Thursday, July 15, 2010

Week 5

“We’re equals,” the society secretary from a nearby dairy cooperative insisted with a kind smile. But, he added, “Indian culture is better.” After replaying the entire interaction in my head, scrutinizing it for any gesture or comment I made that may have prompted the observation and determining that the man was not responding to an unintended offense but rather making a general point, I began to think about the comment as it relates to the investor/investee relationship. The point touches on what I see as an inherent tension between investors and portfolio companies and the complicated task of providing lasting technical assistance. Though the impact investor’s goal is to provide guidance that helps the company develop and grow in a way that strengthens its social and environmental impact, the investor must be patient enough to resist doing too much too soon, be truly committed to co-creating a common vision and be cognizant of the power he/she has in the relationship. In order to establish and maintain an egalitarian and effective partnership, both sides should prioritize the relationship-building phase early on in the process and acknowledge that capacity building takes time. If the investor shows an understanding and appreciation of the cultural context while providing immediate non-monetary value to the company, and the investee is not only receptive to technical assistance and but actively involved in defining the scope of the assistance, I believe some of the pitfalls of TA and possible power imbalances may be circumvented.

Now that I’ve spent a month with SKEPL I’m especially attuned to this challenge. Though some of the projects I’m working on could result in a finalized powerpoint deck or excel model, I’m attempting to focus less on developing full fledged solutions and more on using those deliverables to impart whatever knowledge I can. In this vein I’ve been working on developing a decision-making process to help SKEPL better assess and prioritize new opportunities. With the survey pilot behind us we’re developing a plan to roll out the survey to the six service centers in India and collect input from at least 200 of the 2000 cooperatives. The last couple of days have been focused on developing a strategy for SKEPL to further explore the company’s interest in Kenya as a potential market.

No week of work here is exempt from the personal and this week was no exception. To honor the opening of the new office the company staff and their families spent Tuesday morning conducting a pooja in the office. It was a beautiful celebration and, for prashant lovers (among whom I count myself), a delicious one as well.

Included here are photos of the office staff (above), pooja treats and altar.

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