Little girl with mother getting her ready for first day of school.

How health equity by design can help finance women-centric solutions

At the Equity 2030 Roundtable in Berlin, concern centered on the systemic failure to address women’s distinct health requirements.

In brief
  • At the 2023 World Health Summit in Berlin, global leaders addressed the urgent need for expanded funding and financing of women-centric health solutions.
  • The discussions emphasized the need for collaboration, uniting stakeholders in science, technology and financing to drive change.

Women make up half of the global population, yet beyond oncology, less than 1% of global health investment goes toward female gender-centric solutions. This fact is amplified by the disproportionate levels of women impacted by climate change, famine, conflict, economic hardships that continue to expand the health equity gap between men and women.

At the 2023 World Health Summit in Berlin, an annual event bringing together stakeholders from politics, science, private sector and civil society to create the agenda for a healthier world for all, a diverse group of global leaders representing global development, philanthropy, government and the private sector came together to address the urgent need for expanded funding and financing of women-centric solutions during a roundtable discussion.

This side event highlighted multifaceted areas of concern centered on the systemic failure to address women’s distinct health requirements across all aspects of daily life.


From everyday products like cars and technology to critical medical equipment and solutions, the reality is much of the world has been designed by and for men. This misalignment results in inconvenience at best and, at worst, outright failure of intended results that perpetuate poor outcomes for women and girls, with implications for the health and economic wellbeing of their communities.


Examples include personal protective equipment such as face masks ill-suited for female faces and the disproportionate injuries, delayed diagnoses and adverse reactions experienced by women due to the lack of consideration for their unique health needs during clinical research.


The roundtable provided a platform for participants to acknowledge the historical and current undervaluation of the economic contributions of women in society and the subjugation of the health priorities and needs of women and girls globally.


Attendees made a shared commitment to objectively articulate the economic value proposition of the female gender and explore ways to make financing female-centric health solutions not just sustainable but compelling. This transition will be achieved by evolving beyond philanthropy, the most common funding approach for women’s health, to gain access to institutional investors and sources of private capital.


Global platforms of the Equity 2030 Alliance and the UNFPA Equalizer Accelerator Fund are examples of key enablers to facilitate this vision for innovative financing solutions in maternal, sexual and reproductive health for women and girls worldwide. In the case of the UNFPA Equalizer Fund, the approach also includes specific components to prioritize women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses as these entities in turn create economic strength in their local communities.

When designing innovations, women’s health and safety cannot be an afterthought. Initiatives such as UNFPA's WomenX Collective and the Equity 2030 Alliance are specifically aimed at increasing investment in products and services that are inclusive and gender-equitable.

Inaugural members of the Alliance encompass a diverse pool of actors from various sectors. These sectors include private industry businesses, esteemed academic institutions, and progressive governmental bodies from around the globe. Each participant, regardless of their field, is actively working towards meaningful, tangible advancements in gender equity.

Roundtable participants discussed how to unlock the full potential of funding for women-centric solutions, ultimately contributing to a better world for people of all genders.

1. Moving from economics to womenomics

Women don't want charity; they want power and access to resources.

A key highlight in the discussion was the reinforcement of the challenge many existing interventions exhibit – that women’s health actions are somehow perceived as charitable in nature. The foundation of equity is to increase the access and choice selection of services, treatments, therapeutics and providers to take control of their own health decisions.

Further, the need for communities to see women as owners of their health decision is critical in the advancement of economies in general. Ilona Kickbusch, Founder and Chair of International Advisory Board, Global Health Centre, University of Geneva, captured the essence of the discussions: “We need to move from economics to womenomics.”

The transition from economics to "womenomics" resonated as a shared aspiration, driven by the imperative to invest in women-centric solutions that align seamlessly with the Sustainable Development Goals 5, and 17, encompassing gender equality, good health and wellbeing, and partnerships.

This pivotal realization reframed the perspective, emphasizing that women are striving for economic inclusion and empowerment that enables equitable access to essential resources. This principle aligned with the overarching goal of transforming the global finance system and addressing gender-related power dynamics within global health financing, as demonstrated by the Bridgetown initiative[1] led by H.E. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, which calls for the IMF to return to pre-COVID policies allowing for Special Drawing Rights for health-related initiatives; and the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All,[2] led by economist Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, which aims to reframe the economy by centering health for all as a public policy objective and driver of investment decisions.

Participants recognized the strategic value and opportunity to accelerate the pace of change by articulating the business case for broader investment and intentionally engaging with female investors, who tend to gravitate toward value-driven investments that benefit communities and society at large, to activate inclusive financing strategies across their networks.

They underscored the importance of ongoing dialogues with current fund managers and women professionals within those funds and leveraging their expertise and insights to drive investments purposefully toward women-centric solutions. Yet, the burden must not fall solely on women to drive change; it will be critical to identify and engage to unlock new channels of capital and shift industry mindsets toward gender-inclusive financing strategies.

