Pause: Investing for social impact

__Do well AND do good.

Last week I took part in a summit of global business leaders, convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican, to discuss how business can play a more central role in solving some of the 21st century’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, high youth unemployment and financial inclusion (to help all, regardless of income, get fair access to financial services).

The Pope told all of us gathered there: “Seek ever more creative ways to transform our institutions and economic structures so that they may be able to respond to the needs of our day and be in service of the human person, especially those marginalized and discarded.”

Wow…

I had the privilege to speak at this meeting (organized by Fortune and Time magazines) on what’s become known as “impact investing.” In the world of philanthropy, these are investments intentionally made into organizations, companies and funds with the expectation of getting BOTH: 1) a market-rate financial return and 2) a social and/or environmental return.

__In business it’s possible to make a positive difference in the world, and to make money, at the same time. You can “do well by doing good,” as Benjamin Franklin put it.

Let me give you one example: Years ago when I was living in South Africa, I was often approached by families of low-income workers from my home country who had lost a loved one and wanted help to repatriate the body for burial.

When a poor family is faced with death of the breadwinner, the trauma goes beyond the loss of the person. It can also leave the entire family in abject poverty. Sometimes the cost of the burial can itself create huge financial stress on a family.

__”Surely there must be a way to solve this problem and help people in a sustainable way, using entrepreneurship,” I challenged my executives.

I wanted to find a solution by creating a viable and sustainable business model. (Look up “sustainable” and “viable” and give me some good definitions. It’s important to understand what potential investors are looking for when they look at your business plan.)

The idea we developed was “mobile insurance.” The business we set up is now called EcoSure. We wanted people to be able to use their mobile money wallet to buy life insurance. The platform we created allows people to pay as little as 50 cents per month for a payout of $500. Those who can afford more can contribute more, up to $5 per month.

Since we launched the platform, millions have bought insurance for themselves and their families, enabling them to plan ahead and prepare financially for very difficult times. It’s the fastest-growing business in what we call our Fintech division (digital financial technology), and known as Cassava Fintech. It’s now being scaled in different African countries.

EcoSure is not only profitable but worth a lot of money as a business! I was proud to share about our little venture with the world’s foremost business leaders. This is how you invest for social impact: True success comes only when we identify human needs and reach out to solve them, in a sustainable way.

# What human need do you see today that you (as an entrepreneur) can solve?

The greatest opportunity for you as an entrepreneur doesn’t come from looking for a way to make money, but from trying to find a solution for a problem that’s been there, sometimes for a very long time.

It might even be a tradition or challenge that people have always accepted as being there. The Tentmaker taught us, “Everything we can see, is subject to change.”

By now most of you know the quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Look around you, with entrepreneurial eyes. What do you see? What do you NOT yet see?

Can you and your business do well AND do good?

“Amid the challenges of our day,” Pope Francis told us, “see the human face of those you earnestly seek to help.”

End.

Image credit: Paul Haring

9 thoughts on “Pause: Investing for social impact

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1. I’m not a Roman Catholic Christian, but I have a lot of respect for the traditions and work of the Catholic church. Pope Francis is an inspiring moral figure in the world today. I pray for him often, as I do for all leaders around the world. If you want to read more about what he told us at the conference go to: http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/helping-others-realize-their-potential-is-good-business-pope-says.cfm

    Reply
  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2. Here’s a little homework: Do you think your values are reflected in the way you run your business? What about the ways you spend and invest your money? If you’re already in business, does it make a profit AND make a positive social and/or environmental impact? If so, well done! Tell me about it.

    Reply
  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3. When we first launched the “mobile insurance” idea, our team entered into a partnership with the wrong people, and they tried to cheat us. We had no choice but to shut it down. The matter went to court, and eventually we won the legal battles. It was painful. When it was all over I told our team to start from scratch. In business you have to accept such setbacks, dust yourself up, learn the lessons that need to learned, and start over again, until you get it right.

    Reply
  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection,

    “And now, brothers, as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing: Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Tentmaker).

    “I build bridges to those with whom I have differences by “dwelling on the fine, good things” I can find in them…”.

    Reply
  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    “..These investments have the potential
    to demonstrate how we can identify new opportunities to solve old
    problems. By leveraging market forces, investments directed into
    companies, entrepreneurs, and funds can address some of our most pervasive
    social challenges. Simultaneously targeting strong market returns, impact
    investments offer a unique opportunity for individuals, families, and
    groups to contribute to their own financial inclusion.”
    Jean Case (one of the most influential entrepreneurs, speaking at the Vatican Summit).

    Reply
  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought,
    I was in Washington today, and met a young man from Morocco. He was so excited to see me, as he follows me avidly on FB. He was even more excited when he learnt that I have visited his home town of Marrakech. He was so proud to be identified as an African. I shared with him my recollections from my visits there.
    He wants to go home to start a business, and create jobs.
    I meet people like him all the time on my travels, and it always leaves me so energized.

    Reply
  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Enerst Wins,

    Writes:

    Great wow, Excellent work……….I have also be en able to see a solution to one of the major problems on our tertiary campuses, It will make campus life easier… thank you alot Sir.

    My reply,
    If you follow the story of Facebook, this is exactly how it started! Someone was trying to solve a problem on Campus!!!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *