In college, I joined a non-profit, Elmseed Enterprise Fund, a microfinance institute that lent $1,000-$3,000 to low-income entrepreneurs who didn’t have access to traditional credit. I thought it was a really interesting organization which had a mission I could get behind, having started my own little enterprises in high school with seed capital provided by my parents. From my time running Elmseed, I really saw how a little capital can change people’s lives — access to capital is such a critical problem in the world.
We funded an entrepreneur to start a hot dog cart who went on to spawn many more food carts around town. We funded a contractor who started to get big jobs from the university. In all these cases, we were able to make a significant individual impact, if not community impact, through capital.
Money has a multiplicative effect. When one individual can start a business (e.g. coffee cart), that person now has business needs (e.g. coffee beans from the local roaster). $1 can generate more than $1 of wealth in a community.
One year, I came up with an idea to get more capital in the world of microfinance. We would go to big corporations and ask they temporarily donated money to a new fund which would buy up existing loans made by microfinance institutions to free up capital for those microfinance institutes to lend out again. The big idea was that we would only use that capital for 3 or 6 months before sending the money on to a charity that corporation already supported. So now Goldman Sachs could say it not only gave $1,000,000 to women’s education but it could say it gave $1,000,000 to microfinance and to women’s education (when it really was the same $1,000,000). Some of co-founders of the non-profit took the idea and started to get some major banks behind it. Unfortunately, I had to lessen my involvement over time as PaperG took off.
Recently, I’ve dipped my toe back into this world. I’m volunteering my fundraising and marketing knowledge to help out Acumen Fund, a wonderful funding model for social enterprises. It has pioneered the concept of “patient capital” — which is a financial investment with no expectation of turning a quick profit and focuses on maximum social impact over financial. It is funding some amazing social enterprises around the world and really investing in building a network of people trying to change the world. Expect to hear more about it from me in the months to come.