Category Archives: Social Entrepreneurship

The benefits of collaboration in impact investment

I recently had the opportunity to give a workshop presentation at the annual SEIF congress in Zurich, Switzerland. SEIF is an outstanding Swiss organisation that helps to develop high-impact enterprises in the Swiss, German and Austrian market and is also building an impact angel network. We at ClearlySo have had the pleasure of working with it cooperatively over many years.

It is therefore not surprising that I was asked to speak about “bringing together different partners to create new models in impact investment”. It felt rather daunting, and I sometimes think that actors in impact investment spend far more time talking about the benefits of cooperation than practising it. However, as it developed, it seemed to me that there were many different types of cooperative or collaborative endeavours and that each worked differently in supporting innovation in impact investment.

The first example I gave I described as “client collaboration”. As observers know, ClearlySo launched ClearlySo ATLAS in December 2016. This is a tool focused on private equity and venture capital fund managers, and it assesses the impact of their conventional private equity investments. The spark for this idea was a conversation with Octopus Investments four to five years ago, which continued as we designed ClearlySo ATLAS. As this was a new product in a new market, we decided to work with the PE/VC community in developing it. In a sense, the end-buyers played a significant role in constructing what they would later buy. ClearlySo coordinated all of this, but the cooperation of client prospects was essential.

Second, I spoke of “partnership collaboration” in the case of the Big Venture Challenge. This was a programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund and managed by UnLtd Ventures. After the first pilot of the programme, UnLtd wanted to improve its effectiveness and contacted three partners: the Shaftesbury Partnership, the Social Investment Business and ClearlySo. Each had a specific role to play and was allotted a share of the programme budget. Our role was to help the more than 100 high-impact ventures to secure external investment, which was matched by grants from the BVC. Securing impact investment is what ClearlySo does, so UnLtd gained access to this expertise at a reasonable price and we delivered our objectives with a combination of existing and new resources.

Finally, the third type of collaboration I would describe as “competitive collaboration” and is a key feature of nearly all impact-investment deals, although I used the landmark HCT quasi-equity transaction as an example. In such deals, each party seeks, as best it can, to get what it wants. HCT is looking for low-cost finance, the end investors (in this case led by Bridges Ventures) are looking for a high return, and we are looking to complete the transaction and secure a fee. If each party pushes too hard, the deal falls through and everybody loses. Everyone needs to work together while pushing for their own interests to get the best possible deal. Such competitive – or even antagonistic – collaboration is the essence of all investment transactions.

In conclusion, collaboration is essential to pushing the frontiers in impact investment, but there are different types of collaboration, and each might be more or less appropriate in different circumstances. In collaboration, there has to be a successful outcome for all – there can be no winner take all, or things speedily unravel, which some of you may know as the “prisoner’s dilemma”.

This blog was first published here for Third Sector on 01/02/2017.

Russia, Rio 2016 and the Danger of Exclusion

The Olympics officially open today in Rio de Janiero.  Whilst political and economic turmoil in Brazil and the outbreak of the Zika virus have overshadowed and at times even threatened these games, the first ever in Latin America, a more recent cloud has been the Russian athletes and the reactions of various authorities to apparently proven allegations of state-sponsored doping.  In the UK, many have clamoured for the banning of the entire Russian team, as a means of “getting tough”, “cracking down” and in varying terms, acting in a way which will discourage others.  Banning is the ultimate sanction we use in such circumstances – short of violence.

When I had the privilege of attending the Lisbon meeting of the Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group (GSG) a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the meeting I also attended of the G8 Social Investment Task Force Plenary (G8 SITF) in London in July 2015.  On both occasions I found myself asking, “Where is Russia?”  As they are a member of the G8, I was always bemused by the fact that somehow Russia was out and Australia was in.  Nothing against Australia, mind you, but the G8 is the G8!  Now I have no idea why Russia was not there – asked a few people who seemed not to know.  It is quite possible they were invited and did not attend of their own accord.

What was impressive was that many new countries were involved in the 2016 meeting in Lisbon – Mexico, Portugal (the host), Israel, Portugal and India.  The world of impact investment, and in general, is enriched by the inclusion of many differing voices, and these five added a great deal to the meeting.  Russia’s absence disturbed me, whatever the explanation.  A world where pariah states come to exist, even if their behaviour brings it on themselves, is less appealing to me than one in which all countries continue to meet and we endeavour to improve behaviour through engagement.

