Some Aha moments today – the spectrum of venture philanthropy

I know nothing, I’m from Barcelona – Manuel’s classic line from the British sitcom Fawlty Towers has never been more apt to my personal situation than today!
Am having a great opportunity to learn about developments within the sector of philanthropy, today and tomorrow in Barcelona (in fact in Sant Cugat, a small distance away from Messiville… Tooooot el camp. Eeeeeess un clam. Ok. Focus.)…Here are some quick thoughts on an intense but rich first day at the EVPA Training Academy on Venture Philanthropy and Social Investment. Summarizing learnings of such a filled day, isn’t really feasible. But nevertheless, would like to jot down the following, all stuff which I’ve registered today in my mind, which I might implement in my work in days months years to come – but which I might also simply put aside in my mind’s category entitled “damn interesting to know but not really applicable to me currently, so dear knowledge, go forth and move into my knowledge building, I’ll get back to you whenever I can…” 
Right I’m blabbering. So. Here goes. 

  1. Grantmaking is venture philantropy/VP includes grantmaking. Not all VP initiatives do “classic” investing in the shape of a loan or equity, not all expect a financial return on investment. But the ingredients of VP are very much apt for, say, “classic” grantmaking: while not necessarily seeking a monetized RoI, applying the underlying philosophy of VP can transform how a funder looks at the value-add its financial input brings about in the functioning of non profits (and social enterprises). 
  2. The range of tools which funders can work with in order to strive for social change, is huge. And that variety amongst funders, cannot be underestimated. Participants in the training include public benefit foundations, impact investment funds, corporate foundations, etc. There is a whole world out there bringing the brains and ideas from finance together with philantropy- rather, philantropy as I know it. New horizons!
  3. Terminology. Always terminology. Impact investing. Social impact investing. Social investment. Venture philanthropy. A definition exists for all of these terms. The nuances are sometimes big. Sometimes not. The key lesson is to clearly define the objectives of your funding. And then act upon it. Whatever you want to call this. 
  4. Non-financial support” (for example, an external consultant to guide the management team to achieve this), was a term I found really straightforward to grasp the various forms of support a funder can provide a NPO with which doesn’t take the shape of money. Maybe nothing new, but I’m looking forward to scan through the EVPA publication on this to better understand very concrete challenges in this area – for example, how to choose the right consultant when applying VP in sectors which are not at all accustomed to this type of funding opportunities and collaborations?After all, these beneficiaries might have more experience with financial support than other support…
  5. I got the impression this whole sector of impact investment brings a whole new dimension to the debate on how to boost the development of developing countries. The examples I heard and the cases we discussed, illustrate that the old paradigm of defining development in terms of development aid, is slowly but surely indeed an outdated way of approaching this. While I don’t know the finesses of these things, I remember coming across an article on a social impact bond in India which aims to increase the participation in education of girls from underprivileged communities. Excellent example of how these funding tools can create new dynamics.
  6. Right. All too random thoughts on an interesting but sometimes complex topic. Too much to structure properly. Especially post midnight 🙂

Important: None of these are absolute truths. These 6 points don’t tell anything about how the philanthropy sector, or how the involved stakeholders, view or define the VP spectrum. They simply reflect what my mind has attempted to register after these 9 odd hours of information I’ve been trying to take up.

Last but not least: I appreciated the mix of people from all over Europe in class (yes, back to the classroom!). All theory and intellectualspeak aside, there’s nothing more enriching than hearing other practicioners talk about their interests and challenges in their pathway to build a better society in their respective regions.

If to learn is life’s objective, today was a good day. 

More tomorrow! Or later.

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Such a normal day….but not normal at all

My thathuvam tagline of this blog has never been more applicable: looking for clarity through confusion…

On my way to work this morning, I just wanted to get inside the office as quickly as I could, having read about the madness of explosions in that departure hall I know so well. On my walk to work, approaching the European parliament, I read about the metro blast at Maalbeek. Detour please, I just had to.

