• My Week's Discoveries: Healthcare & Design

    10:47 am on November 20, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , healthcare

    I’ve been spend­ing a lot of time in the health­care world for obvi­ous rea­sons, and have been immers­ing myself with knowl­edge from all angles. One of the more fas­ci­nat­ing angles is the cross sec­tion of health­care and design. Here’s a cou­ple of my favourite findings:

    1) Cut­ting for Stone by Abra­ham Verghese

    It’s been a while since I’ve read a work of fic­tion and I was highly rec­om­mended this book by my Acu­men Fund col­leagues. I fin­ished this book over the week­end and was so cap­tured by the story, out­raged on behalf of the pro­tag­o­nist, delighted by the inten­sity, and over­all over­whelmed at how beau­ti­fully writ­ten this book was. It’s a story that takes place from Ethiopia to New York, about love, med­i­cine and the inter­twin­ing of fate.

    We are all fix­ing what is bro­ken. It is the task of a life­time. We’ll leave much unfin­ished for the next generation

    - Cut­ting for Stone, A. Verghese

    2) Butaro Hos­pi­tal in Rwanda 

    When you look at East Africa’s health­care land­scape, Rwanda stands out as a med­ical suc­cess. Health indi­ca­tors have improved on all counts since the geno­cide, all pri­mar­ily due to the suc­cess of a uni­ver­sal health insur­ance, where the poor­est 25% of Rwan­dans get free med­ical care. One of my favourite things about the Rwan­dan health­care land­scape is a hos­pi­tal, Butaro hos­pi­tal that was designed by MASS Design Group The hos­pi­tal has no hall­ways, so patients can’t gather in close spaces, and the air in the wards are changed more than 12 times per hour to pre­vent patients from being infected by other patients — par­tic­u­larly, with multi-drug-resistant TB.

    Image taken from: Arch­Daily by Iwan Baan

    3) Future of health­care is Social - Fast Company 

    I recently was in Tan­za­nia attend­ing and speak­ing at a mobile health con­fer­ence orga­nized by USAID and the MIn­istry of Health of Tan­za­nia. The theme at hand was the increas­ing tech­nol­ogy and mobile pen­e­tra­tion that is chang­ing the health land­scape in Africa. There are over 500 mhealth projects deployed around the world with the major­ity of projects (over 30%) being in Africa. I really enjoyed this arti­cle by Fast Com­pany on the increas­ing social nature that comes along with the increased tech­nol­ogy pres­ence in health­care. Also worth read­ing is another arti­cle by Fast Com­pany, on 5 steps to design­ing a bet­ter health­care sys­tem.

    4)  Design for trust - UX Magazine 

    Good design isn’t beau­ti­ful. Good design builds trust. As an investor, when I eval­u­ate health­care inter­ven­tions, I look to see how the ser­vice accounts for fac­tors that mat­ter to a person’s dig­nity: they way they are being treated, train­ing of health­care staff and acces­si­bil­ity of infor­ma­tion. This is espe­cially impor­tant when deal­ing with the poor, who are used to being mar­gin­al­ized, and not receiv­ing proper ser­vice. The arti­cle is more web-based trust, but rel­e­vant nev­er­the­less, when think­ing about how you inter­act with a patient. At the end of the day, when receiv­ing med­ical news, every­one wants infor­ma­tion that is “cor­rect, com­plete and unbiased.”

    7) Design­ing Hand­wash­ing — Core77

    An older arti­cle, but a goodie in address­ing one the most fun­da­men­tal issues in health­care: Hand­wash­ing. A great read in explor­ing: Move­ment Design, Mus­cle mem­ory, move­ment scripts and fluidity.

  • Leaning Into Risk

    6:50 am on November 19, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply

    I’ve been in Nairobi for almost three months now and life seems to have taken to me think­ing in frag­ments and bul­let points. My mind had been flooded with learn­ings, lessons, busi­ness plans, frag­ments of news, dis­cus­sions of devel­op­ment, con­flict, life of expats, impact assess­ments and where to make invest­ments count. It’s hard to seg­ment out the which bul­let points are worth shar­ing but to give some con­text on the dom­i­nant thoughts float­ing around, here’s a blog post that was pub­lished a while back on the Acu­men Fund blog on Oct 22nd. A lit­tle dated, but still rel­e­vant questions.