Another absence from the two meetings was any country with a predominantly Muslim population.  I myself would have particularly welcomed hearing an insight into how such countries are approaching impact investment.  In particular, I would be keen to see how Sharia Law impacts on the funding and enterprise models.  Again, I do not know how many were invited to join and what efforts were undertaken in this direction.  But, in a world where western anti-Muslim feelings are increasing, in part as a reaction to atrocities linked to those claiming religious inspiration, I feel it is important to work doubly hard to engage.  A positive force, such as impact investment, could become a key bridge between communities, acting in a useful way to counter-balance the forces of exclusion, anger and hostility.

This is why I am delighted that 70% of Russian athletes (over 270 according to the BBC) have been allowed to compete in the Brazil Olympics, despite state-sponsored doping.  It might even be the case that some crooked athletes compete and win.  But against that, it also means that innocent Russian athletes are not penalised so the “international community” can make a point at their expense.  And overriding all of this is my strong desire to act against what I see as global entropy – where all around the world nations seem to be pulling apart, vigorously acting against each other in pursuit of their narrow interests.  Having a first Latin American Olympics is, by contrast, a positive act against entropy – by bringing a unifying global event to a new stage.

I think that impact investment can and must play a role in counteracting this worrying trend.  As the leading forum in the global movement I am hopeful that the GSG moves to engage, broaden and further diversify its membership base.  The stakes are high.

How arrogance and abundance jeopardise UK impact investment “Leadership”

The other night I had a thoroughly enjoyable drink with an old friend. Let’s call him James, which is not his real name. James is very familiar with both ClearlySo and impact investment, but has spent most of last year working in India.

We eventually came onto the subject of impact investment more generally. James had been working on quite a few investment transactions whilst in India and was positively raving about some of the innovations he has encountered. When I asked him to compare Indian developments with those in the UK he became quite animated and said, “The problem with the UK is that professionals in this market have become bloody arrogant.”  He felt it could put the UK’s purported leadership at risk.

James noted how many of the Brits he met in India (James himself is British) were so full of themselves and their “leadership position” that they were unwilling to learn lessons from some of the very interesting experiments underway elsewhere. James went on to suspect that this was probably happening with regard to other markets as well. His contention was that British impact investment experts were so busy flying all over the world to lecture others about “how wonderfully we do it in the UK” that the British impact investment glitterati were not doing enough learning and listening.

This conversation made me rather uncomfortable. I myself have boasted about UK leadership, which seems to be in our commercial interest (I also think it is true). For decades, the UK has seemed a thought leader, and has developed some exciting models, practices and instruments. In addition, the advent of Big Society Capital (BSC), the first of its kind anywhere to bring substantial funding (£600 million) into the marketplace has been extremely catalytic. In addition, this Conservative Government and its predecessors have thrown substantial resources into impact investment. Tax credits, conferences, new legal structures and a host of subsidies have come rapidly. This creates at least two risks.

First, it has in some ways created a rather comfortable bubble of sorts in the UK market. The influx of funding from BSC hyper-charges the market; encouraging entry by non-UK players and discouraging involvement by UK parties in other markets. The sense that things are happening creates encouragement and goodwill domestically, but very little incentive to get involved in and learn from experiments elsewhere. I have previously commented elsewhere on the surprising lack of meaningful involvement by large UK banks and insurance companies in impact investing compared with those in Europe. Also, experiments like the “90-10 funds” in France are instructive.

This bubble also runs the risk of encouraging artificial behaviour in the UK. Some of this was evident in the government funded Investment and Contract Readiness Fund,  where entrepreneurs in certain instances cheekily saw the subsidy as a way to generate a bit of extra income instead of paying advisers for contract and investment readiness, which was the main intention of the programme. Also the availability of funding from BSC has indeed catalysed the market but runs the risk of getting entrepreneurs too comfortable with sub-market rate capital.  Also, because of legislated restrictions on BSC investments the market might be skewed to favour those impact investment opportunities which meet BSC’s criteria as opposed to those with a greater “profit with purpose” orientation.

On balance, James and I agreed that the UK still had many positive things going for it and that the creativity which exists should continue to hold in a relatively good stead. However arrogance is a risk of which all “global leaders” need to be mindful.

First published in Third Sector in January 2016.

