When it comes to climate resilience, gender matters

As the climate crisis continues to intensify, attention is turning not just to how we can mitigate and adapt to climate change but how to foster resilience among the communities most affected by it.

We know that the impacts of climate change are distributed unequally, with women, communities of color and the Global South bearing the disproportionate brunt of climate disasters and resource shortages. We also know that climate resilience and financial resilience go hand in hand. If communities aren’t economically stable, they won’t be climate disaster-prepared, whether that means access to well-built green homes, being insured against climate disasters or having safe and accessible water systems or access to energy in the event of a water or energy emergency.

And if communities aren’t climate resilient, they won’t be economically resilient in an climate-uncertain world.

Uncovering new opportunities for investment, innovation and impact.

This isn’t just a matter of justice. It’s also a business and public sector imperative. If you’re a business that has big warehouse facilities in Houston, for example, you need sustainable energy in the event the electric grid goes down in the wake of a hurricane. If your business is in the food industry, you need local, resilient supply chains able to withstand weather shocks, crops that can thrive under different weather conditions and transport options that work in the event of a climate disaster. Food, housing (including heating and cooling), healthcare, energy, water, communications and more — all components of local resilience.

To achieve this, we need strong infrastructure and local sustainable businesses across every sector that are part of a climate-resilient economy — all informed by local expertise and creating good, green jobs. We also need to make sure that women, and especially women of color, are involved in all parts of the value chain: as leaders, entrepreneurs, employees, customers and investors.

It is only by recognizing the talent and innovation in frontline communities that we will create businesses and solutions communities that are financially sustainable, with the social license to operate in the they serve and that truly solve the problems they are designed to solve.

Frontline innovation

Fortunately, for resilience-focused investors, there are a growing number of opportunities to invest in and co-create opportunities for gender-smart solutions in frontline communities. Energy is one starting point. As Wahleah Johns, cofounder of Native Renewables, said in a recent article: “As a community gets electrified, entrepreneurship, innovation and solidarity can flourish.” This is true across the globe.

Navajo Power, a woman co-founded public benefit corporation, develops utility-scale clean energy projects on Native American tribal lands, seeking to maximize the economic benefits to local communities. At present, it is developing solar and storage projects to help the Navajo Nation transition from coal power to renewable energy. In the next phase, it will expand its model with tribes in the Southwest and beyond.

Mākhers Studio, a woman-of-color-founded green manufacturing firm and design-build studio based in Atlanta, seeks to build what it calls “prosilient communities” by providing the infrastructure and tools marginalized communities need to grow and sustain economic wellbeing. Its unique modular spaces are used to provide affordable housing, business spaces and critical community centers, and the company prides itself on creating good green jobs for women, the minority and LGBTQ subcontractors.

Farm From a Box, created by a gender-balanced co-founding team, combines irrigation, energy and climate-smart technology in a single container, helping to jumpstart food production after natural disasters, create new livelihood opportunities and create resilient and sustainable sources of nutritious food. Developed in collaboration with local communities, it’s a highly scalable solution that is as relevant in Tanzania as it is in the United States.

On the financing sector side, Root Capital has worked to increase gender equity in the agriculture through its Women in Agriculture Initiative, partnering with Value for Women to enhance climate resilience for women in agroforestry cooperatives in Central America, and mapping climate vulnerability and alongside gender resilience -based vulnerabilities. In 2020, it qualified as a 2X investee of DFC, the US development finance institution.

Get invested

These aren’t fringe concerns. Climate resilience is already a top priority for national security and defense policy, recognized as key to everything from food security to poverty to the prevention of violence. As investors look for opportunities to reduce risk and identify opportunities for growth and innovation, they should be paying attention, too.

So, how can you get involved?

  • If you’re already financing climate adaptation, start by looking at how you can do that with more intentionality around gender, race, poverty and ethnic diversity to unlock real resilience with innovation opportunities and to lower risk.
  • If you’re in a position to partner with the public sector, you can improve the financial success of your initiatives by making sure that the whole community’s skills and expertise are being leveraged — as leaders, innovators, employees and customers.
  • In your private investments, how can you expand your pipeline to bring in innovators you’re currently missing?

Ultimately, bringing a gender lens to climate resilience investments will help you to both identify and mitigate potential risks while at the same time uncover new opportunities for investment, innovation and impact. As Sharron McPherson of the Green Jobs Machine put it at a recent event we spoke at together, when it comes to climate resilience, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and this is one of the greatest opportunities of our generation.

It’s well past time we work together to strengthen the whole system. What’s your contribution going to be?

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