    Orig­i­nally pub­lished on Oct 22, 2012 on the Acu­men Fund blog. Repub­lished with permission. 

    In the world of impact invest­ing, there is next to no time to rest. There is a sense of urgency to explore the bound­aries of this sec­tor and uncover the dynam­ics of suc­cess of a poten­tial invest­ment. In the best cases, you get an invest­ment approved and every­thing goes as planned accord­ing to your ini­tial memo. In the worst cases, you get stuck in the trenches, pre– and post-investment, fight­ing to make each dol­lar count.

    In this con­tin­u­ous process of explor­ing bound­aries, here’s a cou­ple of lessons I’ve learned and ques­tions that I’m con­stantly ask­ing myself, which per­haps, you might be too.

    Human­iz­ing Mar­ket Creation

    As I dive in deeper into the health­care and nutri­tion sec­tor in East Africa, I was reminded by a col­league of a great video by Seth Godin at last year’s Investor Gathering.

    Seth Godin dis­cussing mar­ket cre­ation at the 2011 Investor Gathering

    The dri­ving ques­tions at hand: how do we human­ize mar­ket cre­ation? How do we teach peo­ple to use prod­ucts they have never used before? How do we con­vey the value of our ser­vices and prod­ucts of our port­fo­lio companies?

    This is when we aim to have two-way stories—to become part of the fab­ric of the com­mu­nity and co-create along­side the investor com­pany. Mar­ket cre­ation is more than just get­ting con­sumers to use our ser­vices and prod­ucts. Good mar­ket cre­ation is about teach­ing and fun­da­men­tally chang­ing con­sumers’ behaviors.

    The Unre­li­able Narrator

    I’ve become increas­ingly dis­trust­ful of my inter­nal nar­ra­tor lately. I’m slowly dis­cov­er­ing that impact invest­ment eval­u­a­tion is skewed heav­ily towards my inher­ited prej­u­dices of tra­di­tional invest­ments, at the expense of tak­ing into account the social impact. When I stop to con­tem­plate my actions, I find myself won­der­ing whether I am really lis­ten­ing and being objec­tive, or just nar­rat­ing back to myself what I think I heard.

    It’s hard some­times to fully com­pre­hend the impact of what we eval­u­ate, espe­cially if you have not expe­ri­enced what it is like on the ground. This dis­trust means that when we are surg­ing for­ward in a sec­tor that is fraught with uncer­tainty and trade-offs, we need to be mind­ful of the con­text of the investment.

    An Ode to Value

    As an impact investor, our role is so much more than just being a trans­ac­tor of debt or equity to poten­tial investees. We have an oppor­tu­nity to become an ecosys­tem builder, and to lead the charge to solve mar­ket inef­fi­cien­cies. My daily chal­lenges are thus: are we cre­at­ing value pre and post our invest­ments and where do we draw the line of sup­port? How do we value a busi­ness that has neg­a­tive cash flows? How do we encour­age orga­ni­za­tions to move away from grant reliance? How far do we lean into risk for the sake of value?

  • Storytelling & Four Shifting Forces

    2:27 pm on October 22, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , technology,

    Back in New York, I attended one of the best Cre­ative Morn­ings ses­sions, a cap­ti­vat­ing talk deliv­ered by Jonathan Har­ris on the sto­ry­telling. I’ve blogged before on decon­struct­ing the power of sto­ry­telling, and if you’re look­ing to under­stand more about this, Jonathan Har­ris’ projects are absolutely remark­able. They have ranged from doc­u­ment­ing an Eskimo whale hunt to cap­tur­ing human emo­tion on the inter­webs to inter­view­ing Tibetans on hap­pi­ness. Here’s his Cre­ative Morn­ing talk and my visual notes from that day:


















    So my notes couldn’t quite cap­ture the tail bit of his talk (I basi­cally ran out of space!), but essen­tially, he high­lights key trends that he is observ­ing in our evolv­ing world of tech and storytelling:

    1) Rise of Social Engi­neers: Never before has there been such a small sub­sec­tion of soci­ety ( aka. soft­ware devel­op­ers in tech star­tups who are hav­ing a big effect of mil­lions of human through design of software.

