The following blog post was written by James Knuckles, a Frontier Market Scout.
Twice a week, Village Capital will lend its blog to posts by the Frontier Market Scouts – students coming from the training program that is hosted at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) twice a year. These posts will consist of reflections from the program, or Scouts’ personal posts on topics related to social entrepreneurship and impact investing that are of particular interest to them.
“A Two Week Whirlwind Tour of Impact Investing” by James Knuckles
The past two weeks have taught me more than an entire semester’s worth of classes, and increased my knowledge base about this emerging field more than my time spent working in impact investing. Throughout the Frontier Market Scouts program, there were three highlights that stood out for me, and towards the end, I propose a general sense of the program’s strengths, how I think it could have been improved, and a closing hoo-rah thought.
Firstly, Simon Desjardin’s workshop on scaling high-impact social enterprises left me inspired to jump into the segment of impact investing that can help take a company from blueprint to scale. I now recognize the value of grants from foundations to provide the funding so necessary to scale startup social enterprises. There are pitfalls, to be sure — the largest of which would likely be market distortion — but smart subsidy can avoid this problem. I very much enjoyed the risk assessment exercises, and found them applicable well beyond the scope of Shell Foundation’s grant to Husk Power. Indeed, any social enterprise can benefit from the type of risk assessment that we conducted for Husk Power. And finally, I connected with Simon more than any other facilitator on subject matter interest. Simon and I both see energy as the backbone of economies (I would say its more of the pulmonary system of an economy), and I was encouraged to know that there are some excellent opportunities for me in London in the impact investing sphere as I prepare for my transition to move there next fall.
Hearing from Carmel Judd was another highlight of the series of workshops. To have an active social enterprise leader come to our class and present her challenges was a level of real-life applicability that one rarely finds in graduate school. The design thinking that Dean Shi led us through allowed us to gain some serious insight into how we could help Rising International overcome its challenges in creative and innovative ways. As I presented my group’s ideas to her, I could tell that she took a genuine interest in our ideas, and we have a plan to remain in touch as she thinks about implementing some of our ideas. I will also leverage the design thinking process for my own International Business Plan project as I work with an engineer at Cornell University to see if we can develop a business around his technology and core competencies.
The third highlight of the workshops for me was Miguel Granier’s “Diligence Process and Decisions in Impact Investment.” He gave us real-life examples, with concrete numbers, and provided us with a fast-paced and relevant syllabus. I learned more applicable accounting analysis skills in two days with Miguel than I did in an entire semester in my basic accounting class. I was grateful for the documents and templates that Miguel shared with us and will leverage those as I go forward in my early career. His due diligence process was very impressive and extensive, and I am grateful to have been exposed to this procedure.
Overall, the greatest strength of the Frontier Market Scouts program is its facilitators — practitioners who are high-level in their field, energetic, extremely knowledgeable, approachable, and insightful. Another strength would be the use of real life cases, some of which are not yet solved and could actually benefit from our ideas and work. In future FMS sessions, I would try to hold the workshops in sequence — from sourcing to exit. This would provide even more continuity to an already well-developed and densely packed curriculum.
Bottom line: expand this program! More students need access to this type of education and experience, particularly as the social enterprise and the impact investing sectors grow rapidly. For MIIS: I would suggest offering FMS as a capstone option for MBA or MPA students at MIIS.
Congratulations to the facilitators, leaders, and support staff behind FMS — this was a huge success!