Exploring a Global ‘Local’ Approach to Impact Investment as a ProInspire Fellow
Editor’s note: ProInspire is now accepting applications from outstanding young business professionals who want to work in the nonprofit sector. Apply by Feb. 8 for the Spring class and March 7 for the Fall class. ProInspire Fellows spend one year working in an analytical or strategic role at a nonprofit organization in the Washington D.C. area. This highly competitive program offers targeted positions with leading nonprofits, monthly trainings with a cohort of peers, a coach, and a network to support career growth.
After three great years as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company, I decided to explore opportunities in impact investing. While at Bain, I helped start our first global social impact initiative, but felt I was still one step removed from ‘ground level’ impact. Last summer, I learned about the ProInspire Fellowship and discovered it would be a perfect way to increase my impact and develop as a socially-minded business leader. ProInspire is an innovative program that selects top performing young business professionals from leading banks, consulting firms, and corporations for a one-year fellowship at the intersection of business and the social sector. Each fellow is paired with a partner non-profit organization where they spend a full year in a meaningful role targeted to their experience.
ProInspire: Next Generation of Non-Profit Leadership
There are a few key aspects of the fellowship program make it exceptional. First, ProInpsire is defined by the fellowship cohort. All fellows gather regularly to share experiences, ‘crowd solve’ common challenges, and learn more about different segments of the social sector. Fellows come from a cross-section of the business world to serve leading organizations across the non-profit sector including, not only impact investing, but also international development, public health and education. Further, ProInspire has afforded all of us some wonderful opportunities to meet leaders in the field. We have heard from speakers at organizations such as Sustained Dialogue, the Management Center, and StrengthsFinder. Through networking events, we have also had the opportunity to meet inspiring leaders such as Lisa Hall, CEO of Calvert Foundation and Neil Bellefeuille, CEO of the Paradigm Project. The combination of training, mentoring, networking, and the cohort experience, makes ProInspire an ideal program for young professionals looking to increase their impact and leadership experience.
Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF): A Global Impact Investor You Should Get to Know
Through ProInspire I was hired as a business development manager at Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF). SEAF is an impact investor that accelerates the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in frontier markets, investing risk capital and providing business assistance that create development impact as well as financial returns. SEAF was founded more than 20 years ago in Eastern Europe, just as the international development community began to recognize the growing importance of market-based approaches to development after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then, SEAF has grown rapidly, investing in more than 300 SMEs globally that span industries as diverse as agribusiness and clean technology. Today SEAF has roughly $370 million in assets under active management. This exciting growth as well as a dynamic, entrepreneurial culture brought me to SEAF. SEAF’s global track record, local frontier market expertise, and end-to-end entrepreneurial support really set it apart.
At SEAF, I am leading a five-year strategic planning process and supporting the launch of a flagship $100 million global permanent capital vehicle. From a strategic standpoint, SEAF is in a very interesting position. We have grown so fast because of our opportunism, launching 28 mostly limited-life, local country funds all over the world, ranging from $5-$75 million each. In doing so, SEAF has created a global footprint, while at the same time building a network of talented local investment professionals. But this largely decentralized model has come with some challenges. Limited-life funds require long holding periods from investors, are costly to create and, when they close, SEAF often loses valuable investment professionals. In addition, local funds are locked into up as well as down cycles, and therefore offer limited diversification to investors. Local funds can also have complex compliance and reporting requirements. To address some of the foregoing difficulties, as well as to scale investment in SMEs in emerging markets more generally, we believe that the best way to scale going forward is to shift to a global, permanent vehicle approach while maintaining our local presence with investment teams on the ground in frontier markets. Ultimately, we plan to list the vehicle on a public exchange that makes impact investing more accessible to retail and institutional investors. The end result will be a significantly more efficient investment structure that better suits the needs of investors and SMEs, while allowing us to raise and invest substantially more capital than we have been able to do in the past.
The opportunity to work on these strategic initiatives and make a ‘ground level’ impact at SEAF has surpassed my highest expectations. And I would encourage anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, international development, and impact investing to consider ProInspire as a valuable gateway and partner to make their own impact!