Building relationships, communities and ecosystems

I had a conversation earlier in the evening with one of my co-founders, Jason, about how to measure community engagement – or even – how are we even defining community. We quickly breezed past this question in favour of getting to the more tactical nature of our conversation – but on my walk home, I was mulling over this concept and the different levels of community. Thought that I would share some of my favourite readings/ discoveries on community and relationship building, starting from an individual’s perspective and how this rolls up into an ecosystem.


1) Why being the most connected is a vanity metric – Michael Simmons,

Simmons talks about about the science of network brokering and committing to discovering ‘new groups’ as a way of gain vantage point and provide value to your communities. I also enjoyed his more recent piece of the evolving nature of building relationships



2) 1,000 true fans – Kevin Kelly

A lovely way to think about the long tail, the importance of acquiring fans and how it connects up to making a living. Bonus read: Kickstarter subscribing to the 1,000 true fans philosophy 

3) Tribal Organizing – Seth Godin

If you tee up the previous article, with this one by Seth Godin – it might give you some ideas about how to separate out engagement points to gain ‘true’ fans. Seth Godin talks about effectively building tribes around: connection, commitment and conversation

4) What to learn from the man who managed  Reddit’s community of millions – First Round Capital, The review

I believe that there’s a pretty large difference in the way that you manage in-person communities vs. online communities. The rules of the game are different, and was struck in this piece, how the community manager balanced managing time and cultivating connections. Worth the long read



5) How did Silicon Valley become Silicon Valley? – Endeavor Global

Thoroughly enjoyed this report about the power of alumni in creating an ecosystem and how entrepreneurs can kickstart a community


Storytelling & Four Shifting Forces

Back in New York, I attended one of the best Creative Mornings sessions, a captivating talk delivered by Jonathan Harris on the storytelling. I’ve blogged before on deconstructing the power of storytelling, and if you’re looking to understand more about this, Jonathan Harris’ projects are absolutely remarkable. They have ranged from documenting an Eskimo whale hunt to capturing human emotion on the interwebs to interviewing Tibetans on happiness. Here’s his Creative Morning talk and my visual notes from that day:


















So my notes couldn’t quite capture the tail bit of his talk (I basically ran out of space!), but essentially, he highlights key trends that he is observing in our evolving world of tech and storytelling:

1) Rise of Social Engineers: Never before has there been such a small subsection of society ( aka. software developers in tech startups who are having a big effect of millions of human through design of software.

2) Urges & Outcomes: All tech extends some preexisting urge. What is the urge within humans that needs to be enhanced?

3) The Ethics of Code: How can we regulate software? Could there be a self-directed ethnics from the creators of software? This ties in back to point 1 on the responsibilities of a social engineer, given their wide-spread influence.

4) Healers & Dealers: Startups are basically falling into two buckets: healers and dealers. Healers: marketplace companies that connect people. e.g. kickstarter. Dealers: Attention economies that take up your finite resource aka. time by convincing people to spend time on their product/sites. e.g. facebook.


All in all, I was very struck after the end of his talk with this question(s): what kind of presence do you want to have in this world? Am I a healer or a dealer? As our world’s language continues to trend towards a technology-based one, how do we position ourselves to become creators once more, instead of just curators of information?

For now, I suppose I am satisfied with being a Healer in the investment world. The bigger picture of all of this, is wondering, as an investor, what trends in society do I want to help accelerate…

My Week’s Discoveries: Malaysia

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.

On What is Possible and Impossible

“When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing, know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not, and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts are made by poeple who have not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, its easier to do. And because no nobody has done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.”

– Neil Gaiman, 2012 Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

How to Create an Impact Investing Movement

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 FundMonitor 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.