Hedda Pahlson-Moller is a Business Angel who focuses on social investing. She has served on the Luxembourg Microfinance and Development Fund’s Board as Vice-Chair and now continues to support the LMDF team in a Sales and Marketing capacity. In this blog post, Hedda explains her journey to social investment, the Women Effect and the LMDF.
“Everyone has their own story of what makes them who they are- what has brought them to their current situation. Like many people who live in Luxembourg today, I grew up in a mixed cultural background. In my case, I was brought up by Swedish parents in the US. This was a bit of a dangerous concoction- the US “can-do anything” attitude coupled with the Swedish gender neutral “girls can do anything boys can” attitude. It meant I grew up absolutely oblivious to the fact that there would be any difference, apart from a few obvious structural elements, between myself and the lads. It was only when I came to Europe that I became more sensitized to the fact that there is a very strong perception and bias on how women and men should behave or what kind of goals they can set for themselves. Given my background, I paid little attention to this.
“When I set out on my professional career, I tried out quite a lot of options; I was a bit like Cinderella seeing what shoes would fit. An NGO in India wasn’t quite right, nor was diplomacy in Japan, big corporates in France and Belgium were not perfect either. In the end, I decided it was time to make my own shoe…I became an entrepreneur.
“When I came to Luxembourg 13 years ago, people were rather dubious about entrepreneurship. If I said I was an entrepreneur, they would politely ask “Oh, you are unemployed?”“ No, no, I am an ENTREPRENEUR!” Now attitudes have changed, and suddenly being an entrepreneur is considered exciting and perhaps even cool, but back then things were very different. Eventually I decided to become a Business Angel and help other people to build their own shoes which fit.
“I started teaching entrepreneurship a decade ago and when I did so, I came across the fascinating world of social entrepreneurship. It really is fantastic that if you invest time and energy, you can turn viable business models into positive social change. This is not simply a question of negative screening and damage control. These are businesses and people with a mission to change the world and make it a better place. Finally – the best shoe EVER. I could merge entrepreneurship and investing with positive social impact.
“Learning about impact investing (investing for a measurable social/environmental return) tuned me into other issues which I had not recognized before – like Venture Philanthropy and other models mobilizing capital to social change. There are not a lot of organisations and institutions that have fully embraced the concept. I was delighted when I found LMDF, the Luxembourg Microfinance and Development Fund – a social impact fund with a viable financial model. They have the values of creating social change through micro-lending. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became with this Luxembourgish entity, which is going into the poorest countries in the world and combatting poverty through micro-entrepreneurship. This was exactly the type of structure that I want to work with. Through LMDF I discovered the power of gender-lens investing – the ‘Women Effect’.
“Being able to invest in women was contributing to the fund’s success. Their actions were creating the well-known ripple effects in the economy. This made me look at my own biases towards women as an investor, as an employer, as an entrepreneur and I recognized that I needed to have some guidance. I began to talk to people who were involved in investing with a gender lens, such as Suzanne Biegel from Catalyst at Large. She helped me to understand that being gender blind and gender neutral was not doing me or anyone else any favours. Paying little attention to gender was not working. Instead I needed to be gender positive; I needed to start looking at what positive value women bring to the table and move away from my gender blindness. We need to recognise the value that providing women with capital can bring to microfinance, to developing countries, to Europe, to Luxembourg. Investing in women has very important ripple effects.
“It has taken me time to make this journey- to explore my own biases. I hope that other people might read this post and set out on a similar journey too.”