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  • How are We Standing with the Poor?

    3:05 pm on February 18, 2013 | 3 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: empowerment, ,

    The more some­one iden­ti­fies with a pro­fes­sion or an “accom­plish­ment” such as an award, the less human he will be (in the clas­si­cal sense). In virtue ethics, the only “excel­lence” worth attain­ing is that of “being human”, with all what it entails (honor, courage, ser­vice, sat­is­fac­tion of pub­lic & pri­vate duties, will­ing­ness to face death, etc.); “achieve­ments” are reduc­tions and alien­ations for lower forms of life.

    IN ANCIENT ROME this was a priv­i­lege reserved for the patri­cian class. They were able to engage in pro­fes­sional activ­i­ties with­out directly iden­ti­fy­ing with them: to write books, lead armies, farm land, or trans­act with­out being a writer, gen­eral, farmer, or mer­chant, but “a man (*vir* rather than *homo*) who” writes, com­mands, farms or trans­acts, as a side activity.

    TODAY, as human­ity got much, much richer, one would have thought that every­one would have access to the priv­i­lege. Instead, I only find it in min­i­mum wage earn­ers who just “make a liv­ing” and feel forced to sep­a­rate their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion. The higher up in the social lad­der, the more peo­ple derive their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion and “achieve­ments”. — Nas­sim Taleb

    When I was with Acu­men Fund, we would ask our­selves: How are we stand­ing with the poor? And quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I even really knew what that meant. For the longest time, I thought it meant putting myself into another person’s per­spec­tive, try­ing to see the world through their eyes and “speak up” for those who didn’t have a voice. And then I came across this post­ing by Nas­sim Taleb, who sep­a­rates out iden­tity and accom­plish­ment and really got me reeval­u­at­ing my def­i­n­i­tion. It also made me real­ize how hard it was, as the higher up the social lad­der you are, the harder it is to dis­tin­guish between iden­tity and accom­plish­ment, the harder it is to relate.

    Stand­ing with the poor is about look­ing beyond pro­fes­sion. Beyond awards and accom­plish­ments. Beyond first impres­sions. Stand­ing with the poor is a reminder to one­self to sep­a­rate the way you look at your­self and oth­ers around you; between their accom­plish­ments and iden­tity. Stand­ing with the poor is about under­stand­ing self-worth, regard­less of what situation/career/social sta­tus you are in.

    And at the end of the day, it all comes back to valu­ing human dignity.

  • My Week's Discoveries: Malaysia

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

    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.

  • Matters of National Pride: When All is Said and Done

    8:10 am on August 5, 2012 | 6 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , empowerment, ,

    I have long since desired to write about this topic to some degree, but it was only after a series of recent con­ver­sa­tions and fol­low­ing the Olympics Games that called forth an unex­pected wave of patri­o­tism towards my country.

    I grew up as a Malaysian, through and through. Born and raised in Sarawak, edu­cated in Malaysia’s pub­lic school sys­tem and seen first hand my country’s polit­i­cal and racial stance. The older I became, the more I came to under­stand the indoc­tri­na­tion of nation­al­ism that the coun­try has imposed on its cit­i­zens, the more I con­cluded that we were made to love! From stand­ing in the equa­to­r­ial heat dur­ing assem­bly salut­ing our “Jalur Gemi­lang”, singing the dif­fer­ent anthems: Negaraku and Sarawak, Ibu Per­ti­wiku on a daily basis to mem­o­riz­ing Malaysia’s geog­ra­phy and his­tory every­day in our pub­lic school sys­tem. The older I grew, the more I ques­tioned the under­ly­ing racial intol­er­ance in our coun­try, the more I heard my fel­low com­pa­tri­ots scheme to “study over­seas and stay there”, that if you could obtain a PR from a first world coun­try, “go for it and don’t look back”, the more I saw a brain drain in my country’s top minds as they throw their hands up in frus­tra­tion at Malaysia’s eco­nomic and polit­i­cal situation.

    Appar­ently, being made to love some­thing is a flawed strat­egy, and right­fully so. As my gen­er­a­tion grew up, our under­stand­ing of the world expanded and we look back and crit­i­cize the flaws in our own coun­try. We tell peo­ple, “I love Malaysian food, but to go back and be dis­crim­i­nated based on the colour of my skin and last name? Why should I sub­ject myself to such treat­ment?” spo­ken some­times out of dis­ap­point­ment, some­times out of dis­dain. When I saw Dambisa Moyo speak at my uni­ver­sity on Dead Aid and devel­op­ment, some­one from the audi­ence asked her whether she would ever go back to Zam­bia to help her coun­try. She retorted that peo­ple often for­get that every human being at the end of the day craves equal­ity, dig­nity and access to basic needs. If Zam­bia could pro­vide those needs for their cit­i­zens, Zam­bians would go back in a heart­beat. I looked around and saw my friends: South African, Iran­ian, Pak­istani, Chi­nese, all nod­ding silently next to me. Appar­ently, I was not the only one who felt this way.