At the end of my day at work, I wanted to be home as soon as I could but I didn’t feel like stepping out of the building

But I packed up and left. Didn’t want to take public transport. Couldn’t either … No worries. So many people were walking to their respective destinations…felt safe

A strange inhibition and restraint… Combined with this feeling that I am among my people here. Among my society. One of Brussels. That I have people all around me, all through the city, going through the same shock and pain. Sharing the same feeling of surprise how this could happen…But also experiencing the same acceptance that it was more a matter of when, not if

Because there might be a self-fulfilling prophecy taking place here

In the evening I watched some House of Cards… I watched a debate on the Belgian TV channel of experts talking, politicians sharing, people expressing that love is all conquering but not understanding why that most natural sensation of our human kind is not a priority any longer for some…au contraire. They let hate define them, and guide each and every of their actions. Despicable.

I saw how teachers were giving space for kids in class today to ask their questions, to say how do felt hearing about all that happened today.

Children saying that we should simply find a way to close all those bomb shops

Ha

Youthful innocence and naivety. No, actually. Youthful common sense rather. We grow up and lose it.

The path towards adulthood is full of obstacles, challenges, opportunities. How do we deal with it ? How does our context allow us to deal with it? Do we find support? Do we have the guts as individuals? Do we have the skills to do so? Are we guided?

Why do some get the guidance to deal with it, and others not?

Clichéd questions and clichéd answers is all I feel we will be hearing the coming days and weeks. That is all that is going through my head right now as well. Where’s the ratio when you need it.

Normal and understandable. But at the same not normal and completely incomprehensible. This cannot go on. This needs to stop.

What world are we creating with negative vibes all over the fucking place. As if walls in our minds aren’t enough, some are gaining popularity talking about concrete walls to create permanent and sustained divisions.

Oh yea sirens dominating Brussels all day long. Was kind of growing accustomed to it as Brussels has a lot of it these days. Today we moved a step beyond that. My mind and heart is a jukebox. Constant soundscape of drums, violins, pianos, flutes, voices. Soundscape of sirens, no thank you. ‘Avancez, avancez’, the police vehicles announce as they speed and try to find a way through the traffic. Went to another level today.

Senseless violence. Victims who just wanted to do good for their family, go to work, go from A to B. Madness.

The work some organizations across the continent – nay, across the world – do in order to bridge cultural gaps, to create mutual understanding, to increase contact among societal groups who do not at all know each other, such things are so important. We need these initiatives. They are essential if at some stage at least we want to make that utopia (shit that’s not a promising word) come at least partly reality.

Crazy stuff. Tomorrow’s always a new day. Love your loved ones. Respect them. Respect people you do not know either.

Let’s get a grip.

Never too late to (re)launch a new idea.

Umpteenth attent to revive this blog. Despite all the flow of thoughts and ideas that enter this head of mine, bringing them out in a useful and fun manner on this web page remains a challenge 🙂 however last week had an impulse to get it going again… so why’ that …

I attended an interesting first Skills to Succeed event organized by Accenture last week. To give the context, Skills to Succeed is Accenture’s global program on Corporate citizenship, where they want to invest in increasing the employability of people who are furthest off from the labour market, as well as boost the entrepreneurship skills of youth.

Considering the closeness of this to my own work at the Foundation on labour market integration of migrants in Belgium, I attended the meet and met up with a bunch of very interesting, intelligent, motivated and passionate people. Just a snapshot of some of the projects I heard about – already known to me or unknown

