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  • My Week's Discoveries: Malaysia

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

    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.

  • My Week's Discoveries

    3:37 pm on March 9, 2012 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , social enterprise, , ,

    1) Amer­i­can Booty — The story of Sara Blakely, the youngest self-made bil­lion­aire as founder of Spanx

    A hugely inspi­ra­tional story on the qual­ity of per­se­ver­ance. Sara only had $5,000 to cre­ate Spanx, and she cre­ated a com­pany, self-wrote her patent and devel­oped a pro­to­typed. She under­stood what women wanted. This is a quick 13min video on her story. Love the fact that she believed in her prod­uct so much that she never took no for an answer.

    2) Why ‘Shared Value’ Can’t Fix Cap­i­tal­ism - Forbes

    Thought-provoking com­men­tary to counter Michael Porter’s and Mark Kramer’s idea of ‘Shared Value’. Worth a read to get you think­ing about what aspects of cap­i­tal­ism needs ‘fix­ing’ and what doesn’t.

    3) Launch of Women INvest­ing in Women INi­tia­tive (WIN-WIN)Calvert Foun­da­tion 

    A highly encour­ag­ing piece of news that I cel­e­brated for Inter­na­tional Women’s Day. Calvert Foun­da­tion launched WIN-WIN with $20mm to be invested in high impact orga­ni­za­tions and global projects to cre­ate financ­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for women.

    4) Where did social enter­prise come from, any­way? - GOOD Magazine

    Use­ful sum­mary of the sec­tor, includ­ing the legal aspects of social enter­prises. Not sure if the found­ing of Ashoka started carv­ing out the space — my per­sonal take is that Dray­ton was one of the first that pop­u­lar­ized the concept/language. Then again, does under­stand­ing of the space come with under­stand­ing of lan­guage. hm…

    5) Tools and Resources for Assess­ing Social Impact - Foun­da­tion Centre

    Toolk­its and reports galore. From BACO by Acu­men Fund to FSG’s Guide to engag­ing stake­hold­ers. Seri­ously great database.

  • Identifying the Next Steps for Impact Investing

    1:01 pm on January 28, 2012 | 2 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , social enterprise

    A report by Credit Suisse and the Schwab Foun­da­tion for Social Entre­pre­neur­ship was released this week on the topic of impact invest­ing at the World Eco­nomic Forum’s annual meet­ing (Davos). A great overview of the cur­rent land­scape, it is worth a read, par­tic­u­larly Mark Kramer’s and Sir Richard Bran­son’s inter­views and com­ments on the sector.

    Investing_for_impact Credit Suisse — Schwab Report

    The report lead me down an inter­est­ing thought path on the “next steps” of the sector…

    Evi­dence:  The report high­lights sev­eral suc­cess­ful social enter­prise mod­els that are part of Schwab’s net­work. My per­sonal favourite was Bam Aquino of Hapinoy in the Philip­pines — invest­ment funds that cre­ates sus­tain­able dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels and busi­ness devel­op­ment strate­gies to empower for­merly iso­lated and infor­mal sec­tors of the Fil­ipino econ­omy. The report above, com­ple­ments the Data Dri­ven JP Morgan-GIIN report, that drills drown into the num­bers and break­down of social enter­prise in dif­fer­ent sectors.

    As a next step, I would love to see a report that focusses more on the acces­si­bil­ity and avail­abil­ity of invest­ments in the space — from an investors per­spec­tive. Com­ing from an asset-management back­ground, I have devel­oped a strong belief that under­stand­ing the invest­ment is just as impor­tant as know­ing your invest­ment options. Cur­rently, main-stream investor’s expo­sure of ‘social’ in invest­ments are SRI offer­ings — they need to be edu­cated on dif­fer­ent entry points and impact invest­ing prod­uct offer­ings rang­ing from an insti­tu­tional and pri­vate client per­spec­tive. A great start­ing point to this step is Impact Asset’s 50: A list­ing of Impact Fund Man­agers.

