BFP: What do you do?
HK: I co-lead our Monitor Inclusive Markets unit in Mumbai. In India, we work on developing and scaling inclusive business models, working with companies, funders, investors, governments and civil society, in sectors including housing, water and sanitation. We also conduct and publish research on cross-cutting global issues in inclusive business.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
HK: Figuring out how to get business models to really work on the ground, working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs and other actors over years, not weeks or months. It doesn’t matter how elegant something looks on paper, it’s only worth something if we can make it happen, and ideally at large scale.
BFP: What do you see as the greatest challenge?
HK: Getting resources allocated against the right needs. We put the spotlight on the problem of the ‘pioneer gap’ a few years ago: there’s money chasing shiny new innovations at one end, and proven, growing enterprises at the other, and not enough focused on the tough work of validating and preparing models to really scale. And, as we’re about to talk about in our new report “Beyond the Pioneer: Getting Inclusive Industries to Scale” (published 7th April), there is also often a need for what we call ‘industry facilitation’ to help resolve scaling barriers that firms can’t fix on their own, and there’s still too little recognition of this need and resources for this work.
BFP: How can these challenges be overcome?
HK: We need to do a better job of bridging the silos we operate in. Those of us who work at the coalface in India and Africa need to find a common understanding with those who control a lot of the capital, many of whom are still in North America and Europe – this will likely change, but not overnight. Funders and investors need to start seeing that they have intersecting interests too, and really work on seeing how they can reinforce what each other is doing. We are doing our bit to help by writing and speaking about what we see on the ground, for a global audience, but there’s only so much we can do.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
HK: I started out in strategy consulting with Monitor working mainly with big multinationals on key strategic decisions, but also government. After seven years, I was ready for a change and decided to go work with The One Foundation, a pioneering European venture philanthropy fund, and then New Philanthropy Capital, a nonprofit research and advisory firm. I then spent four years setting up and running a new venture philanthropy fund at the Private Equity Foundation in London, which is where I realized that business growth and social impact were both much harder to achieve than they seemed. But the call of the developing world, and inclusive business, was too strong to resist, so three years ago I decided to head out to India with Monitor’s Inclusive Markets unit. I think my background in consulting definitely helps me operate at this frontier that we call inclusive business, but I’ve also benefited hugely from the learning that happened when I was in the nonprofit world, about the complexities of social change and the systems that are implicated in that change, and about the broader set of skills that are needed to engage with those systems.
BFP: Finally, What do you hope to get out of being part of the Business Fights Poverty community?
HK: I hope that Business Fights Poverty can really help us break down these silos that I was talking about. Being where we are in Mumbai, there are limits to how much we can engage with donors agencies in Europe, or corporates in the US, so it is really valuable to be part of a global community that is deliberately multi-sectoral and committed to the potential of inclusive business.
Thank you to Harvey Koh for taking the time to do this interview.
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