Each time I return from conducting on-the-ground due diligence with potential new social impact enterprises I learn something new. Or, at a minimum, I reinforce what I already know to be true. It may be something specific to add to, amend or reinforce the GIF mission criteria. It may be something about myself. It may be something so unexpected that you can only scratch you head as there seems to be no way to explain it, though it remains true. Here are a few examples:
GIF: When we consider a new social enterprise, we always seek out those that demonstrate market connectivity. Without it, the difficulty of generating revenue and pinpointing a pathway to sustainability is daunting. Who are the customers? What is their revenue and margin contribution? Have they reordered? This is especially true when an enterprise is dependent upon retail. It is equally daunting for those enterprises that rely almost entirely on their distribution model.
Now, this is not a revelation. Market connectivity is true for any enterprise, social or otherwise, but often we discover that social entrepreneurs struggle to develop that connectivity. Selling the double bottom line vision of the social enterprise is far easier than convincing retail that they should give you the shelf space and time they need to build a sustainable revenue stream.
Me: The grace exhibited by the very poor is humbling. There is no way to avoid it. It is good for the soul and you never know when it will smack you right in the face. Of course, I know this too. However, even though I have done this for a while, I am always amazed that the poor living hand to mouth will always share their food with a stranger. Equally true is the lack of hyperbole exhibited by the poor. There is little of the “woe is me” syndrome. There is virtually no exaggeration. Politicians everywhere could learn something from those with nothing.
The Unexplainable: India is a vast nation, extraordinary in so many ways. Yet, the attitude towards waste in most places is hard to grasp. Go into an Indian home and depending upon the economic status the home is generally always clean. Step outside the front door and there is waste everywhere. Private space… clean. Public space … filthy. Except in India, as I have begun to understand, there is no concept of public space. What we consider public space in the west is considered nobody’s space in India. That simple twist of logic is the reason why trash is thrown out car windows and public roads are littered with waste. They are not public roads. They are nobody’s roads. Wrap your head around that! Even after this was explained to me by several people I still cannot understand it.
After returning from a long trip abroad I always go through a period of reflection. Recovering from jet lag always results in late night, early morning reverie where reassessment of my own life seeps from the immediacy of the recent cultural immersion. People that know me, know that I am generally, eminently prepared for rigorous travel, unanticipated events and the inevitability of change. Some might even characterize me as an aging prepper forever reliving my youth on my own terms. This I will not argue with. Yet, even with all that experience I always return home pondering, questioning whether or not what I am doing, how I am doing it and what I am learning is relevant to my daily life. I have never viewed myself as a masochist, so I have concluded that indeed it is.