    Fail­ure: With the indus­try in a growth stage, as great as it is to know the suc­cesses and the land­scape, it is just as impor­tant to know the fail­ures. Where did we go wrong? What worked? How did you man­age to pivot? How do you pri­or­i­tize your mis­sion and your finances? When did you know the time to scale? There is such a stigma with fail­ure in the non-profit/charity world. This stigma should NOT be car­ried for­ward into the impact investing/social enter­prise sec­tor. Fail­ure is a gift — and the abil­ity to speak freely to learn from them, should be embraced by this sec­tor. A won­der­ful exam­ple of embrac­ing fail­ure is the EWB Canada’s Fail­ure Reports. I would love to see a sim­i­lar ini­tia­tive in the impact invest­ing sec­tor. Even inter­nally within orga­ni­za­tions — as a start.

    Road-Map: There is a wealth of infor­ma­tion on impact invest­ing that has been churned up within the last few years or so. The issue is know­ing where to look: from fund­ing social enter­prises to exit­ing an invest­ment. A nat­ural next step to this would be for var­i­ous stake­hold­ers to share their “how-tos” and points of con­sid­er­a­tion in the impact sec­tor. Some orga­ni­za­tions have already begun to pave the way for this, but what we need is for more road-maps to appear so at the very least, when you’re at the start­ing line — you have a gen­eral sense of direc­tion on where to go.


  • Invest2Innovate: Addressing the Disconnect in the Social Enterprise Space

    1:06 pm on November 26, 2011 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , social enterprise,

    *The post below was orig­i­nally pub­lished on on Nov 25, 2011

    In the social enter­prise world, one key issue that con­stantly resur­faces, as it would in any grow­ing sec­tor, is one of fund­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing a proper invest­ment pipeline. The acces­si­bil­ity and  avail­abil­ity of start-up fund­ing is cru­cial to star­tups, and in the case of social enter­prises, a largely untapped mar­ket. Here’s whereInvest2Innovate (i2i) comes into the pic­ture. They are a social enter­prise inter­me­di­ary that sup­ports the growth of social entre­pre­neur­ship in new mar­kets, help­ing fun­ders and early stage entre­pre­neurs see eye to eye.

    I had the oppor­tu­nity to con­nect with Kalsoom Lakhani the founder and CEO of i2i to inter­view her about her recently launched social enter­prise. A trail­blazer and native to Pak­istan, Lakhani launched i2i’s pilot in Pak­istan in Sep­tem­ber 2011 with plans to expand oper­a­tions to other coun­tries post 2012. Here’s what she has to say about her startup and the space:

    1) What is most inter­est­ing to you right now in the social enter­prise space? 
    There are many inter­est­ing inno­va­tions tak­ing place right now – from ground­break­ing SMS crowd-mapping tools to agriculture-based inno­va­tions for small farm­ers. Inno­v­a­tive tools & approaches of engag­ing and empow­er­ing low-income com­mu­ni­ties are com­ing up con­stantly. But I’m also extremely inter­ested in the growth of the impact invest­ment space, and where we are right now in terms of the com­mu­nity as an emerg­ing asset class, whether or not this type of invest­ment breeds bet­ter social impact met­rics, and whether the cap­i­tal is flow­ing to the right places. There are still a lot of spaces we need to fill when it comes to con­nect­ing cap­i­tal to social enter­prises, par­tic­u­larly at the early-stage, and it’s inter­est­ing to see how crowd-funding and other inno­v­a­tive ways of rais­ing cap­i­tal are becom­ing poten­tial solu­tions to help fill that gap.

