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  • MIT Healthcare Financing Lecture

    6:07 pm on May 14, 2014 | 3 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , impact, , MIT, ,

    mit_crest_logoIf 2014 had a nar­ra­tive arc, it would look like a series of sprints — from obtain­ing visas, start­ing a new job, mov­ing apart­ments to being in a new indus­try — all leav­ing me just enough room to catch my breath before the next leg begins. Amongst the many life-sprints that have occurred, one par­tic­u­lar sprint has been most unex­pected and reward­ing — both per­son­ally and professionally.

    It started in Dec, 2013 — when I received an email from a friend whose paths I crossed dur­ing my Nairobi days in late 2012. She offered the oppor­tu­nity for me to become a guest lec­turer at MIT Sana’s spring course on Global Health Infor­mat­ics to Improve the Qual­ity of Care. They were look­ing for some­one to speak about financ­ing in health­care in rural/resource-limiting set­tings. Truth­fully, it has never crossed my mind that I would be lec­tur­ing at MIT espe­cially at this stage of my career/life, but embrac­ing Sheryl Sandberg’s phi­los­o­phy of “if you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on!”, I accepted and found my way to the MIT cam­pus in the begin­ning of March to deliver my lecture.

    The course itself  “focuses on inno­va­tions in infor­ma­tion sys­tems to accel­er­ate improve­ments of health out­comes in devel­op­ing coun­tries. The course will focus not only on tech­nol­ogy and mHealth as it applies to global health, but also on broader issues nec­es­sary for the suc­cess­ful deploy­ment of infor­ma­tion sys­tems such as qual­ity of care, dis­ease bur­den, and project man­age­ment. This is the fourth iter­a­tion of the course, which is a col­lab­o­ra­tive offer­ing from Sana, MIT, Part­ners in Health, Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health, Har­vard Med­ical School, and a net­work of inter­na­tional part­ner aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions located around the globe.” — MIT Sana

    Dur­ing my lec­ture, 400 stu­dents were watch­ing from 45 loca­tions around the world. The lec­ture itself was a very basic intro­duc­tion to financ­ing as most of the stu­dents do not have finance or invest­ing back­grounds. It will also be turned into an offi­cial MOOC edX/MITx cur­ricu­lum in 2015! If you’re inter­est­ing in watch­ing my lec­ture, it is avail­able online.


    Thank you Sarah, for this amaz­ing opportunity.

  • Responsibilities of an (Impact) Investor

    3:02 pm on December 6, 2012 | 1 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , impact, , investing, , venture capital

    For the past few months, I have been reflect­ing a lot on my role as an investor. Busi­ness plans and pro­pos­als come across my desk and as I shift through them, it really struck me on how large a respon­si­bil­ity investors play in accel­er­at­ing trends, shap­ing a com­mu­nity or even country’s econ­omy, but yet how lit­tle this respon­si­bil­ity is spo­ken about in the invest­ing cir­cles. We place so much empha­sis on find­ing the right busi­ness, the right man­age­ment team, the right social impact, that some­times we get lost in our own capac­ity to rec­og­nize what really is inno­v­a­tive and what truly deserves to be funded. So, from my expe­ri­ences, here’s what I think an investor’s respon­si­bil­i­ties are on top of the typ­i­cal invest­ment work:

    1) Investors need to live in the future. 

    This is a point I feel very strongly about. If you’re an investor: VC/PE and par­tic­u­larly if you play in the startup and impact invest­ing work, (as Fred Wil­son pointed today in his blog post and what Paul Gra­ham said):  you should live in the future and see what is miss­ing. So well said. I’m cur­rently in an envi­ron­ment (yes, I rec­og­nize that I am in Africa — so feel free to shower stereo­types), where I know investors who are still using yahoo mail, inter­net explorer and Win­dows 2003 (true story!). Not to say that there are any­thing wrong with the prod­ucts, but more so — I think it’s so impor­tant to be keep­ing up with the trends in the world, tech­nol­ogy being one of them. How can you expect to iden­tify an invest­ment that is ‘ground-breaking’ if you’re not even fol­low­ing the newest trends in your sec­tor? Tak­ing this a step fur­ther, if you are fol­low­ing these global trends vs. local trends, it is then our respon­si­bil­ity to seek out entre­pre­neurs who can close this gap and fur­ther ele­vate the devel­op­ing world, or the devel­op­ing world would for­ever be play­ing ‘catch up’.

