Today, Susana Garcia-Robles is a distinguished leader in the impact venture capital sector. Yet, when we recently had the opportunity to chat, she shared that she might have easily become a university professor under different circumstances. 

Born in Argentina, Susana’s path to impact investing was not a traditional one. With an undergraduate degree in education and philosophy, Susana began her career working with non-profit and international development organizations. She recalls how quickly she was disenchanted by their reliance on grant funding and the constant struggle to maintain financial sustainability in order to achieve social and environmental goals. 

“The 3 Ps are People, Planet, Profitability. There is impact when you have returns, there is impact when you care for the planet and people. But the P of profitability has to be there. Profitability has to be in the mix, otherwise there cannot be a lasting impact.“

After completing her masters’ degree at Columbia University, Susana’s unique combination of ambition and perseverance led her to head the venture capital division at the innovation lab at the Inter-American Development Bank. She quickly advanced to a leadership position by seizing opportunities while relentlessly building her knowledge and pursuing her best self. “Soon I began to feel very comfortable investing in funds and creating ecosystems. 20 years later, we had invested in 90 funds, and – more importantly – we had created an industry.”  

Susana Garcia-Robles WeXchange

Women Supporting Women

Once established in the impact venture capital sector, Susana continued her unconventional approach to impact investing and resisted conforming to the norms of the financial services industry. She describes herself as someone who eschews exclusion of all kinds, valuing diversity and growth above all. Often the only woman investor in the room, Susana quickly recognized the need for initiatives to promote gender diversity in the sector. This is what led her to develop
WeXchange, the largest platform in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) that connects women entrepreneurs with mentors and investors, and WeInvest, a community of women investors in LAC.  

Susana’s work has paved the way for women investors and entrepreneurs to access equitable opportunities. Today, Susana reflects, women face a different investment and entrepreneurial landscape than the one that she confronted when she started this work more than two decades ago. Thanks to leaders such as her, there are many more resources, initiatives, and programs available today to support and connect women businesspeople. 

“When you have the limelight on you, you can share the limelight with others. You begin to broaden the funnel, to let other people be on the stage“ 

Susana thinks that the LAC region is leading in driving greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the venture capital sector. While progress has stalled in Silicon Valley and in many markets of the Global North, according to Susana, systemic gender gaps have been more intentionally addressed by investment leaders in LAC, like those on our team. She recognizes and deeply values the diversity of the Deetken Impact staff. As an organization committed to advancing gender equity first from within, we have achieved gender-balanced teams at every level, including Partners, Investment Committees, and Board of Directors.

Nonetheless, she recognizes that there is much more to be done to fully realize the “gender dividend”, as she prefers to call it. As someone with a both “glass-half-empty” and “glass-half-full” perspective, Susana says we cannot become complacent as “we still have a glass to fill”. She emphasizes the need to groom the next generation of women leaders to drive greater diversity at the senior partnership level. At the same time, we must recognize the knowledge and leadership of younger women investors and entrepreneurs by sharing opportunities. There is space for everyone at the table. 

The Rise of the Global South

Susana also believes in the great investment opportunity that the LAC market presents. She has coined the term “Made in LAC”, which is a “brand marked by innovation with a clear social and environmental awareness.” She encourages the power of innovation from and for emerging markets, as opposed to replicating business models from the Global North using what she refers to as the “copycat mentality”. From her perspective, “we have enough prejudice to battle against in our region, and now companies are also being described as a copycat of something else.”

Susana affirms that the best ideas lie within communities themselves, the people that make them up. Every day, entrepreneurial individuals are working tirelessly to solve their community’s pressing problems and unlock economic opportunities. She also points to the region’s receptivity to using new technologies and the adoption of smartphones as an enormous opportunity for businesses.

“When you want to change something, it is because something frustrates you, and from frustration comes great innovation. In this region, innovation and great entrepreneurs are everywhere, but access to financing is not. We need to make a concerted effort to develop more regional funds that invest throughout the region. Talent is everywhere, but financing is not.”

It is exactly this innovation that increasingly drives international investors to deploy capital in LAC. According to latest estimates, more than USD $25 billion in impact assets are focused on Latin America, a figure that has grown more than tenfold in the last decade1. After an economic contraction in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region’s economy quickly regained lost ground, with LAC businesses showing great resilience in the face of a challenging global economic environment. 

Investing with Deetken Impact

Susana points out how crucial innovative financial instruments like those pioneered by
Deetken Impact Alternative Finance (formerly Adobe Capital) are to impact entrepreneurs in the region.

“It was a different proposition, and it was one that fundamentally acknowledged that there are many funders that don’t need equity but can use other mezzanine instruments. And if you don’t have that option, you may force them to go into equity without them being prepared for that, and without investors realizing that there are a lot of great companies that don’t want to be bought, because they want to build the company for several generations. There is such a need for financing, that it’s very important to have funds like those of Deetken Impact.” 

Additionally, Susana respects the sense of realism that drives Deetken Impact to prioritize both financial and impact returns with capital preservation, always backing our decisions with diligent analysis and balanced decision-making. She also recognizes our genuine commitment to impact management to ensure every dollar invested drives meaningful social and environmental outcomes. Our team incorporates rigorous impact and gender measurement at every step of the investment process, from screening to due diligence, monitoring, and even direct engagement with portfolio companies to improve business practices. With over 60% of employees identifying as women and a gender-balance amongst the Board of Directors, leadership team, and Investment Committees, Deetken Impact is an organization that promotes change from within. In fact, Susana has become an important and long-term mentor to our CIO and Partner, Paula Giraldo, who now serves on the Board of Directors of WeInvest, supporting the ecosystem of women investors under Susana’s leadership. 

“People like Paula are the reason I get up in the morning and am very happy with what I’m doing. I’m grateful for being able to be in touch with so many of them because they are the legacy, they are the continuity. And that’s what I’m interested in.” 

Susana’s journey is an inspiring one, and reminds us that indispensable ingredients to successful impact investing are: an unyielding commitment to impact; innovation grounded in first-hand experience; compassion for others; and a long-term vision. 

As Susana says, “Use your superpowers, but with responsibility”.

 1. 2020 Annual Impact Investor Survey, Global Impact Investing Network

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