Making Finance Work for Women for 45 Years | Marilou van Golstein Brouwers 

June 17, 2024

Meet Marilou van Golstein Brouwers, a former Women’s World Banking Board Member and an undoubtedly instrumental figure in founding Women’s World Banking Asset Management (WAM) and managing its first fund.

Investing and making money doesn’t have to come at the expense of the greater good, and when done properly, these opportunities can—and should—contribute to a better world for everyone. But when Marilou van Golstein Brouwers began her career in private banking, she found that the two paths often diverged and opportunities to combine these goals were hard to find. “It surprised me that no one made the link between their own values and how their money was invested,” she says—that is, until a son of one of her clients inspired her to keep looking for investments that would affect meaningful change. “That was the first spark, and I became aware of the steering power of money.”

Several years later, in 1990, she joined Netherlands-based Triodos Bank, then in its early days with only 25 people. “It was a great opportunity to help build a values-based bank,” Marilou says. There, she helped develop their initial impact investing activities, which led to the launch of a subsidiary, Triodos Investment Management, where she’d serve as Managing Director for nearly two decades—although it would still be more than 20 years before the term “impact investing” was officially coined. Back then, she recalls, microfinance just referred to loans for small entrepreneurs; it wasn’t considered something to invest in. However, Marilou knew that there was not only market value in the ability to invest, but that it could also be a catalyst for increasing women’s economic empowerment.

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Marilou van Golstein Brouwers with Women’s World Banking Founding President Michaela Walsh.

Following the launch of Triodos Investment Management, she took a board position with Women’s World Banking to help drive our mission of increasing women’s financial inclusion around the world. Marilou’s expertise in impact investing helped Women’s World Banking effect policy changes in capital markets and commercial banks that were entering into microfinance opportunities, while also working to support our Global Network Members as they expanded outreach and products geared toward low-income women.

During her nearly 10 years on the Women’s World Banking board, Marilou proved instrumental in the development and founding of Women’s World Banking Asset Management (WAM), our gender lens investment subsidiary that makes equity investments in inclusive financial institutions in global emerging markets.  “Besides all the work Women’s World Banking was doing in advice, advocacy and community building, I knew that being able to invest would be helpful in the market and make a difference for women’s economic empowerment.” Once she stepped down from the board, she was asked if Triodos Investment Management would be willing to act as co-manager of the first WAM investment fund. Now, some three decades later, it’s clear that Marilou’s market foresight was spot on and her early efforts to jumpstart our strategy paid off: Impact investing is now well known, proving social returns need not come at the expense of financial returns. In 2022, WAM closed its second impact fund at $103 million—contributing to a collective 8.5 million women customers served across Funds I and II.

In 2004, in support of the United Nations (U.N.) International Year of Microcredit, Marilou organized key meetings between Women’s World Banking and the U.N. Group of Advisors, which also included Princess Máxima (now Queen of the Netherlands) and Diederik Laman Trip, then Chairman of ING Netherlands. The visit proved inspiring, and impactful in the years to come.

While she’s grateful for the improvements over the past 20 years, Marilou regrets that there are still many underserved populations who lack access to financial services. Whether it’s an opportunity to open a bank account—which in some countries, is still not possible for women—or getting access to capital as a woman founder of an enterprise. She highlights financial literacy as another major obstacle for all women across the socio-economic spectrum, pointing out that far too many women are still treated by bankers as incapable of making their own financial decisions. “It’s definitely not smart on the part of the banks because a lot of wealth is being transferred to women in the years to come,” she says. “Similarly it is clear that low-income women are bankable and can be offered financial services in a sustainable manner.” And it’s these services that enable people, and women specifically, to better manage their daily lives, to cope with unexpected difficulties, and to fulfill aspirations and plan for the future. She reiterates that a holistic lens is necessary because “it all starts with inclusion in general, and financial inclusion for women specifically.”

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Marilou van Golstein Brouwers, Dr. Jennifer Riria, and Women’s World Banking Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of the Emerging Markets Funds Christina Juhasz at Women’s World Banking’s 2011 gala.

Women’s World Banking is grateful to have worked with Marilou throughout the years and for her inclusive, forward thinking that has both launched and shaped programs that have positively impacted women around the world. As Marilou reflects on her time with us as a “great joy,” she notes that the women she worked with provided trust, support and empowerment for one another, too. “[The experience] has truly enriched my life.” She shares that it’s a great point of happiness and pride that achievements in advocating for women’s economic empowerment have been the result of collaboration, of women—and men—putting their egos aside to work together for a higher purpose. “When women thrive, communities thrive. It is as simple as that.”

Women’s World Banking has changed the lives of millions of women, transforming their households, businesses and communities, and driving inclusive growth globally through financial inclusion.   

Today, using our sophisticated market and consumer research, we turn insights into real action to design and advocate for policy engagement, digital financial solutions (see Blanca’s story here), workplace leadership programs, and gender lens investing.    

Help us reach the nearly billion women still excluded from the formal financial system.  Donate now.