Investing for social impact

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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.

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Image credit: Paul Haring