Francisco Noguera

Philanthropy, Development and Enterprise

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Global Philanthropy Forum for the first time, and although it’s been a few days already, I would like to share some thoughts on what I saw and heard. It was actually a very interesting experience to witness the discussions taking place amongst a community whose efforts and investments advance innovations and ventures that address the globe’s most pressing issues.

For those of you not familiar with the Forum, it is a yearly event convened by the World Affairs Council, in which donors from around the world are offered a platform to know each other, find co-investing opportunities and discuss emerging trends in the world’s most pressing issues. The venue followed a conventional format over the three days it lasted, with plenary sessions, breakout panels, a venue to showcase social entrepreneurs, a musical performance and –my favorite throughout the event– five minute long pitches called GPF Moments in which various people shared an idea with the audience.

The nexus between development and enterprise was one among many topics, but it was surely and broadly discussed throughout the whole conference, as was the idea that sees the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation as one only complex and defining challenge of its own. This meant I had to be in two places simultaneously from time to time! For instance, during the breakout sessions of Day 1, I sat down and listened to the first part of a session about Small and Growing Businesses where Peter Reiling from the Aspen Institute moderated a conversation with Acumen Fund’s Jacqueline Novogratz, Willy Foote from Root Capital, Ulrich Frei from FUNDES and Laurie Spengler from ShoreBank International. Next door, Maria Blair from the Rockefeller Foundation was moderating a session on climate change adaptation in developing countries, where Fabio Rosa from IDEAAS and Tom Adlam from African Agricultural Capital discussed the role of enterprise and economic opportunity in helping communities build resilience in the face of the challenges posed by this phenomenon.

Ideally, I would have liked the two topics to be discussed in the same session, so I did what I could to participate and take notes in both! Fortunately, the next day saw a plenary session that brilliantly discussed the challenges of SGBs in conjunction with those of bringing clean and appropriate technologies to the world’s poorest communities. Titled “Financing Green Enterprise” it had the participation of Mr. Nachiket Mor from ICICI Foundation and Christine Eibs Singer from E+Co, with brilliant moderation by David Yarnold from the Environmental Defense Fund. In all honesty, this is the single most interesting discussion I’ve been to in a number of months.

Both speakers were extremely articulate when describing the challenges they see in this space –SGBs + BoP + Clean Tech– and the approaches that their organizations are using to address them. Mr. Mor insisted on the challenges faced by ICICI in finding the right technologies and distribution models for different situations, while Ms. Eibs Singer walked the audience through E+Co’s approach to identify and foster entrepreneurs in this field while also breaking down into its various components the return they are able to offer to potential investors. Mr. Yarnold did a great job anchoring this discussion, highlighting examples of his own work with EDF while at the same time bringing in questions from the audience, which included people like Richenda Van Leeuwen from Good Energies Foundation, a recent interviewee.

Another highlight of the conference followed this great panel, and it was a GPF Moment starring Matt Flannery from Matt shared a couple of news with the audience. The first was that was experiencing unorecedented growth rates amidst the current economic crisis, and that last week was the best week in the history of the site so far. The other piece of news was that US-based micro entrepreneurs were soon going to be made available through the site. According to Matt, entrepreneurs in Africa (those being invested in tihrough the site) have expressed excitement about the idea of sharing exactly the same level of display and outreach as entrepreneurs that are in Queens or the Bronx or South Boston. His speech was crisp, concise and gracious. He continues to do great work.

Finally, two other parts of the event struck me as particularly engaging. The first was the display of social entrepreneurs where I had the chance to talk to and meet many entrepreneurs I’ve long admired, like Amitabha Sadangi from IDE India and Reinaldo Pamponet from Eletrocooperativa in Brazil. The second was the final address delivered by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He’s undoubtedly an engaging speaker and one whose ideas and positions (specially regarding the profit motive) are always thought- and discussion provoking. He’s a man of action and everything he says has a concrete example behind the words, which make his remarks especially valuable.

All in all a great venue, although a little packed with sessions considering the enormous networking apetite of the crowd. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to them, but many of the participants told me that the best parts of the conference were the breakfasts, in which members led discussions amongst themselves. Perhaps an open space format could be tried next time around, like the one that made Day 3 at SoCap 08 such a great success.

Just one last thing. For more detailed coverage of everything I did and everything I didn’t mention in this post, I encourage you to visit Jane’s Blog over at the GPF official website.