Amit Bouri is the CEO and co-founder of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and host of Next Normal podcast. The GIIN provides impact investing firms with access to a diverse global network of leading impact investors as well as industry information, tools, and resources to enhance practitioners’ ability to make and manage impact investments.
This is Part 2 of Canay Atalay‘s and Rudy de Waele‘s conversation with Amit about building a global network, the effects of COVID on impact investing and how to build a better future for generations to come (video recording embedded below).
Click here to read part 1 of the conversation with Amit
For the cultural change, the new type of thinking and skill sets that you have mentioned, what do you suggest social entrepreneurs or all entrepreneurs to start developing? What type of skills to focus on? Especially if the entrepreneurs are building up their product and services using technology mainly what do you suggest to them?
I think it’s so, so noble of a cause to help to build a social enterprise and I also think it’s so challenging because you have to be great at building a business. You have to be as good – if not better – at building a conventional business which is hard enough, but you also have to be really good and thoughtful about the impact that you’re trying to achieve and how to build that into the business model. So the work is incredibly pioneering.
You’re not alone, luckily. There’s a whole world of people around you who are now part of this community or this tribe. I think this concept of a network or tribe is so powerful, but there are a couple of things that I would highlight.
One is to be very clear on who you’re trying to serve. Because ultimately, bringing that voice and perspective of the beneficiary will be an incredibly powerful driver to motivate you to do the big things you need to do and help weather the challenging experiences of being an entrepreneur. It will also keep your business honest, to make sure that you’re responding to the beneficiary. Whether it’s a customer buying a product or thinking about how to benefit the environment, really make sure that voice is brought into how you’re thinking at a management level, at a board level and beyond.
The other thing I would think about is how to actually build the impact into your business model, so it’s not something on the side but it’s actually something that’s woven into the way you make decisions, where you conduct meetings and the way you kind of report your performance to investors and shareholders.
The last thing I’d say is absolutely critical won’t come as a surprise given that I’m someone who runs a network. Think about how you form the community of colleagues, collaborators and peers to be part of your journey. You’re working against the tide in many ways, but it’s because we’re trying to shift the tide and the way that people think about running businesses and running an investment portfolio. So I’d say connect yourself through local networks, global networks, but make sure you are feeding into the success of others and also drawing from their experiences.
I believe this concept of collective learning is so critical because ultimately we have a number of people all around the world – thousands, tens of thousands, millions of people – who are doing incredible work right now. And we need to draw upon that collective intelligence and also contribute to it. I really believe in the concept of interdependence and interconnectedness and I think that is a fundamental way to think about your work as well.
I’m a business model designer and my whole journey has been about creating new types of business models, starting with the leaders’ values, integrating United Nations sustainable development goals and new types of measurements for an evolving blueprint of success that is going to be defined by these leading people.
But I’m a mother of two, I have two young daughters – you’re a father too and I know you are inspired by your daughter. With the collapse of the current education system, we are left with our own visions, skill sets, trying to do schooling remotely. Some of us are luckier than the others. The schooling system is not actually encouraging the skill sets or dimensions to become highly skilful entrepreneurs that are flexible for the future. How do you see that gap closing? How can we change the paradigm and enable our children to become the future, social entrepreneurs and impact investors? How are we gonna break the silos?
The question certainly resonates with me. I started the GIIN well before I was a parent, but a lot of the motivation for my work was how we build a better world for future generations. Investing as a concept is putting money away now to build something greater later and so that mentality is incredibly important for all of this work. Becoming a parent only enhanced my conviction of the importance of this as something that was conceptual to me before, but it became much deeper as a sense of purpose for me and clearly for you as well.
I think a lot of the things that we talked about earlier are just as relevant in this case as well. The way that we actually need to help release previous models and silos to drive more integrated thinking. My hope is that the education system has also shifted. There are incredibly wonderful teachers thinking about how to not only teach hard skills but also teach emotional and social development that is so fundamental to having the kind of people who can lead and play a role in building a much more integrated future.
I think that there is a change underway and I think it’s a responsibility for all of us adults to see ourselves as stewards of the future and to play a role in shaping the education of younger generations. Of course, there is the formal learning classroom but there’s also all the learning that happens in families and communities. All of us can help contribute to that and I think that’s incredibly important at this moment where systems are under strain. So we have to think about more ways of educating folks in different channels or avenues in which people learn. I hope something that will stick with us coming out of this crisis is the way to lean into our community as a way to help shepherd future generations to become the full citizens of the world that we want them to be.
Wonderful. When it comes to future generations like your daughter – like my daughters – most of the strategies that we have been talking about like unlearning or new thinking models, they’re already born with that flexibility.
As GIIN, are you planning to direct your social impact investors to also encourage youth or younger generations to come into the game? In the end, the biggest things at stake are for the youth. They are the ones who are standing up for the climate because it’s their future – more than us. Thanks to technology and the democratization of information and investment models, I see more and more young people scaling and doing amazing things all around the world. What is your standpoint on that? Are you inclusive for different ages?
I think it’s an incredibly powerful point. I think this is a time where these intergenerational dynamics are powerful and I think younger generations are teaching everyone a lot about how to think about the future.
One of the things that’s fascinating in the investment space is the surveys that have been done around investors views towards things like sustainability and impact. Around the world, younger generations – they don’t even mean schoolchildren but also people in their teens, twenties and thirties – they see impact as part of the way that business should be done. So they’re already there when it comes to integrated thinking. I think that is a lesson for the older folks. I’m not that old, but I’m also not that young anymore, so I certainly take a lot of inspiration.