  • Teach for Belgium  falls under the Teach for all initiative; in Belgium, the NGO invests in training teachers’ teaching skills to work in the context of the most difficult schools… difficult being defined as class compositions where socially disadvantaged kids make up the majority of the pupils. Their approach being teacher empowerment to deal with these matters, is not what you find most of the time. We see plenty of strong and valuable projects where the solution is put on the side of the student/pupil – in the sense that they need to get tutored, follow private coaching, homework support etc. While this is essential and needs to continue being supported, teacher engagement and support & training, remains a strong-to-vouch-for approach as well
  • Kiron University – the highlight of the afternoon for me; the representative I encountered from this organization was damn passionate about his work. It showed me how social start-ups have very dynamic people behind them – and nééd to have such profiles. Kiron aims on higher education for refugees. Knowing that the first phase after arrival is commonly a very administrative long process (especially today considering the understandable large work load reception centres and officials have to deal with), Kiron aims to find ways to get those refugees interested in pursuing higher studies, involved in this trajectory as soon as possible. The collaboration Kiron has with Udacity, one of the major MOOC platforms on the web, is a good sign.

In light of today’s increasingly negative reporting in the media about refugees & asylum seekers, but also the negative experiences of locals in their interaction with asylum seekers, we‘re reaching a key moment in our working towards a successful and cohesive society, where any suspicion amongst “refugees and non-refugees” is absent. Making the general public more aware of initiatives such as Kiron, as well as supporting them in building and expanding their platform and communication channels, can make a real difference. I am sure we have not heard the last of this initiative and I certainly plan to follow it up and get to know more about it.

Finally, one of the interesting sessions taking place at the event was a quick brainstorm in small groups on a societal topic  you wish to tackle. Our group, made up of people from Accenture, Actiris (Brussels’ public employment agency), Microstart (financing social start-ups) and ING, went for the topic of professional integration of youngsters.

It was an excellent and productive 20 minutes, where I’m glad the idea I put forward on moving from classic interviews to a different face-to-face session where people can show  their skills when applying for jobs, was developed as our solution to this problem.  If I build on the idea we worked on yesterday, I come to following concept which, I think, holds quite some promise as long as all parties involved (employers first and foremost) are willing to compromise on certain rules & regulations, in order to give youth a real chance at jobs, think differently about recruitment, and integrate elements social responsibility into their functioning – even if it profit making remains the logical priority for companies

Ok the idea is

  • An inter-practice (name courtesy of the ING gentleman present!) instead of an interview
  • Youth applying for a position get called in any case; there can be a system where you limit the number of applications (say, 15 tops)
  • Then, the company invites these 15 not for an interview – but for an interpractice. The applicant comes to the work place, spends 7 hours at the work place, guided by an employee (who can become the potential mentor in the future in case of potential recruitment). During these hours, he or she gets the opportunity to effectively show the skills AND, importantly, attitude required for the job they’re applying for. This helps to go beyond the classic job interview and for the applicant to illustrate why he’s most suitable for the job – and get assessed by the potential employer.
  • The interpractice importantly needs to end with a minimum one hour feedback.

The pluses of this idea

  • Compel companies to meet a predefined number of applicants
  • A contact with content
  • A guaranteed feedback
  • Oh yeah: one of the necessities in this concept is that, during the 8th hour, the boss gives a proper concrete feedback to the applicant of his or her performance during the day. Being or not being suited to the job, is something applicants when rejected do not easily get to know, due to the lack of feedback culture.
  • etc

The minuses of this idea

  • feasibility 🙂 as it requires a change of classic interview culture.
  • knowing the variety of rules, regulations, legislations which exists to streamline interview processes, I do not know if even a pilot can be effectively possible
  • in particular, limiting the number of applicants for a job and inviting all of them for this interpractice. How does it translate into reality? There are costs involved for the company to have an employee work on the assessment all day
  • an employer can decide to interview 15 people in order to simply see what is there on the market as far as talent goes, get free labour, and in the end go for other recruitment decisions in the end – or even fill in the vacancy internally
  • etc

An important addition to this concept: the jobseeker perspective is one thing. Having a company employee responsible for the assessment, is the other perspective. This person can become a stimulus for this person show his interest in personal growth, in taking up a different role, become a mentor, etc. You empower the person by – as boss – showing this vote of confidence in him or her to be capable of assessing a young talent. This can even become an essential element of an internal program for high potentials in an organization. Then again: a multinational is not a SME…

Right. Conclusion. Very stimulating day. It would be interesting to know if the above concept can inspire people to think differently and if such ideas can in the long run lead to a wholly different recruitment culture. We are after all in the 21st century. Times have changed. Old models do not function anymore. And deciding as a company to take up this type of thinking in order to identify and improve the talents of youth, is I think a very strategic decision showing willingness, guts, and a societal responsibility.

