Women Of The C-Suite: “Look for simple solutions to complex problems” With Eva Yazhari, CEO of Beyond Capital

“I strongly believe that impact investing is a lifestyle, a mindset that is available to all.

“I strongly believe that impact investing is a lifestyle, a mindset that is available to all. It goes beyond simply investing your money so that it makes a return. Investing in social causes achieves that goal of traditional investing, but its effects are so much greater than that. I am encouraged and excited that millennials are embracing impact investing beyond earlier generations. (More than 70 percent of millennials have made an impact investment in their lifetime.)”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Eva Yazhari, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Capital, an impact investment fund that invests in seed-stage for-profit social enterprises serving impoverished communities throughout India and East Africa.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career path is the culmination of my background in the financial industry (I worked in the impact investment, venture capital, and asset management industries for 14 years) and my family legacy of public service.

My grandfather operated a healthcare clinic in rural Tanzania in the 1950s, uprooting his young family and relocating to Africa to carry out his mission. His dedication to helping people and building community inspired my husband and I to launch Beyond Capital in 2009. We set out to leverage our collective financial and business backgrounds and professional, personal, and philanthropic networks to create an impact investment fund that partners with innovative seed-stage companies actively helping their communities in India and East Africa by providing basic goods and services in affordable, accessible, and sustainable ways.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I recall the exact moment when I realized how a small amount of money can go a long way for helping startups in developing countries.

In our first year, we were on the heels of completing an investment into a revolutionary healthcare and clean water business to serve families living under the poverty line in India. At that time we were investing $10,000 and planning to add more capital later on. Even nine years ago, this amount would have been peanuts to a young company in the U.S., yet in India it was crucial seed capital to get the business off the ground.

The CEO called me to ask for the funds before we had set the date to complete the wire transfer because he was so enthusiastic to get the business growing after he had bootstrapped it himself for a number of months. Later on this business went on to raise millions, and the funding landscape in India for social enterprises has developed significantly. But at that time I remember being in awe of how so little could have the potential to spark such a large impact.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was visiting a healthcare company in Rajasthan, India, in a very remote rural village. We stopped to visit one of health clinics that this enterprise was operating. Upon opening the car door, I missed a blind spot in looking behind me and hit a motorbike. No one was hurt, but it was extremely embarrassing as I damaged the company CEO’s car! (And, he never let me repay him.)

At that moment, however, I realized the extreme cultural sensitivities associated with investing in a different country and culture. Being a foreigner I attracted a lot of attention to the accident and caused the company unnecessary headaches. I learned that as an investor we cannot simply waltz in and think we know everything. Instead, partnering with the right entrepreneurs who are ingrained in their local context is key for investment success. It has taken me nine years to get to know the landscape of rural India, and there is much more to learn about how people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid live and spend their money. In many ways their needs are the same as ours, but their cultural norms may be extremely different.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Beyond Capital is structured as a nonprofit, meaning that in addition to seeking out, vetting, and providing investment opportunities for impact investors, our team is able to offer pro bono services to our entrepreneur partners. Often we are the first professional investor in these early-stage enterprises — so we collaborate closely with entrepreneurs to implement infrastructure that is crucial to helping the business succeed, especially in developing nations.

Beyond Capital also focuses on social enterprises perceived by those outside the market to carry higher risk than these companies actually bear. These entrepreneurs struggle to raise funding from the local ecosystem because there is not sufficient capital available. A recent study (2016) by Bridges Ventures and the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association indicated that lack of access to seed finance ($10,000 — $100,000) prevent impact-driven social businesses in Africa to develop business models to a stage where they are ready to take on investment and scale their operations. Over the nine years since our founding, Beyond Capital has helped fill the seed capital gap for social enterprise startups in these markets and realized a 27% IRR to plow into new investments.

We often travel to meet our partners on the ground in the communities they are positively affecting. It is these trips that help us understand the real day-to-day impact these companies are having in the lives of people who desperately need access to clean energy, healthcare, water, and sanitation.

On our last trip to East Africa, we met with the women behind Kasha, a technology-based enterprise that is providing confidential, culturally sensitive access to personal and health care products to women living in rural Rwanda. By directly working with 15 female entrepreneurs in their communities, Kasha is able to fulfill more than 22,000 orders of much-needed products every month, those that women would otherwise not be able to readily access. The company is growing and scaling into Kenya at present.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have exciting plans for growth for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. We have a fundraising goal of $2 million, which we will use to invest in 12 social enterprises split evenly between India and East Africa.

