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Responsibilities of an Impact Investor

Three Responsibilities Impact Investors Should Always Be Considering

For the past few months, I have been reflect­ing a lot on my role as an investor. Busi­ness plans and pro­pos­als come across my desk and as I shift through them, it really struck me on how large a respon­si­bil­ity investors play in accel­er­at­ing trends, shap­ing a com­mu­nity or even country’s econ­omy, but yet how lit­tle this respon­si­bil­ity is spo­ken about in the invest­ing cir­cles. We place so much empha­sis on find­ing the right busi­ness, the right man­age­ment team, the right social impact, that some­times we get lost in our own capac­ity to rec­og­nize what really is inno­v­a­tive and what truly deserves to be funded. So, from my expe­ri­ences, here’s what I think an investor’s respon­si­bil­i­ties are on top of the typ­i­cal invest­ment work:

1) Investors need to live in the future. 

This is a point I feel very strongly about. If you’re an investor: VC/PE and par­tic­u­larly if you play in the startup and impact invest­ing work, (as Fred Wil­son pointed today in his blog post and what Paul Gra­ham said):  you should live in the future and see what is miss­ing. So well said. I’m cur­rently in an envi­ron­ment (yes, I rec­og­nize that I am in Africa — so feel free to shower stereo­types), where I know investors who are still using yahoo mail, inter­net explorer and Win­dows 2003 (true story!). Not to say that there are any­thing wrong with the prod­ucts, but more so — I think it’s so impor­tant to be keep­ing up with the trends in the world, tech­nol­ogy being one of them. How can you expect to iden­tify an invest­ment that is ‘ground-breaking’ if you’re not even fol­low­ing the newest trends in your sec­tor? Tak­ing this a step fur­ther, if you are fol­low­ing these global trends vs. local trends, it is then our respon­si­bil­ity to seek out entre­pre­neurs who can close this gap and fur­ther ele­vate the devel­op­ing world, or the devel­op­ing world would for­ever be play­ing ‘catch up’.

2) Don’t be a sheep. 

This respon­si­bil­ity is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant in the impact invest­ing space. Given that we’re play­ing in a field that is largely uncharted, risk is high and typ­i­cally, most investors are unable to size up a new mar­ket and end up rely­ing on the opin­ions of other investors. aka. I’ll invest if some­one else will too aka. a sheep. Impact investors say that they are risk tol­er­ant, but few trans­late this tol­er­ance into sign­ing along the dot­ted line. A very chicken and egg sit­u­a­tion. Hence, I have to con­stantly push myself to under­stand what is the right bal­ance of being a mar­ket leader but also not be a reck­less investor. Bal­ance is key.

3) The need to close and dis­burse faster

There are a lot of delays that occur in [impact] invest­ing. The court­ing of investors and [social] entre­pre­neurs, the dance between find­ing the right termsheet, the issue of mak­ing sure that the social impact actu­ally has an impact, and [insert your tra­di­tional delays in invest­ing here]. This is the norm. This is my chal­lenge to investors: rec­og­nize that the longer the delay, the big­ger the strain on the business/organization. From an entre­pre­neur per­spec­tive, you’re con­stantly watch­ing your ‘run­way’ aka. how much money do I have before I run out, and a delayed clos­ing round and dis­burse­ment is to the [social] entrepreneur’s dis­ad­van­tage as well as to their cus­tomers. If we’re really stand­ing with the poor, then deals need to close quicker with clear and sim­ple terms, as the longer the delay, the more peo­ple are miss­ing out on poten­tially expe­ri­enc­ing the product/service.

This is by no means sup­posed to be an exhaus­tive list of respon­si­bil­i­ties, but instead ones that I feel are most impor­tant given my expe­ri­ence. As investors, we are in a priv­i­leged posi­tion to start/continue or end trends. I think it’s time that we started think­ing a lit­tle harder about where our respon­si­bil­i­ties lie.


Editor’s Note: This piece was originally posted by Jocelyn Ling on her personal website.  It has been posted here with her permission.

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