 

 

Read plenty of books….

But in the end you are the author of your own story …

The beauty of hindsight (part I)

Hmm seems like an amazing title for a blog post… I feel like doing a philosophical rambling on this topic very soon. Need to delve into the depths of my mind to come up with material. But examples galore…

To be continued…………….

Happy new year ! and another mini-lesson about the human psyche

Seems as though every new year i need to start off with a small 20 second insight into the way human interaction occurs.

While last year the event was related to me being allowed to enter a pub in Leuven thanks to my accent being Flemish enough, this time round it was some random fellow feeling the urge to warn his mate about the suspicious dude standing behind him…. which was me, who was just passing behind that second character on my way out of a pub.

Obviously with the comment being made in Dutch assuming that i do not speak Dutch, I felt it was important to clarify that point – hey, guess what, despite looking different I DO speak ‘your’ language and I DO understand every single word that you say. Looking at their age I must be even more of a Leuvenite than them….

The guy obviously felt he was acting absolutely normal and in his right – and who am I to judge how A or B talks to his friends.

But the umpteenth time of hearing that you look suspicious, simply for looking as you are, it is an absolute pain in the ***. And I wonder how deep into the human psyche we can really have an impact, some things are just innate and cannot be changed.

New year or not, even if this young gentleman was inebriated, the simple fact that my appearance/appearing behind his mate implied danger passes one simple message to me. You can only go that far in trying to improve mankind’s behaviour and to remove his innate prejudices.

My mate spoke the wisest words while leaving. Ignore the ignorant…. A good guideline in leading a healthy life. But unfortunately sometimes easier said than done. Especially if professionally you try to work on getting rid of such prejudices.

A lesson well taught and learnt. Onwards to January 1st 2015…. but luckily a detail in the greater scheme of things 🙂

Umpteenth revival… long live conferences!

Looks like this blog only gets activated when I attend conferences… this time at an event in Amsterdam on democratic innovation and civic driven change (www.borderstocross.com).

My interest for this topic was brought on after I received the opportunity to work on a project related to the topic of democracy in Belgium within the EU – generally speaking about the well documented disconnect between citizens and politicians/politics and what innovative initiatives have been developed to improve this situation.

Just got back from the first afternoon’s discussions, pretty interesting stuff. Some quick blablas from my side…

The online culture of information gathering + emitting. The urge for the immediate sharing of thoughts and responding to others’ thoughts, has radically increased the pace of political chitchat – if not always political dialogue – but has also boosted the volume of the citizen’s voice – with a variety of citizens as well grabbing the mic/keyboard. Citizens more than ever organize themselves through a variety of formats to channel not just their comments or reactions or frustrations towards politicians, but also their innovative ideas to change the dynamics of politics

An interesting observation by the keynote speaker, Geoff Mulgan from NESTA, was how in his view today’s vision of democratic innovation tends to somehow get limited a bit too often to the how citizens can start instructing the state so that the state can execute its role of service provider in a more responsive manner. In fact, he states that democratic innovations go beyond that and take place in other domains as well

  • In the interaction amongst citizens
  • In the interactions between citizens and state, which translates into the co-creation of new democratic participation processes and methods

Oh, and also learnt the term “epistemic democracy”, which talks of democracy not being just a matter of representation in order to have legitimacy, but of really tapping into all those available brains and minds of the public, and have their input into policy making. Always wonder how long such new terms and labels and titles can survive before they are replaced by new terminology…

Another fascinating observation was related to Weibo, and how the messages sent on this platform are systematically screened by Chinese authorities. On the one hand one will say, ok so you screen this and you delete what you don’t like or what can harm you – and thus you censor sensitive stuff or stuff which goes against state policy.

