GOOD

Why We Should Stop Talking About Changing the World

When I announced to my family and friends that I would be moving to India for six months, I think most of them imagined me in a sun-lit classroom with a gaggle of tiny Indian village children. Although that is nothing like my day-to-day life in India, I recently found myself at Hippocampus Learning Centers (HLC). While the preschool students sang me “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” my mind fixated on the dichotomy of this moving scene and my interview the previous week with HLC’s founder, Umesh Malhotra.


When I walked into my interview with Umesh, I expected some inspirational words on how HLC, a chain of affordable preschools in rural India, is changing the world. However, I left the meeting unsure if I just interviewed a social entrepreneur or read The Lean Startup.

“Get your product ready so you can take it to the market, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Umesh told me. Uh… we are still talking about bright yellow painted preschools with a hippopotamus mascot, right? Umesh added, “They may buy [your product] and say, ‘this is crap!’ But they were willing to pay for the product.” He was not messing around.

I visited two of HLC's 104 locations in the Indian state of Karnataka and it’s evident why they’ve been able to scale—they have a workhorse entrepreneur at their helm.

Why haven’t I heard more about no-nonsense entrepreneurs like Umesh? People in the impact space want to talk about number of children educated and clean drinking water, not gross margins or human resources—but those are often the most important parts of an impactful enterprise. We are exposed to the “show ponies” all the time—the people sitting on panels, winning awards, and talking about “changing the world,” but those people aren’t always investable. At Unitus Seed Fund, the seed-stage investment fund where I work, we invest in the workhorses, like Umesh. When the risk of failure is high, they are the only ones who have a chance of succeeding.

As Umesh observed and I’ve felt as well, impact investing is seen as the “five times removed cousin of mainstream investing.” It’s still seen as “soft”—focused on storytelling and not returns. However, after working at Unitus Seed Fund and meeting with entrepreneurs like Umesh, I feel this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Building a business like HLC is much more complicated than building a chain of preschools that target a wealthier population. Umesh’s margins are razor thin, so he has to be extremely efficient. This is increasingly difficult when you have a distributed business in places with poor Internet connection. Despite these challenges, HLC is succeeding. They are already seeing profits. “Will money be made? Yes, definitely,” Umesh confirmed. “Will it be obscene? It better not be. Obscene means people are paying higher fees and they should be lower.”

Why aren’t we talking more about the business aspect of impact? Good ideas mean nothing when they aren’t coupled with execution. Let’s change the conversation and talk to more people like Umesh. Let’s focus our attention on the workhorses and not the “show ponies.” Only then when I explain to my family and friends what I do for a living, they won’t think charity. They’ll think business.

Articles
via Alan Levine / Flickr

The World Health Organization is hoping to drive down the cost of insulin by encouraging more generic drug makers to enter the market.

The organization hopes that by increasing competition for insulin, drug manufacturers will be forced to lower their prices.

Currently, only three companies dominate the world insulin market, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Over the past three decades they've worked to drastically increase the price of the drug, leading to an insulin availability crisis in some places.

In the United States, the price of insulin has increased from $35 a vial to $275 over the past two decades.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

The NRA likes to diminish the role that guns play in fatal shootings by saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Which is the same logic as, "Hammers don't build roofs, people build roofs." No duh. But it'd be nearly impossible to build a roof without a hammer.

So, shouldn't the people who manufacture guns share some responsibility when they are used for the purpose they're made: killing people? Especially when the manufacturers market the weapon for that exact purpose?

Keep Reading Show less
Business
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The 2020 election is a year away, but Donald Trump has some serious ground to cover if he doesn't want it to be a historical blowout.

A Washington Post- ABC News poll released Tuesday shows that Trump loses by double digits to the top Democratic contenders.

Vice President Joe Biden (56%-39%); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (54%-39%); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (56%-39%); South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (52%-41%); and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (52%-41%) all have big leads over the president.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics