Key Points

This article argues for foundations to play two critical roles in the impact investing ecosystem: to commission and/or support research that helps build more equitable and socially just impact investing and to fund grantee-specific experimentation in areas of impact investing and social enterprise that are nascent or developing.

To illustrate what this can look like, this article presents action research conducted on gender-lens investing, describing in detail a 2019 Mastercard Foundation grant to Engineers Without Borders Canada. The project involved two main goals: testing and developing gender-lens investing tools and processes with seed-stage investees during pre- or post-investment phases and evaluating the implementation of Engineers Without Borders Canada’s gender-lens investing strategy and the assumptions underpinning it. Field-building products that resulted from the grant included a report on the lessons learned and a comprehensive literature review on gender-lens investing in sub-Saharan Africa that contributes to a growing evidence base.

This article details the purpose, approach, results, and immediate impact of the action research and evaluation for Engineers Without Borders Canada for Mastercard Foundation and for the field. Further, the article highlights how the grant continues to impact Engineers Without Borders and the participating ventures today, and why it is important for foundations to play the role of field builder and make grants to support experimentation and field building, especially around issues of equity.

Open Access