Over the years, I have been part of action-packed operations in some of the world’s most challenging environments. These included dozens of humanitarian missions as well as things like supporting transition during peace-keeping operations in East Timor or DR Congo, leading the operations of a UN agency in Somalia, or turning around country operations for large global organizations in places such as Eswatini/ Swaziland or Mozambique.
I have founded and taken to scale global social enterprises and impact businesses in health and fintech among others. I have co-founded Proof-of-Impact, a blockchain powered global marketplace for impact capital as well as Triggerise, a loyalty platform for impact behavior.
I am actively involved with several other impact-minded ventures, either as co-founder, adviser, investor or board member.
I write regularly from the front lines of the Impact Economy. 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 ventures.
5 Important Trends in Healthcare – We have health tech from Star Wars, but healthcare from the Flintsones. The Healthcare experience sucks and the Covid19 crisis is accelerating its imminent disruption.
The early stages of a startup are a special time. Uncertainty, no cash, no team, no product-market-fit. This stuff is hard as it is, and 10x harder for impact focused startups.
Every product, every team and every market is different, yet there are playbooks to getting an idea to first money. There are playbooks to bootstrapping and to setting things up between 2-3 people.
There are also sets of common mistakes that everyone does as they go through this process. I have been on this journey several times myself, and I have made many of the typical mistakes. I have hired the wrong people, invested in the wrong thing, focused on the wrong market. And I’ve got the scars to show.
The impact space is notoriously conservative and plagued by a limited use of data and technology. This is a tremendous opportunity for smart insurgents to leapfrog past incumbents through the use innovation and exponential technologies.
The waters are murky, though. Early adopters have to deal with bad usability, lack of infrastructure and difficulties to scale. They also have to navigate the hype that accompany any exciting technology in its early days.
Traditional funding – whether non-profit or investment models – exclude small, data-driven organizations & favor incumbents with large teams of professional fundraisers.
In spite of increasing demand, 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 investors access to profitable impact investments regardless of amount invested. Smart, data-driven companies have better ways to monetize their work.
It is a new paradigm. And new paradigms call for new business models.
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.
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.
Kick-starting operations in frontier markets is a dark art, usually not covered by typical MBA courses.
Business models need to be adapted to often counter-intuitive consumer behaviors . Recruiting locally involves requires to go beyond academic credentials and work references. Setting up local structures and agreements with governments and partners 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 and have a wealth of insights to share.