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.

My Week’s Discoveries

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

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

*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: