October 27

Scott Anderson

Weekly Roundup: Being the Change, With Humility

This past week Impact Amplifer’s Max Pichulik might have tipped a sacred cow or two.

In his post, Lessons from SOCAP: It’s Time to Get Serious: Why An Insular Culture is Chaining Impact Investing and How to Break It, Pichulik laments a trend he sees among social entrepreneurs and their investors toward a somewhat homogenous culture.

While he acknowledges, this phenomena hasn’t taken over the sector completely, it’s pervasive enough to cause him concern:

“This results in seeking entrepreneurs within existing networks and therefore only exposing a very limited opportunity base. Investment deal flow will therefore be consistently limited, as we continually attract self-recognizable social entrepreneurs and individuals who fit a certain cultural box. Or, we will white wash it with a sub-standard entrepreneur to ensure the enterprise is racially or gender diverse. Meanwhile, no one has actively pulled up their sleeves and deeply penetrated new networks, associations, and cultures to truly source local winners.”

I appreciate his candor. A few readers and myself also pushed back a bit on Pichulik’s assumptions in the comments section, but he more than holds his own. I encourage you to check out and join the post and the discussion.

His article and the exchange that followed got me thinking about leadership and the delicate balancing act entrepreneurs face, not to mention the questions each much answer. Is your intent truly to reach the base of the pyramid as customers and producers? Are you truly humble enough to accept that your business, your model, might be more hype than value? And for investors: Are you getting out of the conference comfort zone to find the best and most impact-seeking ventures?

Earlier this month, the IFC released a report called “Being the Change: Inspiring the Next Generation of Inclusive Business Entrepreneurs Impacting the Base of the Pyramid.” It’s based on interviews with 14 founders and CEOs of IFC’s inclusive business clients. These are truly inspiring stories about how BoP businesses are formed and the personalities that drove an idea to reality.

Two quotes from the various stories and testimonals in the report stood for me that illustrate the need to balance both ambition and humility:

“The easiest thing in the world is to stay blind and content and passionate about your idea. The hardest thing is to go find out how many other people are doing it.”

– Mike Fitzgerald, CEO of Altobridge Systems which is working on wireless solutions for remote communities.

“Sincerity of effort, sincerity of purpose and sincerity with people. That leads to trust, and if people trust you, then it is easier for them to follow you as well.”
– Afnan Ashan, CEO of Engro Foods, which makes and sells dairy and juice products, and enables farmers through a milk procurement network.

Of course, I don’t know all the deteails of these executives’ journeys, and if any of them or their backers happen to fall into the trap that Pichulik is cautioning. However, their stories are worth reading, from both educational and inspirational frames of mind.

Being the Change: Inspiring the Next Generation of Inclusive Business Entrepreneurs Impacting the Base of t…

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