    Now, work­ing and learn­ing in the social enterprise/development space, I come across many indi­vid­u­als who are pas­sion­ate about chang­ing the lives of oth­ers in devel­op­ing coun­tries. Some take a more econ­o­mist stand­point of help­ing where peo­ple need it the most, other are dri­ven by a cer­tain cause/skillset — be it health, finance or human rights. I see oth­ers have a deep drive to help coun­tries that they never even grew up in, and some­times have never even set foot in that con­ti­nent, let alone coun­try. I ask myself: Why? Then, I look at Malaysia and won­der: What good is it that we are made to love a coun­try when our hearts are filled with complaints/disdain for it? I look around again and I see my friends: who have gone back to Peru to cre­ate change in her home­town, who have dreams to advance South African films in the world and who are wait­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to return to Kenya. Appar­ently, I was miss­ing out on con­nect­ing with my birth­place and identity.

    I can finally say that work­ing in the social enterprise/development space, have meant per­son­ally for me, of under­stand­ing Malaysia bet­ter. For its decay­ing polit­i­cal and admin­is­tra­tive struc­ture, for the incred­i­ble courage of Bersih pro­tes­tors, and for new eco­nomic pro­grams that are aimed to improve the coun­try. More impor­tantly, I think I have finally under­stood what it means to love uncon­di­tion­ally, even if I was made to in the first place. To love any­ways despite all of Malaysia’s flaws, because love keeps no count of wrong. It is this choice — To love, not for a tol­er­ance of cor­rup­tion, crime or racism but to love unfail­ingly, stub­bornly, for a beauty of a nation is not in the laws or the rul­ing party at that time, but in the dig­nity and essence of every cit­i­zen who have con­tributed in one way or another to shape our early views of the world.

    So to all my fel­low com­pa­tri­ots and those who have yet to make the choice to love for your own coun­try, when all is said and done, here is my chal­lenge to you:

    If not us, then who? If not now, then when? — Acu­men Fund


    Thanks to Kristina, Nan­jala, Cyn­thia and Robert for inspir­ing this post.

  • How to Create an Impact Investing Movement

    11:19 am on April 27, 2012 | 2 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , empowerment, , , , ,

    I’ve been stalk­ing the impact invest­ing space closely for the last few years and it seems that across research papers, from the recently released Acu­men Fund-Mon­i­tor Group: Case for Phil­an­thropy in Impact Invest­ing (which is a great read!) to goals of foun­da­tion tack­ling impact invest­ing — a sys­temic issue that resur­faces is the lack of infra­struc­ture to help peo­ple iden­tify and func­tion as a part of the impact indus­try. A recent con­ver­sa­tion with a friend on move­ment cre­ation sparked this idea on fig­ur­ing out how to build this infra­struc­ture. It also reminded me of a old twit­ter exchange I had with Steve Wright (Grameen Foun­da­tion) and Kevin Jones (SOCAP) on the value of mar­ket­ing and sto­ry­telling in the social con­text. A snip­pet of our con­ver­sa­tion is below:

    I believe that marketing/value-positioning is an under­val­ued prac­tice in the impact invest­ing space. How­ever, if we’re look­ing to expand the space beyond those who care about the impact value of cap­i­tal, we have a to start look­ing at cre­at­ing a move­ment of impact invest­ing — a sus­tain­able and scal­able plat­form. We have to look closely on how we can cre­ate pull-factors needed for a suc­cess­ful impact move­ment. Now, I am not as naive to think that the world of phil­an­thropy and for-profit invest­ing should cease to exist. What I am sug­gest­ing is that the movement’s aim is to help the gen­eral pub­lic and those in the invest­ing world to have a third way to think about cap­i­tal: a blended value of cap­i­tal and impact.

    So, this is my attempt to build this movement’s basic frame­work and my vision of what core ele­ments of an impact invest­ing move­ment would con­tain and look like.

    Defin­ing the Movement’s Core

    Edu­ca­tion is the key to the move­ment and a first step is shift­ing people’s per­spec­tive to a third way to think about cap­i­tal. I would like peo­ple to think of their port­fo­lios as fol­low (Note: the pie charts below are based on a hypo­thet­i­cal way to think about cap­i­tal — main point is to illus­trate the inclu­sion of impact invest­ments when an indi­vid­ual thinks of capital):

    I believe the core of an impact invest­ing move­ment should be two-fold:

    1) The choice between impact and profit should not be a binary one.

    2) Close the men­tal dis­con­nects and iso­la­tion between the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the Impact chain of cap­i­tal: (Input –> Out­put –> Impact)

    Dis­tinc­tion of Tar­get Groups 

    Just like the ‘real’ invest­ing world, in the impact invest­ing world, there are two dis­tinct investors to tar­get: Insti­tu­tional and Retail. By the nature of the way that cap­i­tal flows into the space, influ­ence on the retail end is bot­tom heavy + per­sonal and on the insti­tu­tional side, it is top heavy and polit­i­cally bar­ri­ered. (Side­note: A great report to read to under­stand the institutional-policy rela­tion­ship in impact invest­ing writ­ten by Pacific Com­mu­nity Ven­tures & Har­vard Uni).