The aim was to create 100 Justgivings

Recently I interviewed a candidate for a new role at ClearlySo. During the course of the interview she asked me why it was I came to found ClearlySo, or what was the thinking behind it. She seemed to find the story instructive. It goes a long way to explaining my own personal motivations and the ClearlySo approach, and I thought it would be relevant to share.

After leaving the City, I felt it was important to do something “socially impactful”. I probably spoke in terms of “putting something back” or simply doing something that perhaps my children would be proud of. Roles at UBS, Paribas and Lehman certainly didn’t register on this yardstick. After a few years in conventional VC, I took an early chance, together with some colleagues, to raise impact investment fund in partnership with The Big Issue. This was back in 2000/2001. Our efforts were not successful so I began to hunt around for other ways to make a difference.

In the 1990s I had been quite active in the Liberal Democrat party and even stood as a candidate in the 1997 general election. Fortunately I lost, and realised that party politics was not the best way for me to generate meaningful social impact. Many of my good friends urged me to stop being silly and carry on in the City.  If I felt excessively guilty I should give some/all of my money away. I briefly tried a part-time role at a leading investment bank and realised that was not the way forward for me.

In the mid-2000s I had the opportunity to simultaneously chair a large national charity and a small early stage start-up business. What I found was that the charity, which had only recently considered and then rejected a merger with another organisation, was not wholly to my liking. Although the organisation raises lots of money and had considerable visibility, it was not as focused as I would have liked it to be on the cost-effectiveness of its impact generated. Furthermore, I found myself unable to improve this and other situations despite being Chair. In the end, I resigned.

The early stage start-up business that I had the pleasure and privilege to engage with was Justgiving. With a mere £5-£6 million of angel capital it was able to build the world’s leading online charitable fundraising business and now dominates the sector.  From the start, the two leaders, Zarine Kharas and Anne-Marie Huby, were absolutely focused on making the business successful by controlling costs together with a razor like focus on customer satisfaction. Their theory was that if they could build a successful, well-run business it would generate far more social impact. This is something that is too often neglected in the impact investment and enterprise sector. Unless a business is able to be sustainable, it isn’t really a business. To achieve massive social impact it has to be really great – and Justgiving has facilitated about $3.5bn of flows into the charitable sector. The Body Shop is another excellent example of such a business.  Or to put it another way, social impact and financial success are positively correlated; this is a central tenet of ClearlySo’s worldview.

So in summary, I thought of how I could make a difference and realise that politics, charity and investment banking were not the path for me – Justgiving had shown me the path. ClearlySo was founded with one simple objective – to create 100 Justgivings.

First published in Third Sector in October 2015.

The Ethical Property Company announces its 9th Equity Issue

Recently, the Ethical Property Company (EPC) announced that they would be undertaking their ninth equity share issue.  This is an astonishing achievement for a firm in impact investment and seems almost unnoticed by the normal sector commentators.  Below I will explore why, but first it is worth discussing some of the things that are unusual about EPC.

Very few high-impact businesses  undertake share issues. EPC has completed four share issues since 2001 and has raised more than £12 million since its first issue. These have occurred in the UK where the company already has nearly 1,400 shareholders.  AIM-listed Good Energy Group PLC is another company that has been able to attract UK shareholders, as has Cafe Direct, they are still exceptions.

EPC has also expanded its model outside of the UK. Four share issues have been undertaken in Europe (in France and Belgium) and the company has explored expansion opportunities in Australia as well. Such international expansion by UK impact-oriented firms is also rare.

EPC’s activities are rather straightforward. The company purchases commercial office buildings and lets them to “social change tenants”. These tenants are charged levels of rent which are below the market and given more favourable and flexible terms. In addition, the firm runs the buildings in a more tenant-oriented fashion and endeavours to achieve high environmental standards.

Such premises are in particularly high demand  as charities and impact-oriented tenants are seeing grant income squeezed, prompting a search for cost-savings. As a result, demand for EPC’s services is rising.  Whilst gross rental yields on the firm’s properties may be slightly lower than commercial landlords, EPC is able to enjoy lower voids, thereby boosting income.

The model the company has developed has enabled it to be profitable every year since it was founded in 1998, and it has paid a dividend every year since 2001.  It has increased its net asset value and it just announced updated valuation figures as well as a potential unrealised gain it may achieve on one of its existing properties near the Old Street roundabout.

