Shital Shah

Social Capital Markets 09: Towards Triple Impact

While SoCap involves a lot of investment lingo and a room full of venture funds and other players with large amounts of capital, a breakout session on “Towards Triple Impact: Sustainable Ventures in Developing Countries” sought to bring together a panel of developing country entrepreneurs.

Moderated by Sahba Sobhani of UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative, the session included Harish Hande from SELCO India, Crispin Pemberton-Pingott from Swaziland’s New Dawn Engineering, and Carlos Wills from Colombia’s DW Tech. The panelists manage a variety of enterprises: solar energy services, appropriate technology engineering (such as cooking stoves), and community water purification plants. Moreover, there was also a range of experience involved, with New Dawn Engineering operating for twenty five years, and DW Tech still starting up.

The panelists gave an introduction of their enterprises and Mr. Sobhani posed three questions – How does their business model create value for the poor and for the company? How do they plan to scale up? How do you add value?

Mr. Hande emphasized that value must be measured from the client’s perspective, not the shareholder’s perspective, since they are the ultimate end user. This bottom-up thinking was prevalent throughout his comments, from the avoidance of hiring MBAs because of (according to Mr. Hande) their lack of field reality to the current development of an incubator for young entrepreneurs in India. Mr. Hande also brought home the point that we need a complete rethink in how we develop technology. An example he provided is that of the sewing machine, which requires a standard 110 watts to operate, but in India, a typical sari and blouse only require 30 watts to complete. Mr. Hande asked, who is thinking about these issues? How can we remodify and make relevant technologies more efficient? There is a need to start from the bottom and unlearn the perceptions we bring in from the outside.

As an inventor, Mr. Pemberton-Pigott sees New Dawn Engineering as a “philosophical solution” in the pursuit of the triple bottom line. An issue that arose throughout his discussion was that of intellectual property, especially when it comes to product replication and imitation. Since the organization designs technology as appropriate to a population, Mr. Pemberton-Pigott advocates more discussion on the issue of intellectual property.

Mr. Wills’ enterprise is in a startup phase, so while SELCO and New Dawn Engineering can speak to their pursuit of the triple bottom line, DW Tech is still finding its feet. With 12 million people in Colombia without drinking water, DW Tech offers a reverse osmosis system to serve a variety of customers, including retail, government, and others. It will be interesting to see how an enterprise that is just starting up will benefit from learning the lessons of its experienced peers, so it will be worth following DW Tech and observing how the organization fares down the line.

Hearing straight from entrepreneurs working on the ground and implementing solutions was a refreshing addition to the conference. Most importantly, the session served as a reminder that achieving triple impact requires a sound business model, entrepreneurs with a vision, and a lot of dedication.