Social impact investing, is this really the time to contemplate investing in social good? As we all struggle to identify our new world during the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has unique life experiences, and in turn, a different perspective on how to deal with our feelings of powerlessness during this time. For me, weekly conversations with co-founder and CEO of Beyond Capital Fund, Eva Yazhari, keeps my mind clear and focused, as Eva says, “The best thing money can do, is good.”
Personally, the opportunity to serve others, in whichever meaningful manner is appropriate, relinquishes personal insecurities and drives meaning and purpose to my life. When in self-doubt, the ability to take care of family, or to serve a community, provides inspiration and the power to do good. But during these quarantine times, how can we do something purposeful, how can we help others to help themselves?
I became an Ambassador for Beyond Capital Fund last year, a nonprofit social impact investment fund that invests in for-profit social enterprises, serving businesses and families living under the poverty line in five countries, India, Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. I dabble in philanthropy, it’s an essential point of inspiration for me, and a few years ago I was introduced to Eva—whom I now consider a dear friend. People walk into your life for a reason, and Eva’s arrival was impeccable—I was questioning many aspects of my life and was searching for a new philanthropic endeavour to consider; enter, social impact investing.
As an ambassador for Beyond Capital Fund, I agreed to host a lunch for Eva this month and introduce her to my good friends, so she could inspire them, as she’s inspired me—to be a more considerate and conscious contributor for social good. Of course, said lunch is cancelled, so until we can all meet again, this is my way of sharing Eva with all.
How can my friends get involved?
EY: Beyond Capital is structured as a nonprofit, so we have numerous ways people can get involved and become impact investors, no matter their experience in investing. First, they can learn more about impact investing and our work by visiting us on our website, via social media, listening to The Beyond Capital Podcast, or reading The Conscious Investor, an online magazine shedding light on the world of impact investing. Secondly, we are powered by donations, which there is always a great need for, but especially now. Our Ambassador Program allows individual (and corporate) donors to keep a finger on the pulse of impact investing and to engage with our team and our portfolio companies to become immersed in the impact investment movement.
Our latest initiative is Beyond Capital Ventures, a for-profit venture capital fund focused on advancing greater social impact and attractive returns for our investors while improving 195 million lives. These opportunities work holistically to support the work of early-stage, bridge, and Series A social enterprises serving critical needs in India and East Africa. For accredited investors, we are making the fund accessible to women at a lower minimum to help democratize access to our work and venture capital investing.
Every dollar we invest reaches 13 people living in these communities, supporting a growing 5.3 million people, including 3.5 million women, living below the poverty line. Every donation is invested over time into our social enterprises, magnifying its impact for years to come.
What are the social enterprises BCF is investing in—and what social or environmental issues are these businesses targeting?
EY: Each of our mission-driven enterprises addresses one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a global framework for improving the quality of life for all people. These initiatives tackle everything from poverty and gender equality to clean water and sanitation and affordable clean energy. Beyond Capital focuses on investing in social enterprises that are addressing access to quality healthcare, clean energy, improved agriculture, sanitation, and financial inclusion.
One of our earliest investments was in a social enterprise called Kasha, which began in Rwanda and expanded into Kenya. Kasha is an e-commerce platform that sells women’s health and hygiene products in a discreet, culturally sensitive way. Having your period and women’s health is taboo in all five of the countries where we invest and Kasha’s CEO, Joanna Bischel, is fighting that stigma first hand. The company also supports the livelihoods of women in these communities by employing them as sales agents. Kasha recently received an investment that is allowing them to expand further and to introduce COVID-19 test kits in its offerings.
View this post on Instagram
Women must work far into the following year to earn as much as men annually — today marks that day for the average American female worker. On Equal Pay Day 2020 (and every day) we salute the work of our portfolio companies, such as @frontier.mkts and @kashakenya and @kasharwanda, that use female-focused business models to support women, their families, and their communities. When women earn what they’re worth, we all do better as a society.
What does life look like in India and East Africa right now?
EY: With the spread of COVID-19 affecting every part of the world, rural and remote communities have been significantly affected. Many people in these areas are unable to work, and already fragile economies have been further unstabilized. By May India will have had a 6-week total lockdown with the entire country confined to their homes.
Out of the countries we invest in Africa, several are imposing tight measures during the COVID pandemic, restricting travel to rural areas and out of cities, and leaving rural communities more vulnerable. For example, Kenya imposes a $200 fine if you are caught in your vehicle without a mask, but masks are expensive. Above all, existing challenges like lack of running water, soap, and deficient food distribution systems are exacerbated by the crisis. This is where our portfolio companies come in and are exemplifying the kind of ingenuity, generosity, solidarity, empathy, and civility from which we all can learn.
