Francisco Noguera

Social Capital Markets: “We Are Jealous of Microfinance…”

ande… said Christine Eibs Singer from E+Co, referring to the way that industry has been able to achieve the “investment class status”, raise millions in capital and at the same time operate under common standards under the leadership of organizations like CGAP.

The need for such a coordinated approach among those supporting “Small and Growing Businesses” is the starting point of the Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE). A panel discussing the network marked a high point Tuesday afternoon during the Social Capital Markets Conference.Andrew Stern, a partner at Dalberg, moderated a conversation among organizations representing some of the leading practices that are part of the network.

In his words: The community of intermediaries supporting small and growing businesses is large and comprises many kinds of actors: funds looking for investments, enterprise development organization working in capacity building and, of course, entrepreneurs working with these who are ultimately seeking investment to grow their ventures.

ANDE’s goal is to bring together organizations like these to set standards and allow them to work in a more coordinated manner, for the benefit of the entrepreneurs they support. The network will formally launch next January. It has developed a business plan of its own and is hiring an executive director.

Christine from E+Co was one of the panelists and she started by reminding us how organizations in this space are currently competing for resources and talent, thus impeding the sector as a whole to achieve its full potential in assisting SGBs. Brad Presner represented Acumen Fund; he manages the Portfolio Data Management System, a tool that is setting standards for keeping track of social and environmental metrics in the sector and is incorporating good practices from different organizations in the space.?

ben powellBen Powell from Agora Partnerships and Steve Wright from Foundation were also part of the discussion.So why is there need for greater coordination anyway? What are the key challenges that each of? the organizations face? Christine began by stating that E+Co has been successful in raising capital for investment in portfolio companies, which in E+Co’s case are small ventures working in clean energy sectors.

However, the challenge of raising capital directed to strengthen E+Co’s internal capacity remains in areas as critical as impact evaluation, training of investment officers and critical internal areas like human resources.Brad expressed how metrics and actually being able to “express how we are being successful” is the biggest challenge in Acumen Fund.

The ANDE network should be a starting point for developing a set of shared “accounting principles” and standard metrics for the sector.Ben Powell mentioned pipeline development and overcoming high transaction costs. At the end of the day the activity of these organizations is in the trenches and finding great entrepreneurs is the greatest challenge. This entails a great effort in the areas where these organizations work.

The goal is to create a culture of entrepreneurship in the field and develop a richer conversation with entrepreneurs in which everybody speaks the same language, thus overcoming fears associated with different kinds of investing and interventions in the managerial structure of target SGBs.

The ANDE network is a decisive step towards the consolidation of a true industry concerned with supporting the “missing middle”. The panel resonated with the ideas expressed earlier by Katherine Fulton, and Dalberg’s moderation, together with the intervention from the panelists, really let a serious commitment to greater cooperation and efficiency shine through.

It will be exciting to see how the first formal “industry effort” in this sector consolidates and translates into greater and more accountable impact.