Of course, there are still obstacles EPC needs to overcome;  shareholders are able to trade their shares through Ethex, but liquidity is indeed limited;   as a property company it did suffer in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Furthermore, its tenants face obvious levels of uncertainty due to government budget cuts.

None of this explains the point I alluded to right at the outset, which is why this has been relatively unnoticed and as a firm within the sector its activities are frequently unremarked upon, but there are three factors which may be important.

Firstly, the firm is based in Oxford. Although Oxford is not far from London, it is my contention that London-based firms receive a disproportionate share of the attention in the impact investment sector. Secondly, the firm has been around for 17 years and in my opinion there is a strong bias in the UK market towards businesses that are new and exciting.  A track record of 17 years may be interesting, but EPC is hardly new. Finally, EPC is a firm that has concentrated on providing services to clients rather than communicating what it hopes to achieve. Even in the impact investment arena we still live in a world where steak is less noticed than “sizzle”.

First published in Third Sector in September 2015.

The Value of Superfruit, Brands and Social Media

Of all the companies we have worked with, few are as colourful as Aduna, a firm that uses two West African superfruits and turns them into healthy beauty and snack products for the “North”.  The website is a glorious rainbow of hues and reinforces the valuable brand, which Aduna has created.  Brand value is extremely important—although starting with products with naturally astonishing properties is essential, (Aduna first focused on Baobab and has since added Moringa).  Unless you are able to create an attractive brand, the company will struggle to be sustainable, and the poor communities Aduna assists will be deprived of the revenues these amazing can generate.

A good friend of mine called Tony Piggott, who had spent 30 years in advertising, was well aware of this and started a project called Brandaid.  Clever name!  More than most, Tony (now CEO of JWT Ethos) appreciated the value of brands and how impoverished developing country communities would remain so, unless they could seize the power of brands for their own benefit.  Brandaid helps artisans in emerging countries gain western brand-value-creation expertise.

I first came across the Baobab fruit myself when my son returned from six months in Senegal and he encountered these fruits, grown on ancient community-owned trees, which possess amazing natural properties.  However, due to lack of meaningful markets, these fruits just tumble to the earth and rot.  I was staggered when just two years later I came across Andrew Hunt at the Global Social Venture Competition and his vision and drive impressed me massively.  Since then, ClearlySo has worked with Aduna on two angel investment rounds totalling £750k, and one of our angel investors has joined his Board.  This is the case in about 1/3 of all the businesses we support, and more like 3/5 when we consider only those who have pitched to our Clearly Social Angels network.

We do many of the things one might imagine a firm like ours does with regard to investor and investee preparation and investment facilitation.  In the case of Aduna, we were able to help in a very particular way.  At the time of writing this piece, Aduna is one of the nine finalists involved in the “Pitch to Rich” competition sponsored by Virgin (Rich, as you may have guessed, is Richard Branson—and I guess he is also quite “rich”, so it’s a double entendre).  If Aduna were to win, they would be showered with money, advice and some fame, as you can imagine.

Becoming a finalist was the result of a public vote and Aduna were in a fight with a few other enterprises, and trailing by a bit.  Under the whip of two of my colleagues, Clare Jones and Mike Mompi, we “took to the social media airwaves” to try to increase the vote for Aduna.  The result was that they came from behind to win by less than 20 votes—we were delighted to be a small part of that story.

Although this is not a core aspect of our normal business offering, Aduna is not a normal business.  From time to time, we are able to assist our clients this way but Aduna was uniquely suited for a social media assault.  Again, it does not work with all companies—there is something quite special about the mixture of West Africa, an appealing brand and superfruits when you are trying to attract social media attention.

We look forward to working with some more Aduna-like entrepreneurs in the future.  I can see a few in the pipeline already!

First published in Third Sector in June 2015.

Impact-oriented finance utilises innovation on many levels—how about bribery?

At ClearlySo we believe that the main difference between impact investing and the old way of thinking is that the old financial world existed in two dimensions (financial return and risk), whereas the new world exists in three.  Impact, measured from a social, ethical or environmental perspective is a third, often intentional, dimension to the prior two-dimensional world.

Frequently we consider the enterprises into which impact investment is being made and observe with utter amazement, how the entrepreneurs blend conventional enterprise models with beneficial societal outcomes doing well and doing good.  We are especially proud of organisations like Third Space Learning, which reduce the cost of maths tutoring while simultaneously helping educators in India receive decent wages, or Weedingtech, which sells a non-insecticide based device for weed control.

