Frontier Market Scouts: “A First Lesson in Social Enterprise and Impact Investing”

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The following blog post was written by Carolyn Caton, a Frontier Market Scout.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a workshop on social enterprise and impact investment facilitated by Village Capital, a peer-led accelerator for social ventures. Of the many things I learned, three basic points stuck out: 1) for-profit businesses with genuine social benefit goals can and do exist; 2) some people want to invest in them; and 3) a whole lot of people stand to benefit from them.

These points may seem obvious to some, but to a young professional who cut her teeth in the U.S. non-profit sector, “for-profit” + “social good” do not always compute. How can I discuss profit in the context of social welfare? What of all the potential conflicts of interests? Can the social objectives of a business withstand a financial crisis? A turnover of leadership?

Fair questions, I know. But throughout the training, I learned that if a business relies on the social impact that it makes, then perhaps these seemingly opposing forces—profit and social benefit—could coexist. As one example, trainers pointed to Patagonia, a company whose outerwear products inextricably link to its environmentalism. After all, without the great outdoors, who needs outerwear?

There’s far more to it than that, of course, and over the coming months, I hope to learn more about this emerging industry and the people shaping its values and its course. Indeed, in just a couple of weeks, I head to Istanbul on a Frontier Market Scout adventure where I’ll meet with investors, entrepreneurs, and others working hard to make a difference through their social ventures. Stay tuned.

Links:

Frontier Market Scouts at the Monterey Institute of International Studies

http://www.miis.edu/academics/short/frontier-market-scouts/scouts

Village Capital: VilCap.org

http://www.vilcap.com/

Patagonia

http://www.patagonia.com/us/home

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