Leading the Way Towards Sustainable Development
1 April 2016 - Alessandro Palmieri

Journeys of an Impact Angel

Progress – the world that we live in is one that is perpetually changing and adapting. As human beings we strive towards progress, and we are achieving that, but at the moment a lot of people are not feeling the effects. Of the 7 billion plus people on earth, how many do you think are really benefiting from the progress we have made as a species? The World Bank estimated in 2012 that 12.7% of the world’s population was living at below $1.90 a day. That’s about 869 million people. These figures are a massive improvement on the estimates from 1990 of 37% of the world’s population, 1.95 billion people, in extreme poverty. Progress is being made, and countries are developing; and with development comes the opportunity to make a real impact in our world, to continue upon our human progress and to mutually benefit from the financial effects.

I have been speaking to Jennifer Viloria, Social Impact Angel and CEO of Inspired Ventures Ltd. Born and raised in the Philippines, Jennifer began her life in a village that had no electricity and no running water. After moving to London, she worked full-time while also studying financial economics, in which she achieved a first-class degree. This allowed her to get a job in global financial investment, working between London and Manila. It was from this that Jennifer was first able to begin her ambition of real social impact, using her knowledge of investment banking and her passion for social change. Fast forward to the present day and Jennifer is using her experience to achieve her personal goal of helping to improve the lives of 20 million people in need.

Jennifer has spent the last few years investing in social ventures in her current home, London. However now she believes that her next round of funding will have a greater impact if it is invested in developing countries, including her birthplace – The Philippines.

Over the next year she plans on travelling the globe in search of these exciting and socially impactful investment opportunities. Some of her future travels will take her to Kenya, Southern India and Thailand; locations where Jennifer has identified opportunities to invest in gainful social businesses.

At the time of writing, she is currently back in the Philippines attending the 3 rd Global Social Business Summit at The GK Enchanted Farm Village University – a social development by Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation.

“I will be part of a panel of investors, politicians and social entrepreneurs talking about how to scale up social enterprises so that you create companies like Unilever – so [we discuss] how about if we replace the model of just companies that go for profit, profit, profit to say yes we’re going to make money in the longer term but it would be including everybody around it, so that employees would be benefitting from the company as well as investors.” – Jennifer Viloria

Jennifer has lived a cyclical life that has taken her from her homeland, to London and back to the Philippines and by working with these social enterprises, and investing in them, she will be completing another cycle of progress. From the young girl, born into a rural environment where opportunities can only be found by leaving; to the girl who left to educate herself, get a career and start a family; to the woman whose mission it is to spread wealth and create communities back in her homeland, and throughout the globe.

Social business are not run in the same manner as a conventional business, with seven principles being integral to their existence, rather than the core motivation being profit. It is a fairly new model, whose values were developed by Professor Muhammad Yunus; a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. It is upon this model that Gawad Kalinga, which means “to give care” in Filipino, operates. After speaking to Jennifer, it is evident that the founder of Gawad Kalinga (GK), Anthony ‘Tony’ Meloto, is an inspiration to her.

“Over the last 10 years since GK has been operational they have rehoused about 1 million families out of slum areas, the so called ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – people who are earning about $800 and have about 10 children.”

Projects such as the Enchanted Farm venue are beneficiaries of Gawad Kalinga, and are creating communities that are designed to provide people the tools needed to progress; shelter, jobs and education being key. “It’s about guiding people through giving people their dignity back. That’s what he [Tony Meloto] says – If you give them their dignity back they will work so hard to maintain having that.”

Jennifer has already began investing in developing markets with social businesses. One of the companies she invested in last year is Aduna, an Africa-inspired healthy and beauty company, based in London, but with its suppliers in Ghana. Founded in 2011, Aduna works with over 2000 women who harvest and process their raw materials, which means more money remains in the supplier’s community, with this business model already winning several awards, including the UKBAA Social Impact Investment of the Year 2015.

However, Jennifer wants to go further and feels that by directly investing in companies in developing countries will make the funds go further towards making a real social impact. “My task would be to create a fund that would enable people like myself to back small enterprises in third world countries to scale them up, that’s really the gap in the market I’m looking at in terms of financing.”

This new direction for investment is promoted by “the father of social investment and venture capital”, Sir Ronald Cohen. Cohen wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in 2013 predicting that the new direction for venture capital should be towards these social impact businesses. His prediction is based on how huge the non-profit sector is globally and, historically, how the venture capitalists of the 1960’s and 70’s pioneered funding, quoting that over “10 million people” worked for NGO’s in the US in 2013, with over “$700 billion” of foundation assets.

“Things will change rapidly over the next five to ten years. If investors can find the same courage the early institutional backers of the venture capital industry found, we will see talented social entrepreneurs build large, effective organizations that move the needle on a social issue and deliver acceptable financial returns at the same time.” – Sir Ronald Cohen and William A. Sahlman

With confidence in pioneering a new breed of funding mechanism, backed by her success with her investment background, Jennifer heads to the GK conference with an eye on 2016 being one of innovation, fulfilling the predictions of Sir Ronald of a repeat of the success of capital venture, and taking steps to complete the cycle of success from her own life, to those from backgrounds similar to hers: “The business of kindness: doing good makes good business sense”, as they are saying at Gawad Kalinga.

So begins Jennifer’s quest to find these socially-impacting investment opportunities. 2016 will prove to be an interesting year for her, as she travels around the world searching for the opportunities to invest in those that just need a financial chance to work, build and create a sustainable community. So begins the global journey of an Impact Angel.

Jennifer Viloria is CEO of Inspired Ventures Ltd, as well the owner and founder of Isla Investments Ltd. She is also a member of the board of trustees for UK-registered charity In-visible. Follow her global journey by visiting www.inspiredescapes.com.

by Jonny Perrin