    2) Why start up i2i? Why is this the time to enter into the mar­ket? 
    i2i was launched in order to help address some of the dis­con­nects in the social entre­pre­neur­ship space. Prior to launch­ing the com­pany, I worked in ven­ture phil­an­thropy for over three years, pro­vid­ing seed fund­ing and sup­port to early-stage social enter­prises mainly in Pak­istan. I was first exposed to the “space” then, and quickly immersed myself in all things social entre­pre­neur­ship & inno­va­tion. It has been fas­ci­nat­ing and moti­vat­ing to see grow­ing ecosys­tems in mar­kets like India, Latin Amer­ica (Mex­ico, Brazil, Chile are good exam­ples), and East Africa. Beyond higher access to cap­i­tal (a lot of impact investors oper­ate in these coun­tries), we’ve seen the growth of other play­ers that fur­ther sup­port social enter­prise – incu­ba­tors, accel­er­a­tors, gov­ern­ment poli­cies (in some cases), inter­me­di­aries, etc.

    i2i was founded to take a sim­i­lar ecosys­tem approach in the “untapped” mar­kets – that’s a lot of jar­gon I know, but essen­tially we pro­vide tai­lored ser­vices to early-stage social enter­prises to grow their busi­nesses and con­nect them to cap­i­tal. Pak­istan, our pilot mar­ket, is a great exam­ple of a coun­try where there is a sig­nif­i­cant need for more inno­v­a­tive and market-based approaches to devel­op­ment – 66% of the pop­u­la­tion live on under $2 a day – but where the envi­ron­ment for social entre­pre­neur­ship is rel­a­tively new. Entre­pre­neurs often lack the tools & ser­vices to max­i­mize the poten­tial of their mod­els and attract cap­i­tal, espe­cially in mar­kets like Pak­istan, where the volatile polit­i­cal and secu­rity sit­u­a­tion hurt the investor envi­ron­ment. There is a lot oppor­tu­nity for i2i, as an inter­me­di­ary, along with other part­ner orga­ni­za­tions, to be the archi­tects of the ecosys­tem, fos­ter­ing the social entre­pre­neur­ship space both from the top-down and the bottom-up.

    3) What is the biggest mis­con­cep­tion you see in the world of social enter­prise and where do you stand on the issue? 
    I think the biggest mis­con­cep­tion in social enter­prise is that it’s ok to stop at the “warm & fuzzy” and throw the term around irre­spon­si­bly. It dri­ves me crazy. Social enter­prise ulti­mately com­bines the best of the busi­ness and the char­ity world – it begs the ques­tion, “Could we mag­nify social impact if we take a busi­ness approach to devel­op­ment?” Social entre­pre­neur­ship is not the solu­tion to every­thing, but in some cases, it can be really effec­tive. For instance, if rural low-income com­mu­ni­ties that are off the elec­tric­ity grid use kerosene as their light and heat source, not only is it a costly prod­uct, but it poses ter­ri­ble health and envi­ron­men­tal ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Dis­plac­ing this demand for kerosene with clean energy solu­tions pro­vides these low-income com­mu­ni­ties with bet­ter alter­na­tives at com­pa­ra­ble prices, ulti­mately con­tribut­ing to poverty alle­vi­a­tion. Social enter­prises need to demon­strate social and/or envi­ron­men­tal impact – that is what tends to qual­ify the “social” in the equa­tion, but at the end of the day, they are busi­nesses that need to have strong mod­els and be sus­tain­able in the long-term. Some­times that gets lost in the “warm & fuzzy” sto­ries we hear in the space, which are great in com­mu­ni­cat­ing an organization’s vision and build­ing a com­mu­nity of sup­port­ers, but there needs to be sub­stance behind that story.

    4) What is one action would like peo­ple to take once they know if i2i? 
    If you are a social enter­prise, espe­cially in Pak­istan (since that is our pilot), get in touch with us to get an assess­ment of your busi­ness and how i2i can pro­vide ser­vices (from busi­ness devel­op­ment to communications/marketing) to help your orga­ni­za­tion grow. If you are a poten­tial investor (both for i2i and/or inter­ested in early-stage enter­prises in new mar­kets), we’d love to talk to you! And finally, if you are just a sup­porter, we are always excited to hear your feed­back and make our model better.

    Kalsoom is a the founder of invest2innovate based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. She is a co-ambassador for Sand­box, a global net­work of inno­va­tors under 30, and is also a mem­ber of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s Global Shapers.  She has writ­ten for the Wash­ing­ton Post, the Huff­in­g­ton Post, For­eign Pol­icy, and Pakistan’s Dawn News­pa­per. Get in touch:
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