MIT Healthcare Financing Lecture

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

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

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

*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

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.

An Interview with Antony Bugg-Levine: Embracing Impact Investing

*This post was originally published on on Aug 26, 2011

I had the privilege to speak with Antony Bugg-Levine, Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, Board member of the Global Impact Investing Network and one of the thought leaders and influencers in impact investing. He leads the Foundation’s impact investing team that works to harness the capital and expertise of investors making “impact investments” that generate a social and financial return. This in an insider interview to his book, Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference. This book was co-authored with Jed Emerson, an executive atImpactAssets, Senior Advisor with the Sterling Group (Hong Kong) and a senior fellow with the Center for Social Investing at Heidelberg University. In our conversation, he shared key highlights in the book as well as his hopes for the book. Note: This interview is being posted in three parts; stay tuned for Part II and Part III over the next few days.

1) The premise of the book is on impact investing. How do you intend for people to read this book? What mindset should people be in?

Firstly, this book is not a ‘How-to’ guide for practitioners or investors who are looking for simple guidelines on how to construct an impact investing portfolio. There are other guidelines or resources that are available for that. We step back from the day-to-day work of constructing a portfolio of impact investments, but instead ask the more fundamental questions about how impact investing, as a new approach to addressing social problems and deploying capital, is disrupting our existing systems. The book is constructed in two parts.

Part 1, The Terrain of impact investing, takes a quick overview of impact investing’s historic and current role in the following sectors

  1. Accelerating the growth of microfinance
  2. Supporting the international development agenda
  3. Helping to build the social enterprise sector

In each of these cases, we examine how impact investing is generating opportunities as well as a set of challenges and questions.

In Part 2: The Implications of impact investing, we examine the fundamental systems around which our society is organized and how, one after another, they are going to need to change to accommodate the aspirations of impact investing and to take advantage of the potential that this field offers.

This is really the core of the book: In our society, especially in the West in the past 50 years, we have organized our society around two fundamental pillars that support our current systems:

  1. The only way to solve a social problem is through philanthropy and the government
  2. The only purpose of investing is to make money

If you accept these two fundamental pillars, then the system we currently have makes sense, and will support your activity. However, if you believe in the fundamental premise of impact investing, that we can integrate our investment and our social purpose, then these systems do not work. So in the book we highlight how impact investing is challenging various systems to change: the legal system, the philanthropic system, the system by which we develop leaders, our capital markets and our systems for measuring value.

We provide a framework for thinking about the new systems we will need to build. We think what is really exciting about impact investors is the opportunity to build a new set of systems to realize the great potential of impact investing.

However, we are not overly prescriptive partly because we don’t claim to have all the answers. We do not know, between Jed and myself, exactly what these systems need to be, but there are clear guidelines on how as a community, we have to engage on this.

2) What do you hope this book would inspire people to do? What is the next step? Spread the word? Become actionable? Start building systems?


Everyone has a different role to play. Every human system in which we live is the result of both intentional decisions we make and unintentional actions we take. We believe that anyone reading the book has the ability to participate.

If you are a student, you could challenge institutions in which you are learning to not fall back on easy stereotypes, but rather recognize the great potential in combining social impact and investing.
If you are fortunate to be a holder of wealth, you could read the book and challenge your wealth advisor to not give an easy answer that rejects how you can put your investments to work towards a social purpose.
If you work in the financial services sector, we hope you consider putting your skills to work to build a more efficient social capital market.

At the same time, we are not so naïve as to think that reading this book would inspire many people to change their current life path – and we don’t think you need to. In the book, we profile some inspiring heroes who have stepped out of mainstream work to pioneer new institutions and approaches, including Canadian based Sarona Asset Management and Social Capital Partners. However, we don’t believe that impact investing is a domain only for radicals.

We recognize that in order to be truly powerful, impact investing needs to be accessible to regular people as well. We emphasize in the book that we don’t want to perpetuate the idea that only the most revolutionary or entrepreneurial people have a right to be part of impact investing. Leadership is going to come in many forms, and not only from the charismatic individuals who start new enterprises or quit their jobs. Instead, we anticipate it will come from the many more thousands of people who can embrace impact investing at whatever scale they are able to.

3) What do you think this field is picking up momentum only now, given that it has been around for years? Why do you think people are realizing the importance of this space so late?

Impact investing has been going on for decades — but the coining of the phrase “impact investing” around four years ago has allowed different communities to share their aspirations under a common language and to come together more visibly.

In the book, we talk about this phenomenon. Many people are increasingly frustrated with business-as-usual approaches. There is a growing number who do not think that the model of philanthropy their parents adopted is enough.  At the same time, we talk about a new generation of people who have been raised within the social enterprise movement and seek to integrate business and social purpose throughout their career, not in sequence.

In addition, the recent financial crisis has shaken people’s confidence in old approaches. Governments, also, are increasingly intent on figuring out how to do more with less, and are mobilizing impact investing capital to complement government spending.

4) If you had one message for this community, what would it be?

Let us all go from rhetoric to action. We need to see real deals proliferate that generate social impact and financial return. We also need to recognize that we are part of a longer-term movement to change the fundamental systems and mindsets that currently limit us.

5) What was your favorite aspect in working on this book?

It has been a great honor and intellectual privilege to work with my co-author, Jed. He’s a real visionary. By its nature, impact investing will be best when it brings together people from different perspectives, even if that is not always the easiest and most comfortable way to work. For me, working with Jed was a real-world manifestation of this idea—we brought different perspectives and experiences to the process and challenged each other to both broaden and sharpen our ideas. I hope the result is more interesting and insightful for our readers.

Antony Bugg-Levine is the co-author, with Jed Emerson, ofImpact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference (Wiley, 2011) which will be released in early September and is available now for download as an e-book. The opinions expressed in this article do not represent the official views of any institution with which he is affiliated.

Photo credit: Jai Catalano

SOCAP, Here I come!

I am SO excited to announce that I have the privilege to cover SOCAP 2011 Conference in San Francisco on behalf of I’ve been following the conference from afar for the last few years and to be attending and writing about the conference is one of my dreams come true! (Thank you socialearth & SOCAP!)

SOCAP is a organization dedicated in exploring the intersection of money and meaning. Their annual conference in San Fran is THE event to attend for leading global investors, innovators, curators and social entrepreneurs to build this social capital markets space.

I will be publishing a few pre-conference pieces and will write throughout the conference on I will also be live tweeting during some key speeches (will be revealing who as the conference draws closer!) – so follow me on twitter if you want to be updated! If you are planning on attending, presenting or speaking at the conference, I would love to be in touch. You can contact me here. I would seriously love to hear from you.

My goal at the conference not only includes highlighting and reporting the event, but to also: 1) deepen my personal understanding of this intersection; 2) meet other individuals who are passionate about this cause and 3) learn about opportunities and initiatives in this intersection of money and meaning. Who knows what we may create after this!

Check out more about the conference here.

Register here!