2. Leveraging innovative financing mechanisms

Purpose-blended finance mechanisms, exemplified by successful models in Kenya, offers a blueprint for progress. Let us strategically deploy philanthropic money, for therein lies the power to design an equitable world.

Participants underlined the pressing need for innovative finance mechanisms and highlighted the strategic role blended finance can play to bridge the investment gap in women-centric solutions. The conversation extended to exploring untraditional opportunities for unlocking capital considering methods like leveraging pension funds.

There was widespread agreement that these mechanisms hold the potential to significantly boost investment in gender-centric solutions, thereby addressing persistent gaps in women's health and well-being globally.

In addition to system-level financing innovations, microfinance mechanisms were lauded for their capacity to empower women by granting them direct financial inclusion, thereby enabling them to access the necessary resources for their health and overall well-being.

This acknowledgment reinforced the pragmatic and tangible benefits of empowering women through direct financial inclusivity, with cascading positive impacts on their families’ health and wellbeing.

Attendees agreed that a coordinated, multi-sector financing approach is needed to overcome investment barriers to entry. For example, philanthropy plays a pivotal role in providing guaranteed returns and accelerating strategic investments dedicated to women-centric solutions, while the private sector stands is as a key player in enabling and scaling women-led enterprises and solutions. Public sector actors need to prioritize enabling women entrepreneurs and business owners in this space as part of the collective set of actions.

3. Collaborating and aligning the ecosystem across global, regional and local levels

Harnessing Berlin as a Global Health Hub, it metamorphoses into the epicenter fostering an ecosystem that propels this transformative momentum, uniting expertise and commitment for a healthier, more equitable world.

The discussions underscored the vital need for collaboration across global, regional, and local levels, uniting stakeholders in science, technology, and financing to drive change. This cooperative spirit aimed to bolster the health ecosystem, shifting the focus from research publications to real-world impact that emphasizes practical, community-led approaches.

To accelerate this vision, participants called for investment in grassroots initiatives and community-level innovation and recognized the pivotal role of health professionals in implementing and advancing women-centric solutions.

The roundtable discussions also examined Berlin's potential as a central hub for global health innovation, leveraging its status as a leader in artificial intelligence. This strategic positioning underpinned the city's capacity to spearhead transformative momentum in the domain of gender-centric solutions and health innovation.

By harnessing Berlin's expertise and focusing on a community-led approach, the roundtable discussions identified a unique opportunity to make a significant global impact.

4. Influence market dynamics and building a compelling business case

Leading with the business case illuminates the immense opportunity that exists for societal and financial returns when we center women and girls in health investments. Collectively, we can guide the investment community towards more equitable, sustainable financing that benefits all.

The discussions underscored the importance of articulating a compelling business case for investing in women-centric solutions. This involves clearly demonstrating the tangible social and financial benefits and returns on investment that such initiatives can offer. By presenting a persuasive business case, investments in women-centric solutions become more appealing to a broader range of stakeholders, including institutional investors and private capital.

Furthermore, there was a shared recognition of the need to transition from traditional philanthropy-driven approaches to sustainable business models to enable long-term impact and financial sustainability. Importantly, this value-led approach aligns with the overarching objectives of gender equality and women's empowerment underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals.

Understanding and effectively capitalizing on market dynamics, including the tendency for markets to "move in herds," were deemed essential to position women-centric solutions as strong and attractive investment targets. Participants reflected that markets often move collectively, creating an opportunity for Equity 2030 Alliance members and partners to guide investment toward centric solutions.

Building on existing market trends towards responsible investment, participants advocated for aligning investments with the values and ESG criteria of investors to attract private sector capital that seeks to create a meaningful societal impact. By combining a compelling business case with a keen understanding and strategic use of market dynamics, the goal is to substantially boost investments in women-centric solutions.

5. From spark to flame: turning inspiration into action

The roundtable participants ignited a spark that is now blazing into a transformative movement. with the newly launched Equity 2030, they are co-creating a novel and distinct platform engaging a diverse range of sectorial stakeholders. Together, they aim to "move the herd" toward the "Financing" pillar of the alliance, making gender equity for the world's 4 billion women and girls a norm within science, medicine and engineering.

Emphatically, this paper urges members of the Equity 2030 Alliance to:

  • Co-develop an overarching financing framework that shows the integration of public and private sector investments across the health care value chains to identify potential areas of change and innovation.
  • Develop cross-sector business case studies highlighting the positive influence of systematic health equity.
  • Engage more private equity houses, venture capital funds and investment banks, intentionally capturing those led by women or focused on women’s health components, to amplify successes and share best practices on how to embed equity-by-design across the value chain and steer decision-making.
  • Determine investment targets and funding mechanisms that underpin women-driven product development.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate financial institutions that make significant strides in enabling equity by design.
Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.


Roundtable participants acknowledged the immense opportunity that exists to better all facets of society through intentional upliftment of women’s and girls’ unique health needs, thereby driving more inclusive economic growth globally.

Dominique Perron, Lea Sophie Gill and Dr. Susanne C. M. Weissbäcker also contributed to the development of this article.

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