Iulian Circo

Veteran humanitarian and serial entrepreneur building high-stake businesses that use exponential technology to achieve impact at scale.

I have spent my life in field-based, operational settings and I know what it takes to get things done. Along the way I have also learned to use technology, agility and lateral thinking to stay ahead of the curve.

I get excited by bold, unreasonable initiatives and will go out of my way to support ambitious, impact-driven projects.

Things that I do

High Performance Teams

Ideas, opportunities or capital don’t mean much without a strong team that get things done as one. Execution is the secret ingredient in any successful organization and many a failure in the impact space can be traced back to bad or absence of execution.

Putting together a team that can get things done and setting them up for success is an art that combines experience with strategy with processes with access to networks with the ability to identify high performers in places where few people bother to look. Add to that people skills, accountability frameworks, growth & improvement programs and coaching. This gets exponentially harder in frontier markets with scarcity of talent.

Organizations that Work

Agile. Lean. Horizontal. Cell-based. Non-hierarchical. There is no shortage of hype and buzzwords when it comes to the modern organization.

The truth is organizational change is hard. And this difficulty is multiplied at scale. How can large, global operations coordinate and adapt fasts without devolving into analysis paralysis? How do you build together with virtual teams that will never meet in person and may not really have a common language? How do you keep pace in a rapidly evolving market? How do you design your organizational structure for hypergrowth? How do you stay relevant?

Every team that goes past a certain size struggles with some or all of the above questions. Yet, not embracing profound transformation will almost certainly lead to frustration, lack of productivity and, eventually, irrelevance.

Impact organizations are particularly old-fashioned: top-down, heavy footprint, high-overhead, low-tech, slow-moving. This creates exciting opportunities for anyone – large or small – who is willing to embrace profound transformation all the way and evolve into a leaner, smarter, faster-moving organization.

Exponential Technology

In the impact space, notoriously conservative and plagued by a limited use of data and technology, there are tremendous opportunities for smart organizations to leapfrog past incumbents through the use of blockchain, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and other exponential technologies.

But the waters are murky. Early adopters in particular have to deal with bad usability, lack of infrastructure and difficulties to scale, not to mention having to navigate the hype that accompany any exciting technology in its early days.

However, exponential technology done right is a super-power that allows smart organizations to leap forward and multiply their impact.

Monitoring, Evaluation & Reporting

Traditional M&E is expensive, slow, non-transparent, unreasonable and impossible to scale. Top-down, dogmatic monitoring frameworks slow down implementation, overburden the most important resources in impact delivery and sustain a multi-billion dollars industry that exist solely to help implementers navigate this unnecessary complexity.

For the better part of the last two decades I have lead a continuous battle against these ineffective monitoring models. I think a better alternative is to define smart, easy to quantify impact proxy events (outputs) and verify these as they happen, ideally with the help of technology that eliminates human error.

Having real-time event data is a game-changer in an industry that notoriously waits years to evaluate correlations between actions and outcomes. Real-time data – even if incomplete and imperfect – allows to iterate and optimize continuously, run A/B tests and reap the benefits of compound, incremental improvements that define modern tech-powered companies.

Field Operations

Here’s a hard fact: the vast majority of impact initiatives fail. An important factor for this dismal record is the absence of local knowledge and access. Which is a factor of local presence. Access to local markets and insights.

These are very hard and expensive to get right. And because of that, they are multiplier advantages to anyone who does.

Kick-starting operations in frontier markets is a dark art: it takes designing effective teams that can deliver a diverse portfolio in environments not covered by typical MBA courses. In the absence of reliable certification systems, recruiting locally involves quite a bit of trial and error and requires to go beyond academic credentials and work references. Setting up local structures and agreements with governments and established partners that allow full operation can be tricky. Experience, credibility and local knowledge go a long way.

I have set up dozens of large, mission-critical operations across the world, in frontier and extreme environments. I’ve done every mistake in the book and learned the hard way.

Smart Impact Investment & Innovative Financing

Traditional funding – whether non-profit or investment models – exclude small, data-driven organizations & favour incumbents with large teams of professional fundraisers.

Smaller donors find it impossible to get attribution for their funding, which gets diluted by larger donor funding and small impact investors have very limited investment opportunities on a market that is both exclusive and illiquid.

New impact frameworks, powered by exponential technologies such as blockchain allow us to structure entire new categories of impact financing and delivery models. A new generation of highly liquid impact investment products allows retail investors access to profitable impact investments regardless of amount invested. New financing models allow donors get 100% impact attribution regardless of amount pledged.

For more on this, check out Proof of Impact 

Articles & co.

I write regularly from the front lines of the Impact Economy. That means I write about the business of doing the right thing. I write about better ways to fund and deliver impact and I write about my own journey as I am experimenting with impact funding and delivery models globally.

There are more articles of mine collected here.

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