    Another tar­get group (and this is admit­tedly the harder group to pen­e­trate than the for­mer) would be both insti­tu­tional and retail invest­ment advi­sors. Straight away, the inher­ent chal­lenge to cre­ate this move­ment is how to cre­ate a simul­ta­ne­ous pres­sure on both ends and in each respec­tive groups.

    Five Strate­gies

    In cre­at­ing this ‘pull’ plat­form, because cap­i­tal flows through a sys­tem through an impact chain, the plat­form should become the mech­a­nism by which ‘push’ plat­forms must engage in. The graphic below illus­trates this point using the recently announced Mor­gan Stan­ley Invest­ing with Impact plat­form. The idea is that on Mor­gan Stanley’s end, they can only get so far by engag­ing their cur­rent clients. How­ever, if they look beyond their Invest­ing with Impact plat­form, and engage in a mid­dle ‘pull’ plat­form that edu­cates the masses, their mes­sage and reach would more than double.

    I believe that a suc­cess­ful impact invest­ing ‘pull’ move­ment would con­tain the fol­low­ing practices:

     1) Rad­i­cally lower knowl­edge barriers

    The land­scape of impact invest­ing is slowly com­ing to light. There is great research and data that heav­ily sup­ports the sec­tor. How­ever, bite size pieces of infor­ma­tion are far and few in between. Investors and advi­sors need under­stand: the rea­son for impact invest­ing, proof of con­cept, and how it would affect an institution’s or individual’s port­fo­lio. The knowl­edge bar­rier should also include a way to dis­sem­i­nate authen­tic and real sto­ries (see: twit­ter exchange above) about impact invest­ing and the results of the invest­ment — a form of curated ‘entertainment’.

    2) Uncover and dis­rupt offline analogies

    Most form of human inter­ac­tions sur­round a pre-existing way of think­ing. e.g. before email, peo­ple would send let­ters. In the case of think­ing about cap­i­tal, the tip­ping points of where some­one starts to think about money is in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, with a focus on uni­ver­si­ties and col­lege (typ­i­cally an individual’s first expe­ri­ence in man­ag­ing a sub­stan­tial amount of money).

    3) Empower key com­mu­nity leaders

    I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s prac­tice of build­ing tribes. Peo­ple are more pas­sion­ate about this issue than you think they are. A great orga­ni­za­tion that organ­i­cally (and per­haps unex­pect­edly) tapped into the power of tribes is Acu­men Fund. (Full dis­clo­sure: I cur­rently vol­un­teer with them, and this is by no means a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of their per­spec­tive on the mat­ter. Just my own). Acu­men Fund cur­rently has 12 volunteer-led chap­ters around the world that sup­port and spread their cause. These chap­ters are going into local com­mu­ni­ties with a depth and reach that Acu­men would not have been able to achieve just by themselves.

    4) Reduce friction

    Think­ing about cap­i­tal — can be an over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence, espe­cially on the retail side. The move­ment needs to cre­ate a fric­tion­less and sim­ple expe­ri­ence that cat­alyzes ‘pull’ for trans­ac­tional activ­i­ties. A great exam­ple of this prac­tice is by Learn­Vest, a bud­get­ing and advi­sory plat­form to help indi­vid­u­als achieve their goals. Sim­ple and clear. I envi­sion a suc­cess­ful impact invest­ing plat­form to embrace a sim­i­lar fric­tion­less user experience.

     5) Get­ting started

    No sin­gle agenda or strat­egy is equally rel­e­vant to all tar­get groups. I see two main engage­ment strate­gies embed­ded in the move­ment, which in some cases can be exe­cuted sep­a­rately or com­bined. One is a online-mass led propo­si­tion with mul­ti­ple knowl­edge engage­ment pieces. The other is a high-touch with direct chan­nel dis­tri­b­u­tion. The lat­ter would fit in more with the advisory/‘push’ plat­form engage­ment tar­get group whereas the for­mer would fit into a engag­ing retail investors. The high-touch com­po­nent is def­i­nitely more of a chal­lenge as we would be look­ing at a tar­get group of banks/corporations/venture cap­i­tal­ist that have sys­tems in place in order to achieve exe­cute their busi­ness model.


    There are mul­ti­ple ways to con­tinue to build out this frame­work. The points above are merely a start­ing point in the basic wire­frame of this impact invest­ing move­ment. All ideas are wel­come, and if you want to have a brain­storm ses­sion about this — hit me up!

    Thanks to Erika, Jo-Ann, Steve and Kevin for inspir­ing this post.

  • True Compassion

    1:25 pm on March 23, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , empowerment,

    True com­pas­sion is more than fling­ing a coin to a beg­gar; it comes to see that an edi­fice which pro­duces beg­gars needs restruc­tur­ing.”
    ― Mar­tin Luther King

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