more likely to be chosen to receive funding. This is why RSF founded the Women’s Capital Collaborative (WCC)—to provide capital to early-stage social enterprises that are women-led, support women and/or girls, committed to advancing women in their organization, and solving complex social and/or environmental problems.
Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?
Erika: The Collaborative uses a dynamic approach to funding through an integrated capital model, providing different financial & non-financial resources when they are most needed. The WCC also uses participatory grantmaking strategies to promote more democratic, collaborative, and community-driven gifting. Shared Gifting Circles, in which grantees have ownership, distribution and allocation authority, and Flow Funding, where new funders are entrusted with grantmaking decisions, are examples of the catalytic gifting models the WCC uses. We also partner with other funders, networks, and allies to leverage resources and create customized capital solutions for women-led social enterprises. This often creates a multiplier effect which can amplify efforts to raise more capital from other investors, lenders, and donors.
Jen: How do you describe the kind of non-financial returns the fund offers?
Erika: We focus on long-term relationships that are direct, transparent, and personal, both with our funders and social entrepreneurs. These relationships build the foundation for trust and collaboration to emerge, leading to long-term social, economic, and ecological benefit. To instill values of transparency and collaboration, we host gatherings and community conversations that support the growth of women funders, entrepreneurs and community leaders. We provide social capital and access to networks, and facilitate learning, connections and collaborations among WCC stakeholders.
Jen: Can you describe how you use integrated capital to do your work?
Erika: Runway (formerly The Runway Project) is one example of a social enterprise that received different forms of funding from the WCC to meet their needs. Runway’s mission is to catalyze African American wealth through small business ownership and standardize the way friends-and-family capital is deployed to African American, primarily women, entrepreneurs. They also provide culturally relevant technical support and a community of mentors. In January of 2018 the WCC provided them with a $100,000 loan to be used as collateral for loans they provide to entrepreneurs. In April of 2018 we issued a $20,000 technical assistance grant to support business advisory services. We later financed them with two additional loans to act as collateral for loans they provide to entrepreneurs ($100,000 and $130,000). In December of 2018, we issued another technical assistance grant of $20,000 for marketing support. And finally, in May 2020, RSF issued a $10,000 rapid response grant to Runway, in light of COVID-19 challenges.
Jen: What is transformational about the businesses that you invest in?
Erika: The WCC supports innovative, mission-driven organizations that are owned and/or led by women; support women and/or girls in the areas of health, education, economic empowerment, personal safety, or legal rights; are committed to advancing women in their organizations, are collaborative, transparent, inclusive, and prioritize long-term benefit to stakeholders; have 18 months or more of operating history; and are based in the United States. The WCC supports organizations with a strong foundation who are creating lasting, positive impact for women & girls and solving challenging social and environmental problems.
Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?
Erika: The WCC provides funding for women-owned and women-led organizations that are committed to supporting the health, education, economic empowerment, personal safety, or legal rights of women and/or girls. Along with WCC’s emphasis on gender, the fund also specifically aims to support women of color and communities of color. Over 75% of WCC funding has supported organizations owned and/or led by women of color.
Jen: What does a foundation or investor need to understand in order to invest in transformational businesses?
Erika: Activating capital to support women-led social enterprises can spark the deconstruction of an unjust and extractive economy and begin the process of rebuilding financial systems that bring healing and regeneration to underserved communities. Philanthropic funds like the WCC reallocate capital to groups that would traditionally not receive funding, thus creating new opportunities for groundbreaking enterprises to create positive and lasting social change.
Jen: What do you tell people who think your fund is risky?
Erika: The WCC is a philanthropic initiative, which allows the fund to provide highly catalytic and flexible capital to the organizations it serves. It has provided loan guarantees, loans, technical assistance grants, flow funding and shared gifting circles to groundbreaking women-led social enterprises. Women entrepreneurs and funders are leading the way in providing and using integrated capital to create a more just and sustainable economy. We believe it’s risky not to invest in women entrepreneurs, and the WCC is an effective way to help create a more level playing field.
Investment Thesis/What is your rationale for your approach to investing? Women entrepreneurs are routinely left behind when it comes to funding. RSF’s Women’s Capital Collaborative (WCC) supports women-led social enterprises by providing them with integrated capital when they need it most.
Geography: Organizations based in the United States that impact the lives of women and girls both in the U.S. and globally.
Year Founded: 2016
# of Investments: 48* (*Number of groundbreaking women-led social enterprises served)
# of Investors: 25+
Funds Raised: $4,000,000+
What’s on Erika’s Minds?
Book: I just finished reading Winners Take All; The Elite Charade Of Changing The World by Anand Giridharadas. I came away with more questions than answers, a sign of a terrific book! One of them is how do you bring about real systemic change? Another, am I too comfortable in my own privilege?
Song: I’ve actually been listening to Solange’s album A Seat at the Table loudly and on repeat lately. It is not a new release but one that still resonates with me. She calls it a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief, and healing. She shares what it’s like to be black—more specifically, a black woman—in this day and age. My two favorite tracks are Cranes In The Sky and Mad.
Podcast: I am listening to a podcast series from my Alma Mater, Chicago Booth, called Capitalisn’t. In it they debate whether capitalism is the engine of destruction or the engine of prosperity. They talk about the ways capitalism is—or more often isn’t—working in our world today.