    2) Don’t be a sheep. 

    This respon­si­bil­ity is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant in the impact invest­ing space. Given that we’re play­ing in a field that is largely uncharted, risk is high and typ­i­cally, most investors are unable to size up a new mar­ket and end up rely­ing on the opin­ions of other investors. aka. I’ll invest if some­one else will too aka. a sheep. Impact investors say that they are risk tol­er­ant, but few trans­late this tol­er­ance into sign­ing along the dot­ted line. A very chicken and egg sit­u­a­tion. Hence, I have to con­stantly push myself to under­stand what is the right bal­ance of being a mar­ket leader but also not be a reck­less investor. Bal­ance is key.

    3) The need to close and dis­burse faster

    There are a lot of delays that occur in [impact] invest­ing. The court­ing of investors and [social] entre­pre­neurs, the dance between find­ing the right termsheet, the issue of mak­ing sure that the social impact actu­ally has an impact, and [insert your tra­di­tional delays in invest­ing here]. This is the norm. This is my chal­lenge to investors: rec­og­nize that the longer the delay, the big­ger the strain on the business/organization. From an entre­pre­neur per­spec­tive, you’re con­stantly watch­ing your ‘run­way’ aka. how much money do I have before I run out, and a delayed clos­ing round and dis­burse­ment is to the [social] entrepreneur’s dis­ad­van­tage as well as to their cus­tomers. If we’re really stand­ing with the poor, then deals need to close quicker with clear and sim­ple terms, as the longer the delay, the more peo­ple are miss­ing out on poten­tially expe­ri­enc­ing the product/service.

    This is by no means sup­posed to be an exhaus­tive list of respon­si­bil­i­ties, but instead ones that I feel are most impor­tant given my expe­ri­ence. As investors, we are in a priv­i­leged posi­tion to start/continue or end trends. I think it’s time that we started think­ing a lit­tle harder about where our respon­si­bil­i­ties lie.

  • My Week's Discoveries: Malaysia

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

    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.

  • Design Gym: Learn design thinking and solve real world problems

    10:10 pm on July 8, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , impact,

    How do you solve real world prob­lems with a human-centered lens? How do cre­ate a prod­uct that is effec­tive and beau­ti­ful? Where can you find a com­mu­nity of thinkers that have the skills and process to solve wicked prob­lems? Where do you find an acces­si­ble avenue to learn design think­ing that is prag­matic and  affordable?

    A few months ago, myself and a group of strate­gists and design­ers set out to solve this chal­lenges and emerged with a really excit­ing concept:

    The Design Gym, a com­mu­nity of skilled prob­lem solvers through a workshop-driven design think­ing cur­ricu­lum. We part­ner with orga­ni­za­tions to help them approach their prob­lems in a new way by con­nect­ing their chal­lenges with our community.

    Our inau­gural project is a week­end long inten­sive at the Brook­lyn Brain­ery from July 27th — 29th, 2012. We’re kick­ing the week­end off on Fri­day night with beers, net­work­ing and an intro to design think­ing. Sat­ur­day will be a deep dive into the design process, meth­ods and best prac­tices, and fin­ish­ing off on Sun­day with a hands on appli­ca­tion of skills solv­ing a real-world prob­lem. Don’t worry if you don’t have a design or strat­egy back­ground. We’re all here to learn, and see a prob­lem from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Sounds like you want to know more? Sign up here, spread the word (we’re on twit­ter too!) and bring a friend!

    If you’re an organization/company/non-profit and are inter­ested in part­ner­ing with us, please feel free to email me. I would love to chat with you. If you have any ques­tions, please email me. If you would like to trade sto­ries about the space or learn more about the project or even just to say hi, please email me. I think you get the pic­ture! I will reply! Seriously.

    A huge shoutout to my team, who are kick-ass all round. Go stalk them: Andrew Hager­man, Daniel Still­man, Jason Wis­dom & Miles Begin.

  • How to Create an Impact Investing Movement

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

    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.

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