Thursday, April 30, 2009

FFF Investor Pitch Session

One of the key points that came out of the investor pitch session is the idea of a well rounded but focused approach. When addressing such issues as poverty, climate change, health, and human rights and peace there is going to be the inclination to try and solve all the problems related to a particular topic rather than one.

This could clearly be seen in the pitches and the presentations. Those pitches, such as Out Against Abuse, which strove to accomplish so much (campus awareness, rape kit production, web resource, computer literacy training etc.) ended up not developing each idea to its fullest extent because it wanted to accomplish too much too soon. Other organizations, such as Public Stuff, which had a very narrow focus, was able to develop a strong well-rounded and confident idea because resources where funneled into developing one product and one service.

Fast Forward Fund Investor Pitch

This past Thursday marked the first investor pitch session for the Fast Forward Fund. It was particularly interesting being a youth director and getting the opportunity to hear these ideas come straight from the mouth of the person who had them. In almost every case I felt differently about the idea after I had heard and seen the passion in each presenter. Hearing their views on their ideas really helped me to filter out my biases about it, and allowed me to get a much clearer view of what each project might look like, why it was important, and who it would help.
I believe this is an issue of utmost importance for anybody considering an investment in anything. In order to ensure that the absolute best decision it taken, an investor, or more specifically a social investor, must attempt to see the idea from as many different viewpoints as possible. Having this opportunity allows them to see what is present in every opinion, and what is ultimately just opinion. This will allow anybody to get to the heart of the idea which they are investing in, something which is clearly of utmost importance.
This is just another example of how being open to as many new and different ideas is very important regardless of what you are doing in life. It will allow you to work infinitely better with different people and cultures and will ultimately allow you to have a much thorough understanding of the world that we live in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reactions to an Engaging Investor Pitch Session

The presentations a week ago were all great, but I particularly enjoyed the variety of initiatives that we got to hear about. Having read and reread the nominations over the course of the semester, I was confident that I understood what the social entrepreneurs were trying to do; moreover, I was skeptical about how much extra information and insight could be gleaned from hearing the social entrepreneurs present.

Clearly that skepticism was unfounded. Not only was it beneficial to add a personal element to each nomination, but indeed I think every group learned much more about each nomination, and gained valuable insight into the endeavors. Beyond learning about the initiatives, the entire exercise was beneficial and informative for us as Student Directors of FFF, and gave us a first-hand look at another part of the process.

Though Climate Change and Energy only heard from one of our nominations, it was a great experience for all. I encourage you all to check out Girl Guides USA.

Youth inspiring youth

Our last class, the FFF pitch session, was as important and educational as only a youth group meeting can be. I believe that all of us gained a lot in terms of new ideas and plans of action from the guests. I did not only enjoy the session, but I also learnt how young people can motivate other young individuals achieve their goals, dreams and ideas. The Q&A part was immensely helpful for our portfolio decisions, but at the same time it contributed to our better understanding of each project.

My take away memo from the pitch session was that everyone, especially young people, has their own personal ideas for which they live, dream and make plans. Natalia's interactive question that made us all stand up for having ideas and sit down for not being able to fund them is a vivid example that funding is a major obstacle. Quoting Buddha by his words that “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea" tells us that no matter how interesting and fascinating an idea could be, if it is not put into action, it is not as important as it could be with a little more action, i.e. investing.

All I am trying to say is that Yes, we all have ideas and Yes, we all need money to make those ideas true. However, finding those money is the hardest part. I appreciate the fact that we, the FFF students directors, had the chance to meet with other young individuals that showed us their ideas and inspired us even more. Even though I am part of the health portfolio group I would like to see not only the health projects put into action. I would love to see ALL of them come true. But how??? All of us were deeply interested in the pitch session and that was proven by our questions, participation and interviews. On the other side of the story is the truth that none of us can practically (meaning financially) help those motivated individuals. I want to take an action, but I can't invest with money in all those great projects. It seems like our next step should be finding a way to make other people interested into those projects, people with money and a little more power. We, the FFF students and youth directors, might not be able to be the real investors, but we can take the initiative to involve other people into this great activity.

To me the pitch session was a meeting for youth to inspire other youth. Let's make youth inspire investors and thus invest in the success of others' great ideas. Funding should not be the reason why we should sit down, but the reason we would stand up and fight for.

A Worthy Investment?

The 92nd Street Y 8th floor kitchen became an FFF director debate room Monday night. Ioana, Saranda, and I discussed the pitches and constructively argued their premises, implications, and entrepreneurial fervor.

My opinions and impressions were changed and enriched by theirs and I found myself heading back to my room with an underlying question - Which investment(s) is worthy of Fast Forward funds?

PublicStuff's entrepreneur and website impressed me on a success/professional level. She knew what she was doing, she was smart and seasoned, the pitch was business-like and she was a go-getter. But can I back investing in a human right - albeit arguably very worthy - that streamlines community members' access to local government when torture exists as it does in Sierra Leone? I can certainly support better resource access for Southeast Asian women victims of domestic abuse (Out Against Abuse). But the entrepreneurial venture seemed to spread its resources too thin, to try to appeal to too many audiences, and to too vaguely address too many concerns without enough research to back up potential efficacy.

