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  • MIT Healthcare Financing Lecture

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

    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: , , , , investing, social finance, 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

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

    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.

  • Invest2Innovate: Addressing the Disconnect in the Social Enterprise Space

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

    *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:
  • VANCOUVER+acumen Presentation - Making an Impact through Social Finance

    3:54 pm on November 8, 2011 | 0 comments Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , social finance,

    For the past year and a half or so, I have been involved with an incred­i­ble group, VANCOUVER+acumen. We’re a vol­un­teer chap­ter sup­port­ing Acu­men Fund by actively cham­pi­oning Acumen’s inno­v­a­tive model of patient cap­i­tal to ele­vate global poverty. We achieve this by engag­ing in com­mu­nity, rang­ing from infor­ma­tional work­shops, monthly salons and our annual case com­pe­ti­tion. As one of the found­ing mem­bers, it has been a great priv­i­lege to work along­side such pas­sion­ate indi­vid­u­als in this space and to con­tinue to cre­ate a world beyond poverty.

    I’m really excited to announce that I will be speak­ing at the inau­gural Cana­dian Global Impact Invest­ing meetup in Van­cou­ver on behalf of the group — shar­ing the acu­men model (both on a global and chap­ter level) to the impact invest­ing com­mu­nity in Van­cou­ver. The event will be held on Wednes­day, Nov 23rd from 6:30pm — 9pm at SFU Segal Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness in down­town Van­cou­ver. You can check out more details about the event here.

    Three other orga­ni­za­tions will also be pre­sent­ing at the event: Vancity, Global Cat­a­lyst Ini­tia­tive and Oppor­tu­nity Inter­na­tional Canada. Also, at the event, they will be giv­ing away door prizes ( 2 books I couldn’t rec­om­mend highly enough): Impact invest­ing: Trans­form­ing How We make Money While Mak­ing a Dif­fer­ence – Jed Emer­son, Antony Bugg-Levine and Banker to the Poor – Muham­mad Yunus.

    See you on the 23rd. Look­ing for­ward to con­nect­ing with other fel­low impact investing/social enter­prise champions.

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