Gender-Empowered Climate Finance and Financial Feminism
Impact Investor Miah Shull Olmsted Shares Insights About Gender Lens Investing
Devin: What is your superpower?
Miah: I genuinely think my superpower is humility and patience.
My superpower now is that I’ve lived a life trying to uplift other people—my children, my business colleagues, the people in my community.
My superpower is telling stories that are driven by experience and by data. But are told in really interesting ways from a place of humility and a place of genuine sincerity in trying to help be part of the solution.
“The first thing that I want to say is that I’m by far and away not the only woman on the planet who is working in the space,” says Miah Shull Olmsted of her role in gender-empowered climate finance and financial feminism. “There are an extraordinary number of really bright, articulate, excited, enthusiastic women who are working on this.”
Gender-Empowered Climate Finance
A crucial part of Miah’s approach to investing is playing the long game. “I’m very happy to be a part of planting saplings in a wide variety of places where the right tree is planted in the right soil with the right conditions and the right caretakers present to help it grow. So I think that that might speak to how I feel about financing.”
“For me now, what I think about in my investing thesis and in my strategy is I’m investing in the things that I hope will come into bloom when my granddaughter needs that,” Miah says. “Whether she needs that solution, whether she needs that product, or whether she needs the return on that investment, that’s my hope. And my granddaughter, by the way, just turned one.”
Miah explains her focus on investing in women:
The statistics bear out that when you invest in women, women immediately return the bulk of what has been invested in them as an individual, in their education, in their business, that they're starting up as a fledgling enterprise. They immediately turn around and share that with their families, with their extended communities, with their region. And those circles overlap each other so that you get an extraordinarily powerful synergistic effect.
Miah rattles off statistics from memory:
You have, on average, at least a 68 percent higher rate of return when you have a mixed [gender] leadership team.
The data shows that more women are creating businesses than men right now.
The data shows that 92% of women entrepreneurs are solopreneurs.
Regarding the last point, she says, “If given the resources that they needed to be able to grow their businesses, we would be able to significantly increase the GDP in most countries.”
In the context of difficult times, Miah notes a lack of hope. “If you want to talk about really embracing the idea of women and climate finance, what you have to do is take that step forward to believe.”
“When I went to apply to go to college, I still had to ask my father to cosign on a savings account, a checking account, and a loan for college because it was against the law for me to be able to access the money that I had been earning since the age of 15 in order to be able to go to college myself,” Miah says, providing context for her thoughts on financial feminism.
“Financial feminism is about giving yourself permission to put some of the old forms of learning that you got predominantly from a male point of view and opening up your worldview to include the views that come from women, that are about women, that are for women,” she says.
She isn’t focused on biology. Men can learn from women. Members of the trans community are also a part of her view of feminism. “In the indigenous community, they are called two-spirited people for a reason. I think we could all embrace a little bit more of the two-spiritedness in ourselves by understanding what the world is like from a ‘his’ point of view or a ‘her’ point of view and a ‘they’ point of view.”
“Financial feminism is about embracing nurturing, about embracing growth, about embracing community,” Miah adds.
She continues, “When you approach it from an attitude of curiosity that opens you up to entire new worlds in which you can explore, ‘How do I use money as only one tool in my toolbox for making the world a better place?’ For me, that’s what financial feminism is about.”
At this intersection of community building and financial feminism, Miah has found a home in angel networks focused on investing in women. “It’s focused around networks that are teaching people how to be better investors, absolutely making sure that in those rooms they have the ideas and the lived experiences and the contributions of women because women know what they’re talking about in the same way that men know what they’re talking about.”
In all her work, Miah employs superpowers centered around humility.
How to Develop Humility As a Superpower
Building your humility is not about stepping back, Miah says. “It’s important that we are humble but that we don’t play small.”
Humility is about seeing other people and developing empathy. “I am a person who genuinely, genuinely likes other people, and I really want to know who they are. And that comes from a place of—‘Tell me about yourself. Tell me about who you are. Tell me about what you’re doing.’ And then my next question is almost always, ‘What can I do next to help?’”
That focus on others combined with empathy and a genuine desire to help essentially defines her sense of humility. “You walk into a garden. You’re trying to talk to somebody. They’re digging. You get down on your knees and start digging with them.”
Miah started a business with her spouse and another couple after drafting a business plan on two napkins over barbecue with ten kids running around. Years later, they sold the company for enough to send all ten kids to college without student loans.
Rather than strike out immediately as an expert entrepreneur coaching and lecturing others, she pivoted, starting as a novice at diving. After a decade and 5,700 hours underwater, she’s become an accomplished diver and instructor.
She shared what’s come of that:
I've been part of film crews, research crews, technical diving crews taught around the world, spent a huge amount of time as part of the contributing underwater cinematographers for projects like Chasing Coral, which is on Netflix right now, for submitted footage for David Attenborough documentaries, been a part of really, really interesting conversations about manta rays, about the preservation of specific coral species, about the preservation of sea turtles.
All of that I was able to do because I did not brag or present myself as “better than.” I always presented myself as, “Tell me about what you're doing. Oh my gosh, that's so cool.”
Humility pairs well with curiosity, she says. “I’m not saying I know it all, but I’m definitely saying I know a little bit about a lot of different things because I try hard in my life to stay curious and humble.”
One part of humility is being willing to acknowledge that you need help and ask for it. A second part, equally important, is then being able to receive the support that is offered. Miah shared a story to illustrate this:
Vicki [Saunders] told me a great story one time where she said that she was in a room with a lot of folks and someone stood up and you could see how brave, how incredibly hard it had been for them to stand up and ask for help for something.
You could see they were shaking when they sat back down and they immediately looked down.
But she said that a third of the room raised their hand, shot their hand up with an offer of help, and the person didn't see it. And she said, “Hey, hey, hey. Asking for help is only the first part of the journey. The second part of the journey is being humble enough to receive the help.”
If you follow Miah’s example and advice, you can make humility a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.