We’ve been inspired by the resiliency our social enterprises working in these areas have displayed, seizing opportunities to help their communities while surviving in uncertain times. Two of our portfolio companies in India are on the frontlines of healthcare. Bodhi Health Education is virtually training healthcare workers on COVID-19 issues. At the same time, Karma Healthcare provides essential COVID-19 screening through its telemedicine platform, which is also being implemented in medical clinics in Australia to provide at-home consultations. Another company, Lal10, which is focused on supporting artisans in India, quickly pivoted its business model temporarily to begin selling Personal Protective Equipment, including face masks, gloves, coverall suits, sanitizer, and infrared thermometers
In Africa, Fintech startup Numida is creating an emergency fund for small business owners in Uganda to get access to critical working capital loans. And, East Africa Fruits Farm is addressing increased food supply demands, working with smallholder farmers to boost production of shelf-stable goods and provide supply to street vendors and grocery stores.
Your weekly Podcast is inspirational, share a few anecdotes of your favourite episodes, encouraging comments, and the type of leaders you feature?
EY: Every week, my co-host Ed Stevens (of Preciate, a relationship-building platform) and I feature conversations with inspiring business leaders who are leading with purpose, integrating social impact into their companies’ missions.
Our first episode was with Jeffrey Brown, owner of Brown’s Super Stores, a chain of grocery stores in Philadelphia’s underserved areas. Brown shared, “What’s unique about the way we do business is that we’re doing it for the very poorest people in the country. And we’re finding that it’s an incredibly good business proposition to sell people what they want and need and to solve problems for them. It’s not only good socially, but it’s really good for the success of your business.”
We have also spoken with investors who are dedicated to marrying profit with purpose. Another guest, Jessica Droste Yagan, CEO of Impact Engine, an investment firm that manages funds to invest in for-profit, positive-impact businesses, has helped me understand the need for impact investing within our current financial system. “As investors, we can say, ‘Yes, I want to make money, but also I demand that you do it in a way that’s aligned with my values or that is solving an important problem.'” Yagan says.
What I am fascinated by is what drives business toward meaning and impact over profit alone? It’s the same thing that moves us as individuals. Meaning gives us a reason to wake up in the morning. It makes life exciting. Believe it or not, we can get this same feeling with our businesses and the way we spend and invest our money. Impact investing applies purpose, meaning, and values to money. It is where we regain an emotional connection to money—where our investments “spark joy,” as author and lifestyle expert Marie Kondo so beautifully puts it. Through impact investing, we consciously break down our detachment to money, and bring our spending and investing choices closer into alignment with our values, meaning, and joy, which ultimately drives lasting success. To me, that is inspirational.
Issues around sustainability are on every business leaders mind at the moment. How do social impact investing and sustainability co-exist as best business practices at BCF?
EY: As an impact investor, Beyond Capital considers both financial and social or environmental return into our investment decisions. We cannot ignore one or the other. Which means we have even more to track and monitor as investors. To do that, we use the tools of the professional investment world including a six-step process to vet and find our investments, regular monitoring and reporting after we invest, and, most of all, remaining close allies of our portfolio company CEOs.
One of the tenets of being an impact investor is to invest in something you are passionate about, but that is financially sustainable. We do this by making sure that sustainability and impact are baked into the business model and cannot be separated, even if a large company were to acquire the social enterprise. Often this is an assessment of the people behind the company, which is another important consideration in impact investing. Finally, we co-invest with others who help hold up the standards of impact and sustainability that we set forth from the first day we invest our money
What is magical is that on day one of the investment, the social aspect of our work is already working. It may take time for the company to become financially sustainable, but in the process, thousands of people are benefitting.
The struggle is real for everyone right now, with philanthropy and social impact investing seemingly an unapproachable concept. What is your general best advice to those who simply want to do good?
EY: Conscious leadership is now more important than ever. This means examining where we’re focusing our time, our energy and, yes, our finances. In addition to The Beyond Capital Podcast, and The Conscious Investor that feature expert advice and inspirational profiles for anyone eager to become more socially conscious, Beyond Capital’s co-founder and chairman (and my husband) Hooman Yazhari has named this approach to work and life as The CEO Mindset. The CEO Mindset is for anyone running a business, household or their own life, and is centered on contributing beyond ourselves and leading a purpose-driven life in all areas.
I also believe that contributing beyond yourself is a key to equanimity, no matter how the pandemic is impacting your life financially or otherwise. My friend Dr Jack Kreindler, a British doctor, grappling with COVID-19, says, “You should wash your hands of the virus, but don’t wash your hands of the people. Times like these are a great opportunity to think of others. The people who are the most anxious are the ones that are thinking of themselves. As soon as you become less anxious, you start thinking of others. It’s almost like a deeply ingrained parental love. I’m not saying that people need to give up their lives, but if you give a part of your life to help someone else, the anxiety goes away.”
That final paragraph really typifies my sentiments. Stagnation is suffocating, knowledge is inspirational, but finding a refreshed mindset, even during these hard times, can contribute to a healthier outlook on our current predicament. Sharing in conversation about how we can help ourselves and help each other will get us through this moment of turmoil and deep reflection on life.
Eva inspires me every day, follow her journey @beyondcap @consciousinvestor online at The Conscious Investor and Beyond Capital Fund. If you would like to consider joining the Ambassador Program you can learn more here.