Women have been hit the hardest by the pandemic — and are also the key to our economic recovery

April 5, 2021

Originally published in The Toronto Star, April 5, 2021

THE SHE-COVERY PROJECT: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in OntarioEvents of the past year have laid bare inequities faced by our country’s citizens. Women who are filling critical roles to aid in the nation’s response to COVID-19 have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by the pandemic, with extraordinary levels of job loss and economic hardship.

Women have been hit hardest by the pandemic, but they are also the key to our economic recovery. Investing in women-centred organizations with innovative solutions should be top of the federal government’s agenda.

Women have been rising up to tackle the country’s social and economic problems in innovative ways. Take Canada’s PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, which has been called a poster child for social innovation. PARO has grown into the largest peer-lending network for women entrepreneurs, with more than 170 peer groups across North America.

The key to PARO’s success is its women-centred approach and “wraparound.” Wraparound involves working with other community partners with expertise in areas such as domestic violence, gender equity and skills training to help women find success as business owners. PARO provides the financial support and training that she needs, in addition to these wraparound services.

Today, these women-led organizations are struggling to respond to community needs with stagnant funding and lack of recognition for the important work they do — and how they do it.

Women-centred organizations are poised to be integral players in Canada’s recovery and rebuild efforts. The economic payoff alone is significant. According to a report by McKinsey and Company, it is estimated that Canada could add $150 billion to its annual GDP by 2026 through supporting women’s participation in the workforce. What stands in the way is a national social innovation and social finance strategy, and a framework and funding to make it work.

Inclusive InnovationIn 2018, the Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group released its report. Promisingly, the federal government responded with promises of a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy, the launch of a $50-million Investment Readiness Fund and $755-million Social Finance Fund.

Thanks to government action on the Investment Readiness Fund, more non-profit and social-enterprise organizations are prepared with the knowledge and infrastructure to replicate and grow. They understand how to leverage government investment to attract private-sector investment for greater impact. They know their communities and what they need.

But promises for the Social Finance Fund have not yet materialized. The upcoming budget provides an opportunity to prioritize social innovation and social finance in the face of unprecedented need. There is no better time than now.

We no longer live in a world that accepts inequities and vulnerabilities. If anything, COVID-19 has taught us this. Investing in women, through socially innovative women-centred organizations, is a critical step toward a post-COVID economic recovery that doesn’t leave anyone on the sidelines.

Rosalind LockyerRosalind Lockyer is founder and CEO of PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise and serves on the board of directors of the Women’s Economic Council.

*The opinions expressed in blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of CCEDNet