Business model innovation has also been a feature.  Consider the London Early Years Foundation, which runs high-quality nurseries where wealthier parents cross-subsidise those who are less wealthy.  Another illustration is the Ethical Property Company (EPC), which buys and lets commercial property to social change tenants, who receive far better terms than they would in more conventional premises.  EPC’s better terms means that void levels in its premises are substantially lower than in conventional office estates.

Impact-oriented finance has also seen innovation.  Consider the quasi-equity (QE) instrument we assisted HCT Group in raising in 2010.  As a charity, HCT could not offer shares, but required long term risk-oriented capital to finance growth. Impact investors took both conventional bonds and a QE instrument in a £4.2m fundraising.  Those taking the more risky QE instrument received returns that grew with the growth in HCT’s turnover (above a benchmark) – and generated 10+% returns.  Of course, it could have gone the other way and investors (including Bridges Ventures, Big Issue Invest, SIB Group and Rathbone Greenbank) might have received no interest, or even lost capital.

Of course the best known and most celebrated financial innovation concerns the much discussed Social Impact Bond (SIB).  SIBs link payments received by investors to the social outcomes made possible by the underlying investments.  They have initially received substantial subsidies to gain traction but are now taking off globally.  Their genius is not in the structures, which are costly, but in the notion that government should pay for cost-savings which stem from social innovation.  Payment-by-results contracts will certainly become a mainstay of government commissioning.

It is these types of innovation that must now come to the fore.  In such fiscally constrained times, the rule of “what works?” must predominate.  Ideological opposition is melting away and there should be no limit to what is now possible; blue sky thinking is essential.  It can involve enterprises, business models, financial instruments and even the very way we think about societal problems.

Consider one such thought experiment:

What if we had bribed Iraqi citizens or its leaders to depose Saddam Hussein instead of using weaponry to defeat him?  The estimated official cost to the US of the war is around $815 billion (subsequent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz suggest the full impact was between $2-3 trillion).  This amounts to $24k for every single Iraqi (or $120k at $3 trillion!), in comparison with GDP per person of $6,863 per annum. This excludes the military cost to other nations and does not consider the extraordinary damage and suffering of the Iraqi people. One might argue that the cost of war is never known until after the fact, which is true; however, on 16 March 2003 Dick Cheney was asked on national television about the approaching war and he estimated that it would cost $100 billion.  Just this was equivalent to $3,852 per person at the time when GDP per person was $1,373 in Iraq. By using that money to persuade Iraqis, war could have been averted and costs in a purely economic sense (not even taking into account the damage, destruction and death caused) would have been sharply reduced.

If just the UK had used its far lower cost for the Afghan War of £37 billion to bribe Afghanis, or even their leaders, to do the things we wanted, this would have amounted to £1,600 per person, well above the current level of GDP per person of £436. Again this does not take into account the military costs to other combatants, including the USA ($686bn), or the devastation of Afghanistan.  When the figures are so compelling there must be a strong moral argument to consider such an innovation even if one might be a bit queasy about some of the underlying issues and despite the obvious technical and tactical issues involved.

The above is not to argue for Western imperialism or our right to impose “our” geopolitical preferences on others.  But from our own (selfish) perspective, we might have: a) had a better chance of achieving our goals, and b) saved a fortune, with this approach.  Furthermore, not to have gone to war would have avoided unspeakable suffering on the part of Iraqis and saved thousands of lives.

There are precedents for bringing behavioural persuasion into the public realm.  The “nudge” unit, established by the Coalition Government, did precisely this.  Here too, there was concern about the “nanny state”, but again in these times it is unwise to disregard any aspect of innovation.

We see cases of “bribes” being used to achieve social outcomes every day.  On 8 June 2015 the Independent reported on the Peacemaker Fellowship, which could also be described as targeted bribes to those most likely to commit offences not to shoot people.  This programme, operating in Richmond, California, follows on from similar programmes in Boston and Chicago.

I accept that there have to be limits, and important moral issues need addressing, but these are incredibly challenging times, and our failure to face up to these questions involves an active moral choice as well, even if we pretend to ignore it.  Opting to go to war because one finds bribery morally dubious is a very tricky argument to make.

We are just at the beginning of what we can do when we use financial innovation for positive outcomes.  I intend only to challenge a few shibboleths and get some creative juices flowing – as always, I look forward to further discussions.