Then again, there’s another side to this screening, namely that it allows the authorities to detect sincere complaints and concerns of citizens. Can this not be looked at as an efficient form of citizens’ participation and responsive government, if this screening can lead to authorities responding to these worries of the public and, in short, taking action to improve the situation.

It’s cool being a novice and a learner in topics……. but only till a certain stage. From then on, the urge to know more becomes far too big! Guess this conference on democracy comes at the right moment for me …

Day one’s thoughts…

Very nice first day at the conference. It had a first for me, as I was actively tweeting in the morning, and must say that the experience is good fun. As I don’t use Twitter that much, I at times wonder how – if at all – I could ever see an added value in it for myself.

However, during the morning session on ‘branding for foundations’, I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise. The brain does a good analysis of relevant (in my opinion) information if I aim at putting out a key message in under 140 characters! Crucially, it lessens the need to take overly detailed notes, something I have far too often the habit of doing at conferences. Instead the mind is bent on keeping this knowledge capture process targeted, useful and valuable. To be continued…

Some random points I retain from yesterday…

– on branding: do not simply look at what you as a foundation want to fund (inward looking approach), but be authentic by letting societal needs and issues define your work. This authenticity creates your brand.

– on urban planning: in the world’s megacities, the pace of urbanization is becoming greater than the capacity for central governments to plan for this growth. Work on empowering central governments to empower local governments: then pragmatic and realistic planning becomes more feasible.

– on upscaling good projects: let context define your approach. Upscaling is one of many paths, as is replicating your project in other locations. As long as you do it in partnership with local communities, local authorities, it’s fine.

Hope to elaborate on each of these a bit later! On to day two…

Landed at Copenhagen…

Arrived at the EFC conference in Copenhagen today. While it formally sets off tomorrow, this evening I already had an occasion to mingle at a dinner with some of the participants of the 2013 Next Generation: a programme for professional development which the EFC has set up. Was myself fortunate enough last year to be part of the 2012 group, and have already met some fun people today.

Oh, and the cab drive to the restaurant was interesting:
– super friendly taxi driver giving me some good tourist tips
– Cph seems to be seriously innovative when it comes to architecture. The hotel I myself am staying in, a standard hotel and nothing high end, is designed by Daniel Libeskind – and while I don’t know anything about architects, I do know that this guy is big !

All this was preceded by a pleasant flight of 1h30, which I unknowingly managed to divide in three equally interesting and useful chunks:
– reading a paper on Indian philanthropy
– sleep !!!
– listening to some ARR music

Onwards to an interesting and enriching couple of days now!

Kadal: an all time great Mani/ARR musical

Ah.. Kadal. What a soundtrack. How complete and diverse, yet with a clear theme running through its soundscape (I have always wanted to use this fancy word so will do so now, without knowing well enough what it refers to :-P). Kadal is an utter gem, on par with my other favourites from the genius pair: Kannathil Muthamittaal, Iruvar, Aayutha Ezhuthu.

Voices, layers of voices..

The catholic prayer/hymn touches, and spiritual presence..
My favourite composition from this album brings out these two elements in the most wonderful manner…

  • It is understandable if one misses/overlooks the presence of the western classical / church touch which sets off Moongil Thottam. Those first notes … Just play or imagine the same on a harpsichord or a church organ: would fit perfectly…
  • the voices: well, self-explanatory really. Interplay Harini/Abhay is top notch..their singing is wonderful..

My other ( 😉 ) favourite … Chithirai Nila.. Vijay Yesudas’ voice is so soothing. Varigal excellent.. The flow of the tune and rhythm in the background take me back to another classic, Thoda Thoda from Indira. The tempo and rhythm change towards the end of the song is great, but the true crowning glory is the chorus’ finishing of “Sirikkum” (while Vijay sings “Adho adho ore nila”), dropping down the scale from that high note to the base… superb!

Well, the rest of the songs are great too! But there’s just something about these two…