When you love your job, when you love the people with whom you work, when you love the vision of a potential partner that provides jobs for the poor while doing it in a sustainable way, it is hard to say no, especially when you know that if they succeed, they are doing something very special, something selfless, something that can transform lives for the better. Yet, it is easy to say no when you discover, sometimes quite by accident, that what you read in a report, or had been told on a call is not what is happening on the ground. The conclusion: Face-to-face due diligence in the social impact world is mandatory. Unplanned visits help. Here is an example why.
I just completed a three country review of eight different organizations. A few are potential new partners. The balance I have visited once before. In particular, one organization already funded was very unique, providing incomes for poor farmers that required little effort on their part, but was sustainable because the business model demonstrated the ability to monetize the product the farmer provided the organization, thereby showing a pathway to profitability. I loved it. They needed resources to scale. GIF was happy to help.
On my second visit I spent a day in the field to see for myself just how that monetization was performing at the point of sale. Everything looked good, so much so, that we finished our review early. Just because we could, we stopped in at the office to meet some of the new people, included the new CEO who had just assumed responsibility for the business. That unplanned, impromptu visit was an eye opener. Not only did the leadership seem to be dismissive, when I pressed for details about his plans, as if I was an annoyance added to his busy day, but also I quickly discovered that everything I thought was happening had changed. It was not that the changes were bad. In fact, they probably were (are) positive moves. However, discovering it all accidentally set me back. Moreover, the nature of the exchange was so dismissive that it was not hard to become quickly skeptical. Rightfully so, the GIF Chairman asked, “Don’t they communicate, don’t they provide the requisite reports, don’t they realize that there are hundreds of organizations seeking resources? It is our money and we choose who to work with, not them. Do they not know that above all trust is essential and that trust means sharing good and bad news in a timely manner? No surprises!” Yes. Yes. Yes. And emphatically YES!
It is a shame. This organization may succeed. I hope they succeed. But, the adage remains true, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I am hopeful it was unintentional, but I fear I would have never know had I not been there to see for myself. I have been fooled before. Experiencing it twice from the same organization is not in the job description.