First published by Pioneers Post in June 2015.

Joining the Crowd

At ClearlySo, we have helped over 50 organisations to raise about £60m in capital since the beginning of 2013.  This has not been easy, and even though more than half has come from institutional investors, it is angel investors and high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) that have proved an extremely reliable mainstay of our business, funding the bulk of the high-impact organisations we assist.  ClearlySo launched Clearly Social Angels in March 2012, and it forms a small but vitally important element of our individual investor network of over 600 angels.

However, we are limited, due to regulation, to market these high-impact opportunities only to HNWIs and institutions.  As a result, retail investors are unable to play a part in the Impact Investment Revolution.  This was a point made in a recent report by Triodos as part of the G8 Social Investment Task Force, entitled Impact Investing for Everyone.

Crowdfunding is a cost-effective mechanism to gain access to retail investors; we have begun to engage with the sector to provide this access as part of our service to the companies we serve. This source helps to complement the funds our HNWIs can provide and should broaden the market for impact investment.  It is worth noting that crowdfunding platforms have been pursuing us for a few years; the sorts of companies we assist are often the type of company that touch people deeply, and can therefore be more successful on crowdfunding platforms.  We suspect that the crowdfunders also are comforted by the fact that our angels have already priced the deal, made significant commitments and undertaken due diligence.

Our first foray into working with a crowdfunding platform has been with Extremis Technology, which designs a range of revolutionary new shelters specifically for disaster relief.  In this first test case, we are working with the CrowdCube platform.  The entrepreneur, Julia Glenn, has written of her experiences in crowdfunding in a blog.  She notes that crowdfunding is not a replacement for active publicity generation, but rather demands even more of it.  In addition, she makes it clear that having a commitment up front is critical for success – crowdfunders seek to follow the crowd, not initiate.

Although one hesitates to extrapolate too much from a first test, there are a few points to highlight. Joining a crowdfunding platform means two diligence exercises, rather than one.  As this becomes more common, perhaps these processes can be merged.

Whereas we seek to prepare companies for presentations to investors, the wide-ranging questions, which come with a crowdfunding exercise are of a different magnitude.  Crowdfunders ask very detailed, incisive questions through the online forum on the various platforms. In a similar vein, media interest is greatly increased.  Our fundraisings are intentionally discreet; only by exception is publicity generated.  Crowdfunding is exactly the opposite and requires serious attention to keeping the flow of media interest going.  Progress also  takes place in a fishbowl.  If momentum is positive, this can be helpful, but otherwise this transparency can make success less likely.

Nonetheless, for companies that have a “public appeal” (including charities and those calling themselves “social enteprises”), crowdfunding can bring the company to a new audience and forge interesting new connections.

We expect to work more with crowdfunding networks over time, and believe it offers a useful add-on to the services we can provide.  For impact investing to scale, crowdfunding is essential.

First published in Third Sector in May 2015.

Social Impact Investment Legends

I tend to consider what to write in this column only as deadlines approach. Quite a bit has been going on the sector, offering an array of potential topics for discussion. However, the recent death of my good friend and colleague, Stephen Lloyd, whom I have described as the social impact investment sector’s leading legal light, means that at this point in time my mind is frankly on him and people like him. I wrote a piece to honour Stephen on the ClearlySo blog so I will not repeat myself. However, he was so significant that it would do him a disservice to neglect him in this piece.

On writing about Stephen and his life I felt a depressing sense of déjà vu. I recalled having written also after the death of two very different but also significant individuals in the sector: Sarah Dodds and Anita Roddick. As founder of The Body Shop, Anita needs no introduction and her influence on the sector has been enormous. The Body Shop, together with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, were the first two “big hits” of businesses that generate significant social impact. Also, each fundamentally changed the way we thought about consumption.

Sarah Dodds, like many of the hundreds toiling away in the social investment space is less well known but equally loved and admired by those who knew her well. The Canadian born Dodds spent years here in the UK working in particular with early-stage ventures that had scalable potential. She spent much of her career here in the UK at UnLtd running their ventures arm and dedicated herself tirelessly to helping many early stage social entrepreneurs achieve scale.

I feel a sense of rage at the premature passing of these three great people, but I also thought it might be worthwhile to explore some of the characteristics common to them—I have come up with three I thought were worth sharing.