Because we are organized as a nonprofit organization, we seek out donations in addition to large investments from corporations, foundations, family offices, and individuals. Anyone can become an impact investor with a simple donation to Beyond Capital, which we put towards our companies and their missions.

I strongly believe in making impact investing accessible. We are introducing our Ambassador Program this September, in which donors making annual contributions will have the unique opportunity to engage with Beyond Capital’s team and our portfolio at a more intimate level. They will benefit from Beyond Capital’s expertise in capital allocation and diligence process management and can forge relationships with co-investors and later-stage funders.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

By looking at your leadership role as an opportunity to invest in people, you go beyond being a leader and become a mentor. I learned this while working with some of the best and brightest minds on Wall Street, and it is a guiding principle that helps in my work with entrepreneurs.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Beyond Capital’s team is large, diverse, and literally spread out across the world. I’ve found that staying in regular communication is key to success — both on the big wins and the day-to-day accomplishments a business needs to thrive. Yes, we have more formal meetings, communications, and reporting that we all adhere to, but I also find a quick check-in via WhatsApp (especially for our partners and staff based in India and East Africa) goes a long way in ensuring we’re all connected and aligned on our mission.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Keren Eldad, my high-performance and life coach. She guided me to shift my outlook on life to be more positive and helped teach me the tools to take inspired action everyday. Rather than constantly doing, my days are filled more with creativity, connection and fun (and I still get a lot done). I also am able to better think out of the box and, with my team, innovate on how we invest, reach supporters, and communicate our work.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My husband and I didn’t want to wait until we were retired to do meaningful work. Since we founded Beyond Capital, our work has made a difference in the lives of 2.4 million people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid, 1.7 of whom are women, through utilizing our backgrounds to find and invest in the most legitimate and viable social enterprises.

It is essential to us to seek out and partner with people who share our mission and whose values align with our own. From the entrepreneurs we invest in to our Board of Directors to our staff members, including those who are based in these communities in India and East Africa, we feel that our reach is increased exponentially thanks to our individual talents and interests in addition to our shared vision and passion.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Surround yourself with people whose values, missions, and passions align with your own. At Beyond Capital, each collaboration we take on needs to meet our number one goal of helping to improve the quality of life for individuals living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Our Chief Investment Officer is a 7-year long volunteer and often says he is “having his second career at the same time as his first.”
  2. Never lose sight of the big picture of why you’re doing what you do while completing day-to-day tasks. As a small, nimble team, we all contribute to achieving our mission.
  3. Look for simple solutions to complex problems. Making an impact on some of the world’s most pressing social issues can be overwhelming; making small changes that have larger implications can help alleviate anxiety about achieving our goals by producing tangible results. Take, for example, our partnership with Frontier Markets, a company that is providing clean solar energy options in rural Rajasthan, India, where deaths from dangerous kerosene products rank in the millions — largely children — per year.
  4. Conduct comprehensive due diligence. Establishing a partnership’s goals at the outset of the collaboration keeps everyone on track and allows for regular assessments. We aren’t doing any favors by not knowing the ins and outs of what our capital is invested in.
  5. Infuse your outside interests into your work. My parents were working artists, so I was raised to appreciate art and design. These interests influence and shape all aspects of my life, and therefore, how I approach my work, with an appreciation for beauty, design and a sense of greater purpose.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I strongly believe that impact investing is a lifestyle, a mindset that is available to all. It goes beyond simply investing your money so that it makes a return. Investing in social causes achieves that goal of traditional investing, but its effects are so much greater than that. I am encouraged and excited that millennials are embracing impact investing beyond earlier generations. (More than 70 percent of millennials have made an impact investment in their lifetime.)

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If they say it’s impossible, remember they’re saying it is impossible for THEM not for YOU.”

I believe in boundless possibilities. In the past 10 years I have grown Beyond Capital’s portfolio to nine investments, raised my son, moved three times, and renovated three homes. And, it has all felt great!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Michael Bloomberg for his commitment to business, social causes, and the environment.

Jane Fonda because of her humor and realness. She walks the talk! I recently saw her in LA driving her own Prius.

Pope Francis for his dedication to approaching the world’s greatest social challenges with extreme clarity and grace.

Originally published at medium.com

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