    2) Urges & Out­comes: All tech extends some pre­ex­ist­ing urge. What is the urge within humans that needs to be enhanced?

    3) The Ethics of Code: How can we reg­u­late soft­ware? Could there be a self-directed eth­nics from the cre­ators of soft­ware? This ties in back to point 1 on the respon­si­bil­i­ties of a social engi­neer, given their wide-spread influence.

    4) Heal­ers & Deal­ers: Star­tups are basi­cally falling into two buck­ets: heal­ers and deal­ers. Heal­ers: mar­ket­place com­pa­nies that con­nect peo­ple. e.g. kick­starter. Deal­ers: Atten­tion economies that take up your finite resource aka. time by con­vinc­ing peo­ple to spend time on their product/sites. e.g. facebook.


    All in all, I was very struck after the end of his talk with this question(s): what kind of pres­ence do you want to have in this world? Am I a healer or a dealer? As our world’s lan­guage con­tin­ues to trend towards a technology-based one, how do we posi­tion our­selves to become cre­ators once more, instead of just cura­tors of information?

    For now, I sup­pose I am sat­is­fied with being a Healer in the invest­ment world. The big­ger pic­ture of all of this, is won­der­ing, as an investor, what trends in soci­ety do I want to help accelerate…

  • Goodbye Vancouver, See you later New York, Hello Nairobi!

    3:58 pm on September 23, 2012 | 2 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,

    2012 has been my year of being in between sto­ries.  A process that involves embrac­ing uncer­tainty to explore pos­si­bil­ity, con­stant iter­a­tion in future plans, pack­ing and repack­ing my belong­ings into two lug­gages, mov­ing between con­ti­nents and try­ing to make some sense out the dis­ori­en­tat­ing dance of the famil­iar and unfamiliar.

    In the begin­ning of the year, I left my job with the inten­tion of begin­ning a new adven­ture. It wasn’t an easy deci­sion. It was espe­cially hard as I had grown to deeply respect my com­pany and had men­tors at the firm that I still trea­sure to this day. But there was this nag­ging lit­tle voice inside of me that pushed to me to leap. To be bold and pur­sue my inter­ests: one that thrives in the inter­sec­tion of impact invest­ing, design think­ing and change.

    Once in a while it really hits peo­ple that they don’t have to expe­ri­ence the world in the way they have been told to.” –Alan Keightley

    There is a myth of con­sis­tency in life sto­ries. Peo­ple tend to expect a famil­iar story, a jour­ney that they have heard before and unsur­pris­ingly, we impose this ‘famil­iar story’ on our­selves. We fail to leap because we believe that our capac­ity to dream is in accor­dance to our inher­ited prej­u­dice of what we have been told/come to expect. When faced with uncer­tainty, peo­ple tend to intu­itively, move to find a solu­tion quickly. They tend to rush down a path, usu­ally towards famil­iar­ity, at the expense of the insight and engage­ment that uncer­tainty can bring. It is in these sit­u­a­tions that I am slowly real­iz­ing that our courage and faith must be addressed to the dreams we have been afraid to dream, either because they are too dif­fi­cult, or because it has been too breath­tak­ing to even com­pre­hend how they could pos­si­bly exist within our cur­rent constraints.

    My jour­ney for 2012, has brought me out of Van­cou­ver, to New York, to Malaysia and now to Nairobi, Kenya where I am work­ing every­day to not only “will­ing to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo, but under­stand the world as it is and have the audac­ity and moral courage to build the world that could be” — Jacque­line Novogratz.

    The work of embrac­ing uncer­tainty requires the dis­ci­pline and wis­dom to make trade-offs, the best way we can. It is about know­ing when to pick up your belong­ings and leave. When to fight and when to con­cede. When to lis­ten and when to lead. When to be gen­er­ous and when to be hum­ble. When to hold your breath and when to breathe through it. When to be adven­tur­ous and when to be grounded.