First, the most noticeable trait all three of these people shared was a deep abiding faith and conviction in what they were doing. All three believed, almost as a matter of faith, that the endeavours on which they were embarked had the potential to change the world for the better. Each chose their own path to achieve this although, like any who are cut down before their time, there was much more still to be done. But this sense of dogged determination is something I admired in all three.

Second, all three seemed incapable of doing anything else. It was as if they had received a custodial sentence and were legally required to commit to community service to the sector for society’s collective benefit. They all seemed to have no choice in the matter and I could not imagine them doing anything else.

A third characteristic was an inability to do things the way they were supposed to. They each drove people around them a bit crazy with their desire, commitment, drive and work rate. Although loved by many this did not mean that their colleagues always found them easy to work with. We should recognise and accept that when people are embarked on world-changing ventures, their single-minded focus, their inability to easily say no, or to be told “no”—all of these qualities which contribute to their success—can mean they can be frustrating at times.

I offer these observations above because I wish to remember my friends and because their passing away before their time raises existential questions I do not attempt to address in this piece.  But also, these three great individuals from the social impact investment space serve as role models for many actively engaged in the sector, and also for those considering social impact investment careers.  I think we could not ask for better models.

First published in Third Sector in August 2014.

Sosyal Girisimcilik

Some of you may have guessed the definition of the first word in the title but I suspect few readers will know that the second means “entrepreneurship”—although many of you will have guessed that.  As words go it is simply remarkable with the letter “I” appearing five times in a word with only 11 letters! My favourite word as a child was “antidisestablishmentarianism”, which has the same five I’s but spread over 28 letters.  It is an utterly astonishing word.

I learned it at the beginning of June of this year when I participated in an intensive class for prospective social investors in Turkey. This program was organised exceptionally well by the Sabanci University in Istanbul, and is helping to prepare the Turkish market for an anticipated and much hope for boom in social enterprise, investment, finance and girisimcilik, of course.  It was excellent and meshed exceptionally well with a parallel course organised for prospective social entrepreneurs.

We are very lucky in the UK that events have conspired to enable us to be rightly positioned as a global leader in this field and our expertise is being sought all around the world. Both my ClearlySo colleagues and I have been asked to offer such courses in many locations, and I know this is the case for others in the social finance sector. We must be grateful for the circumstances which have brought about our leadership and for the commercial opportunities this creates.

What must be avoided at all costs is arrogance and condescension— frequent elements of other domains in which Anglo-Saxon thinking predominate. One of the worst examples, in a related area, concerns international development where the stereotypical view of English-speaking interventions goes something like this: “Rich Americans in suits who stay at five star hotels in developing countries, learn nothing about our culture and history and remain just for long enough to lecture us insensitively about our problems and how their solutions will solve all the problems that us barbarians had been unable to address.” To make matters worse, this sort of thinking in the development area, often referred to as “Washington Consensus and Orthodoxy” frequently didn’t work and in many cases, as excellent writers like William Easterly make painfully clear, they often created more harm than good in economic development.

What we in the UK can try to do is be candid, honest and humble. I think is obvious that arrogance has no place in such interactions and certainly does not endear the speaker to his or her audience.  As it concerns candour, I think that we must be open to those willing to take the time to hear from us about what really happened in Britain that has apparently catapulted it into a leadership position in this area. The temptation is too great to rewrite history to make our initiatives in social finance seem better coordinated and more intelligently designed than they actually were.

Honesty is also essential. We need to be completely transparent about the many mistakes we have made along this journey and at the very least, give the listener in his country the opportunity to make new mistakes. If we do not share ours frankly, than countries such as Turkey are at great risk of repeating the very same mistakes we have made, which would be tragic.

Finally, humility is essential. In this case we need to be open to the idea that we not only have some things to teach but also much to learn from Turkey and other countries. For instance, how the fundamental religious tenets of Islam can be applied to and combined with aspects of social finance is to me one of the most exciting areas in the whole sector. And let us not think that “emerging” markets do not have much to teach us–even in areas where the West has held a leadership position. Consider for a moment the example of mobile telephony. The growth of this market in Kenya has taught us much about the possibility for using mobile telephone technology to re-design a payments infrastructure or share agricultural and weather related information etc.—it’s called “leapfrogging, as new entrants figure out innovative new ways to apply existing technology already in use.  Developing countries have much to teach us in the “North” and “West”. And in the meantime we can also learn cute new words like girisimcilik.

First Published in Third Sector in June 2014.