There's value in passion and there's value in strong logistics. And, too, there must be a core idea that makes sense and will work. But to come across all the ingredients best suited for high impact change in a core area of need is rare indeed. I've learned to be both more respectful and more critical, and I take valuable lessons from this pitch that I expect will help me in many of my future social justice ventures.

Investor Pitch Thoughts

Having had a chance to go through the investor pitch last week, I feel obliged to share my feelings on how one’s initial criticism toward an organization can be so effectively defeated by the ability of its representative to be capable of defending itself, while organizations that are well prepared for presenting yet do not offer the expertise to answer criticism, or are even offered criticism, frequently appear lackluster and disappointing.

It should come as no surprise that our group, when asked to consider Girl Guides USA, was nonplussed by the wide range of similarities the group seemed to have to the ages old and familiar Girl Scouts, including the very fact that they both shared funding in some respects. However, our criticism and skepticism proved valuable insofar as we never reached the point of completely dismissing the organization in our minds. Thus, when the presenter was asked to defend her organization in regards to the heavy criticisms we had been able to find, she was able to answer very harsh questions and prove her organization’s ideals to be resilient both in the face of close competition and investor criticism. We were, to say the least, impressed with her answers and all commended her for being so involved with her organizations goals.

Yet in another presentation that was not aimed to our group, I felt the a negative experience emanating. The presentation was given in a very wooden manner with well prepared, but static, responses that did not convey a feeling of actual belief on the part of the presenter. The questions asked were detailed, but not critical, and the answers given on the part of the presenter were accordingly free to just regurgitate more statistics and promises. I would have appreciated both harsher questioning on the part of my fellow directors, and an increased degree of personal input on the part of the presenter. The negative combination we saw in this incident had me imagining that we could have replaced the speaker with a computer with voice recognition software to read off parts of the website to the directors when questioned.

I feel that these investor pitch events are ideal situations in which we can put good potential projects on the defensive through our heated questions. When we demand answers to real criticism that is inherent in any organizational structure, we get farther as an organization and come to trust the people who are selling the idea to us more.

Youth Investing in Youth

Wrapping up the very inspiring investor pitch session, Natalia Oberti Noguera of NYWSE asked those present to stand up if they ever had an idea. Everybody in the room instantly got up. When asked if they also had the resources to materialize it, all but one sat down. She then explained that it was this immense disconnection between vision and action that prompted the creation of the Fast Forward Fund.

All the initiatives that were presented last week clearly reflected the passion, energy and consideration that their architects had already invested in them. Taken as a whole, they were diverse, and separately, all ideas were original and well-suited. Somebody had a plan to improve health primary health care in Mali, and somebody else was helping underprivileged Indian women to achieve higher education. What’s more, all entrepreneurs were young! Not only did they display confidence and ability, but also great potential for future growth. Before, the general mindset was to timidly wait for those more experienced to come up with solutions. Now, if you have an idea, you have the responsibility to take action yourself!

As a student director for the poverty alleviation portfolio I was very excited for the two projects we are considering, Illume and Early Earners. The pitch session provided us the opportunity not only to clarify some aspects of the proposals, but also to meet the people behind the ideas. Talking to the entrepreneurs gave me a better understanding of how the experience is for them as well, and I trust that we are now better equipped to evaluate the challenges and strengths of our investment choices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Investing is Action!

This week, FFF Student Directors are visiting The Action Center in lower Manhattan. Two years ago, I was working with Mercy Corps when The Action Center was in forward two springs later and it's up and running, led by a colleague I greatly admire, Robert Sherman. Robert joins an impressive roster of guest speakers (largely drawn from FFF talented Board!) enriching this semester's training through BGIA's Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy class. Very cool to build on our site visits to Echoing Green, Acumen Fund, and our guest speakers including Michele Kahane (Clinton Global Initiative), Natalia Oberti Noguera (NY Young Women Social Entrepreneurs)...

Fast Forward Fund Investor Pitch with a Punch!

Fast Forward Fund held its first Youth-to-Youth Investor Pitch session last week at Bard Globalization & International Affairs program, featuring 7 awesome social entrepreneurs nominated by two of FFF's Premiere Pipeline Partners: Global Engagement Summit and New York Women Social Entrepreneurs. Thirteen FFF Portfolio Student Directors from half a dozen countries probed their peers inquiring about specific tactics (market strategy, growth management plan, service delivery) and personal leadership vision. The diverse social ventures ranged from the Mali Health Organizing Project, catalyzing healthcare solutions in Mali slums (pitched by Mobido Niang & Caitlin Cohen), to Out Against Abuse, an interactive online resource to stop domestic violence in South Asian immigrant communities in the US (pitched by Sabrin Chowdhury). Amazing to see these savvy youth investors in action, and hear from visionary youth leading social investment opportunities across FFF 4 Portfolios: Climate Change & Energy, Poverty Alleviation, Human Rights & Peace, and Health.