    It is these trade-offs, that forces a shift from uncer­tainty to pos­si­bil­ity, from real­ity to abstract and back again: one of the most fun­da­men­tal processes by which we unlock our imag­i­na­tions and open our hearts to new insights. To under­stand our sto­ries is to embrace uncertainty.

    With that, I bid you farewell Van­cou­ver, see you later New York and jambo Nairobi!

  • My Week's Discoveries: Malaysia

    9:17 am on August 31, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

    So, I’ve been in South East Asia for the past three weeks, namely Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore. The trip has been long time com­ing as I haven’t been back to my home coun­try in over five years, and boy — am I ever glad I did. I have never been so inspired, hum­bled and proud of my fel­low coun­try­men for the incred­i­ble work that they are doing in South East Asia. If you have the priv­i­lege to be involved with their orga­ni­za­tions or have a cof­fee with these remark­able indi­vid­u­als, I assure you that it will be time well spent. Also, given that today is Inde­pen­dence day in Malaysia, thought it would be timely to share a few of my dis­cov­er­ies with you.

    1) Malaysia Social Enter­prise Alliance

    This is a Malaysian orga­ni­za­tion for social enter­prises and entre­pre­neurs with solu­tions to some of the most urgent social prob­lems in Malaysia and glob­ally. One of their more notable endeav­ors is Change­Week­end, a 9–10 month pro­gram as a facil­i­ta­tive plat­form that would equip orga­ni­za­tions with design think­ing and devel­op­men­tal skills. Even more incred­i­ble is the dri­ving force behind all of this is a won­der­ful lady, Ellynita Lamin, who has a heart of gold and is trail­blaz­ing her way in this part of the world. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what one of the local news­pa­pers has to say about her work too!

    2) Teach for Malaysia 

    Teach for Malaysia (TFM) enlists Malaysia’s most promis­ing lead­ers to improve edu­ca­tion in Malaysia. It mod­els after Teach for Amer­ica, where it is a two-year, fel­low­ship pro­gram where fel­lows are placed in local schools. Besides the fel­low­ship, the team has not only enlisted an incred­i­ble amount of sup­port from pri­vate and the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion, but clear strat­egy and vision in how fel­lows can trans­form Malaysia’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem from inside out. Change is on the hori­zon. This ini­tia­tive is par­tic­u­larly close to home for me as I went through the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem in Malaysia (yes, just like the adorable kids in the video!) and to get a glimpse of what TFM is up to, check out the video below.

    3) Week­end: The Week­end Movement 

    This is a com­mu­nity of peo­ple that is cre­at­ing a week­end move­ment where they come together to build projects, cre­ate solu­tions and bring great ideas to life. So far, their week­ends con­sist of Hack Week­end, Make Week­end and Change Week­end, and I’m sure it doesn’t stop there. The week­ends are designed to kick­start inno­va­tion and new projects. If you ever are in Malaysia for a week­end that coin­cides with one of their work­shops, def­i­nitely don’t hes­i­tate to check it out!

    4) Malaysia Design Archive 

    This is a beau­ti­ful project com­bin­ing design, his­tory and preser­va­tion of cul­ture. The project traces, maps and doc­u­ments the devel­op­ment of graphic design in Malaysia to pro­tect our visual his­tory. Malaysia’s his­tor­i­cal design influ­ences are par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing as this is a meet­ing point and cul­tural cross­ing of the East and West — from ornate Islamic texts, to Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and Euro­pean engrav­ings. As you browse the site, the graph­ics tell a won­der­ful story of Malaysia’s cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion. I highly rec­om­mend you start here.

    5) Other notable mentions:

    • SOLS 24/7: edu­ca­tion pro­gram in Cam­bo­dia, Laos, East Timor, Malaysia and Thai­land that has edu­cated over 80,000 youth.
    • Gawad Kalinga: Build­ing com­mu­ni­ties through tourism, social enter­prise, dis­as­ter relief, recon­struc­tion and devel­op­ment to end poverty.

    Thanks to Ellyne, Shie Haur, Nicole, Tas­nim and John for inspir­ing this post.

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