I also feel a lot of obligation to future generations, the leadership around the climate crisis that we’ve seen from activists all around the world. Starting with Greta [Thunberg] of course, but also her peers in the global north and the global south are doing wonderful things to call attention to a crisis that is happening all around us and to put pressure on the need to shift our thinking and shift it fast.
As we think about the investment world, one of the things we need to address is the existing power structures that tend to favour folks who control a lot of assets, who sit at the top of hierarchies and tend to be older. I think we’re starting to explore other models that help to create more opportunity for communities and help to respond better to beneficiaries, whether that’s younger people or older people. Really making sure that the voice of the stakeholders is brought into the thinking of decision-makers and ultimately that we are seeing shifts in power dynamics.
I think this is a time of incredible innovation and incredible shifts. And I think we’re at the beginning of some transformational change. But I do think we’re in an incredibly messy space. We’re still dealing with the structures of the status quo. We can see lots of incredible inspiration from glimmers of the future that are present today all around us. And we’re in that negotiation of how we transition from existing structures to actually create the new ones that’ll serve us in the future. It is an incredibly exciting time but it takes a lot of hard work for all of us in our network and your tribe to really make sure that we fulfil our promise.
Rudy de Waele
We had a chat recently at the Unconference with Eshanthi Ranasinghe from Omidyar Network. They also do a lot of impact investment and she was saying that now they were more looking into programs to create real change-makers, the leaders of the future that they want to see. There is a need for more work to be done in that area because a lot of the projects were failing because of the lack of leadership, the lack of the skills that they need. What’s your take on that?
The Omidyar Network has been a wonderful partner of ours since the early days and they’re one of our partners on this thing about the future of capitalism. They are essentially focused on reimagining capitalism, so I think it’s a great perspective for you to bring into the conference.
One of the things that her comments have highlighted is this need to think about what leadership means in the future. Leadership is very different from having someone at the top of a pyramid, who shouts down orders: the classic view of what leadership is. And one of the things that I love about leading a network is that you lead from the middle or even from below – where you’re supporting a community and helping to hold a community together.
It’s a very dynamic way of thinking about leadership: it’s not just that one person has the power and everyone else follows orders, but rather it is a way of trying to negotiate community and progress through engaging a lot of diverse folks in different ways. So that point about thinking about the future of leadership and how we actually build people to be successful leaders in the future absolutely resonates with me.
It’s also important to think about how we mentor folks and help develop their skills, not just the education that Canay asked about but the ongoing development of leadership; Not just how you occupy authority but how you galvanize and mobilize people and resources towards progress.
How would you define your own leadership style and what are the type of rituals or activities you are doing to also innovate yourself?
I really espouse the servant leadership model. I really have a strong point of belief in public service. And when I say public service, I mean service to the community, other people and the planet. That’s really what’s guided my work. I always think it’s evolving and I’m always trying to be better at it so it’s an ongoing journey for me, certainly.
I will say that a lot of it is rooted in how I grew up. My parents were immigrants from India to the United States. And when I was quite young – at the age of three – my parents were divorced. My father, unfortunately, had a lot of problems. So then I was raised for the rest of my life by a single mom and for roughly six years we lived on welfare, which is the US form of public assistance. My mom had been educated in India but needed to get re-educated in the US to be employable in the country, so that was a time where we were very low income.
We benefited from government support but we also benefited from wonderful people in a very small community who really stretched themselves and extended themselves to support us. And that meant a lot to me and I’ve had a great number of educational opportunities and a lot of mobility in society as a result of those programs, the services and also those people who I consider to be leaders. You’ll never read their names in the papers, they’re not famous and they won’t be noteworthy but they are very powerful at a community level.
That mentality really informs me and the work that we do with the GIIN, it supports a community of people all around the world who are trying to have an impact that is broader than their own personal benefit. That, to me, is incredibly important.
In terms of the rituals, I try to meditate as much as I can. And I try to be connected to people, which is a bit harder now with the pandemic. To me, it keeps me honest. I live in a big city which is not known for nature but I do try to keep myself as connected to nature as possible. I grew up in a small town in the mountains of California, so that’s always been an important part of how I see my role and how I see my leadership as well.
Rudy de Waele
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. We as Conscious Learning Tribe have a pretty good number of social entrepreneurs in our network, startups and people who are doing good on different levels. What are the areas that you’re looking for and how can we help at Conscious Learning Tribe? What can we say to social entrepreneurs to get in touch with impact investors? How can we serve?
I think for the GIIN what we’re really trying to do is to change the way that people think about the role of capital in society. So I think social entrepreneurs are building the models that prove this and so – just being successful and building these enterprises – every one of them is both delivering impact to a community or to the planet, but also creating another model to help them shift people’s thinking about what is possible, which I think is so important.
Using things like Iris+ is incredibly helpful because we’re trying to get the whole world on a common language when it comes to impact. Those network effects are powerful because that allows us to focus our attention on how to have the greatest impact, not on how to talk about it or how to describe it in the best way.
Ultimately I think that any entrepreneur is also an investor. They may not have a lot of resources but they have some – even if it’s just a savings account at a bank. Using your capital, however big or small it is, to help you invest in the world you want to live in and you want future generations to live in, is something I hope everyone can do. And tell your friends, tell your community, you know, this is something that we all have a role in driving this systemic shift.
Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure talking with you.
Thank you so much for this opportunity and thank you for the work that you’re doing. I’m really honoured to be part of this community and I really appreciate this conversation.