Three months into my iCats Fellowship, I can say: “congratulations to myself for resigning from my traditional banking job in London and taking the step to enter the classroom of impact investing in Manila!”
I have always wanted to combine finances with a social element but sometimes it is so easy to get stuck in the comfortable corporate life that it takes a personal event or the warning of hitting the big 3-0 to pull the safety line and jump into the deep end of the pool. Now, I am finally here, after eight different countries and extensive travels – first time living in Asia, first time living in an Emerging Market. I am working as a Business Accelerator Consultant (BAC) on the investment side of LGT VP and support the Investment Manager here in the Philippines to review promising early stage social enterprises that require a bit more hand-holding than LGT VP’s core portfolio investees. We provide them with a small amount of risk capital and set development milestones to lead them on the right growth path.
The work is very different to my banking role in London: thousands of dollars instead of billions, hands-on business model evaluation instead of internal political side games. I have learned so many general skills already and will continue to do so over the next months – so that wherever this fellowship takes me, I will be ready to hit the ground running. It is amazing to see how different social business and impact models can be, every organization is a new challenge and you have to be careful not to lose you heart to every entrepreneur you meet. Only the ones that fit LGT VP’s selection criteria make it into the portfolio basket.
We have now almost completed the due diligence phase of the Impact Ventures Accelerator Program (iVAP) that is also run in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia in cooperation with local incubator partners. In the photo below you can see the shared office space of our Filipino partner Xchange (co.lab Brixton) where I am camping out with my laptop, running into the most fascinating variety of young freelancers, artists and social entrepreneurs on a daily basis. From here the tough pre-deal analysis for the investment committee decision is prepared! It feels like being back in the classroom again and learning the ropes of impact investing every day.
Once the iVAP acceleratees are fully approved and the funds are disbursed, the mentoring and consulting phase begins. I will soon travel to Mindanao, one of the poorest regions in the Philippines with many Muslim communities, where we are supporting a cassava (part of the yam family) planting farmer co-operative – SUGRUVI – with professional harvesting equipment. With our support they can scale their reach and improve family income levels through centralized sales to institutional buyers. It is the combination of a business mind set with consideration for livelihood, education levels and concerns of the local communities that is the most rewarding part of my fellowship. Doing good by using good tools, I feel like I have opened the door to a long-term fulfilling journey for myself.
From farming, I may have to change gear towards specialized call center training for rural youths (BagoSphere), another iVAP applicant that I have a soft spot for and will hopefully be able to assist with the start of their operations. The daily struggle of disadvantaged people is very visual when on the ground but sometimes you would be surprised to see the simple solutions it takes to open doors to new opportunities! And because all of LGT VP folks feel strongly about increasing our level of impact, the iVAP BACs keep their eyes open for new potentials. One great social enterprise I got to know is Mano Amiga, the founder Lynn cross-subsidizes a non-profit school (you can see one of their colourful classrooms below) with a for-profit cafeteria business in a private international school.
And if you wonder what else the fellowship brings to the table, let me tell you: “It’s more fun in the Philippines“. Finding your way around Manila is not easy but once you get the hang of it, there are many hidden gems to check out, people are extremely friendly and if you are not afraid of new food encounters, many “interesting” options to try out. From time to time you wish to escape the city but do not despair, gorgeous beaches are within easy reach and the gate to the rest of Southeast Asia right on your doorstep!