In many regions of the world, social entrepreneurship is taking hold. Latin America is an extremely vibrant example of this phenomenon, and a correlating social capital market is now maturing to keep pace with this growth.
I currently devour all things social enterprise (it’s nutritious). So when my friend Shivani Siroya (founder of the Inventure Fund) told me about the first Latin American Impact Investment Forum, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. Not just because the conference took place in Mexico, (though that was a serious plus given the frigid temperatures in my current city of residence), but because I felt there were some important learning opportunities for those of us currently working and exploring the social enterprise space in Pakistan.
The forum, organized by New Ventures Mexico, took place in Merida, Mexico from February 2 -4, and brought together social entrepreneurs, investors, CSR managers, NGO leaders, and academics working in the region. Some of the partner organizations included the Avina Foundation, the InterAmerican Development Bank, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the World Resources Institute. The agenda was designed to promote investments and partnerships that support initiatives throughout Latin America, addressing topics like green industries and preservation, how to build an impact investment ecosystem, development technologies, and measuring impact. The forum also had several fast pitch sessions – where 10 entrepreneurs looking for partners or investors presented their companies and future projects in just three minutes.
The forum, in short, was incredible. It succeeded in bringing together entrepreneurs and funders into one room and creating a safe environment to exchange ideas. As someone unfamiliar to the space in Latin America, I was wowed by the professionalism and vibrancy of the social entrepreneurs I met, as well as the degree to which the space was indigenous. I met Leticia Jauregui, the co-founder and executive director of CREA, which serves Mexican female-led micro enterprises, focusing primarily on the manufacturing sector of food and handmade products and accessories. CREA not only helps female entrepreneurs scale up their businesses, it also helps bring their goods to market – an important lesson for Pakistan, where we are focused on skill-building but need to also focus on bringing those finished goods to market in order to generate income and create jobs in the long-term.
Hub Oaxaca [part of the global Hub network], which “seeks to establish a space and a network that connects, supports and inspires those with a passion for creating social change in Mexico,” organized a networking lounge during the forum. It brought together investors, entrepreneurs, and other practitioners throughout the conference, facilitating connections and fostering collaboration, (they even drew a map of the world on a glass pane window, where participants could post their business cards and be connected to people doing similar or relevant work).
As someone working with social entrepreneurs and innovative initiatives in Pakistan (I also plan to launch my own social enterprise consultancy this fall), I was inspired by the participants, the collaborative energy, and the overarching social capital movement I witnessed at the Latin American Impact Investing Forum. While the space in Pakistan is still maturing, there is a similar need to explore these ideas and truly create a sense of community among social entrepreneurs. Moreover, there is also a need to drive a social capital market, either from outside investors or from the investment community within Pakistan.
Via our handy TC-P glossary (*cough* shameless plug *cough*), impact investments are those that aim to solve social or environmental challenges while generating financial profit. According to the Monitor Institute, the total size of this impact investment market is estimated to be around $50 billion. As the value of social entrepreneurship continues to percolate within Pakistan, there should also be a paralleled move to push investors into this space, delivering capital to these enterprises to then achieve and maximize their impact among the poor. We are watching this happen in other regions of the world, like Latin America. It is time to at least start that same conversation in Pakistan.