Inspirational Woman Interview: Joy Anderson

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Joy Anderson, Ph.D is the President and Founder of the Criterion Institute and an internationally-known leader in the field gender lens investing In 2011, she was named one of the 100 most creative leaders in business by Fast Company. Dr. Anderson has served in multiple leadership roles shaping the development of impact investing, including co-founding Good Capital in 2008 and serving as founding board chair of Village Capital. In 2015 she wrote both USAID’s “Gender Lens Investing in Asia” report and published, “The State of the Field of Gender Lens Investing.” She is visiting faculty member at Wesleyan University and holds a Ph.D in American History from New York University.

What is your background?

Joy Anderson: I had a non-traditional path to finance: I was a high school teacher, did my PhD in 19th Century American History, and made a transition to consulting in my early 30s and from that, launched the Criterion Institute. Criterion is now 15 years old and that’s been the primary way through which I’ve been doing social impact work. Before that, I was working in social change as a high school teacher and union organizer in New York City.

You are the Founder of the Criterion Institute, a nonprofit organization that aims to shape social change through two main avenues: gender lens investing and engagement with church leaders. What inspired you to found the Criterion Institute and formulate this two-pronged approach?

Joy Anderson: Criterion has been experimenting for 15 years with different ways to do social change. We have focused on a field-level change (not just looking at companies and funds but looking at how the whole field works). Within that, we are clear that we care about questions of power, about who sees themselves as having power, how power is understood and how we navigate power in order to effect social change. Much of the conversation in social innovation is about market forces but the systems of power within that are not understood, in particular, who is allowed to say how things work. Our focus is on changing who sees themselves, who thinks they can reinvent their economy, etc. For most people, that is an abstract idea that those on Wall Street drive that change. We believe not only that we can change market systems but that we have to.

We work in two different areas. Firstly, we look at the connection between gender and finance focused on people who have knowledge about gender and how that knowledge can inform finance. Right now, people have knowledge of gender are not necessarily the experts in finance. Secondly, we work with churches on the same questions. We think the system of the church is a constituency of people that can shape who sees themselves in changing the economy. We work with community leaders connected with local churches to help them learn how to think about finance and play a role in shaping our world. It’s not just about getting access; a lot of the conversations are about how we get access to the systems (e.g. financial literacy, knowing how the system works) and our approach is about believing that you can actually change the rules.

What has been the impact of Criterion’s gender lens investing initiative so far?

Joy Anderson: We spent the past eight years trying to define and understand the field of gender lens investing and ultimately succeeded. I think Criterion’s particular impact on the field of gender lens investing has enabled us to think about how gender and all of its complexities can change society. It’s not just about how women can get access to investment dollars but understanding how gender and gendered patterns can inform our decision-making processes. Our impact has been keeping the field to expand the possibilities between the intersection between gender and finance and to keep the conversation as large as possible so that there are no pigeon-holes or stereotypes.

What do you hope to see in the future of the finance-social impact nexus?

Joy Anderson: I would like to create an economy that works for more people and I think finance provides an incredibly powerful set of tools.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Joy Anderson: I would say Shari Berenbach, who passed away recently, who served as the first President of the Calvert Foundation. When I was first starting out in impact investing, she was fierce. I looked at her from afar and she knew what she was doing and I wanted to be someone who was admired the way Shari was admired. She did so much to build the field of impact investing single-handedly. She died a year ago from cancer and that was a loss in the field.

What advice do you have for those interested in connecting business with social impact?

Joy Anderson: Know that it’s twice as hard – social impact is ridiculously hard, particularly getting to impact. Getting to business requires a level of rigor and diligence. Some people think that social impact will be easier if you do it with a business lens because it’s more efficient, and some people think that social impact will improve when business tools are used because it appears ‘smarter.’ Connecting business with social impact twice as hard but also twice as important, because so much of the social impact that we’re seeking can be solved through and is caused by systems within the economy. I don’t know how you can not look at these two together. In this complex world, you have to look at the connection between finance and social impact and the complexity that arises because of this connection. If you don’t look at them as connected, you’re more likely to get it wrong.

Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about women’s empowerment, business, and/or social impact?

Joy Anderson: The way I really learn is I put myself in conversations that have no ostensible point; conversations that will surprise me and conversations in which I don’t need anything and don’t need to convince anyone of anything. Those kinds of conversations where you’re exploring the world with people, as opposed to debating, playing devil’s advocates or convincing people that X, Y or Z should be true. I am very privileged to have those conversations every day.

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