6 Impact Investing Lessons from the 2015 KIWA Summit

Derk Norde

Derk is a co-founder at MovingWorlds.org, a global platform connecting people who want to volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations.

Last week, the first KIWA Investment Summit took place in Quito, Ecuador, bringing together almost 200 professionals from all over the world for 3 days of  insights, networking and investor matchmaking.

The KIWA Summit Organizing Team: Martin Acosta (KIWA), Alissa Sears (Christie Communications, Ted Ning (LOHAS Group), Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter (Impacto Quito).

Thanks to Martin Acosta, CEO of KIWA and the amazing organizing team, representatives of the following 3 sectors were present:

  1. Impact Investing Institutions, including investors, funds, matchmakers, consultants, and international agencies
  2. Natural Foods & Beverage Companies, including entrepreneurs,  executives, and consultants
  3. Entrepreneurs, primarily from Ecuador and the wider LatAm region

And it was this unexpected mix of representatives from both the world of impact investing and natural foods that made this conference so interesting and successful.

On the one hand it was remarkably refreshing to hear insights from private sector executives that have been building companies for decades — long before “impact investing” became fashionable — sharing their experiences on how to build triple-bottom-line companies.

On the other hand the gathering felt very familiar, almost as if the group had known each other for years, as both ‘worlds’ seemed to have a natural fit with each other and shared a common goal: create healthy business that were good for the world and for people. With so many passionate people in the same place, many new professional and personal relationships were formed that will undoubtedly extend beyond this summit, and many exciting lessons were learned. Here are the top 6 Impact Investing Lessons from the KIWA Summit:

1. Latin America Has a Bright Future

Through the participating companies, we saw a new generation of entrepreneurs that work with local products and producers. These entrepreneurs are doing today what many consumers in the US and Europe are asking for: Producing fair trade and ethical products. These young companies are socially conscious, transparent and innovative. Companies like Metier Crafts (Local hand-woven luxury “Panama Hats” from Ecuador), VOZ (Fair Trade Fashion from Chile), Pacari (Premium Organic Chocolate from Ecuador) and EcoMadera (Sustainable Forestry and Timber products from Ecuador) are just a few outstanding examples.

Runa, a Guayasa-based power-drink
Runa, a Guayasa-based power-drink

2. Big Corporations Need Local Startups for Inspiration and Answers

As Dave Kingsbury of New Hope Natural Media remarked on one of the panels, “Most large companies don’t have a clue about what the next big consumer trend will be. Local startups need to show them where the innovation is.”  I can personally attest to that, when around 10 years ago I saw the first local companies starting to market products with Acai (Brazil), Stevia (Bolivia), and Chia Seeds (Guatemala). Whereas mostly unknown to the wider public at the time, today those products are mainstream in US supermarkets, and represent a multi-billion dollar  industry.

At the summit, we saw investors taking interest in new exciting products such as Golden Berries from Tankay.org and Runa.org, which are the first companies to process the Amazonian super-leaf Guayasa into a power drink, both of which are 100% locally owned.

3. Startups Need Talent, Networks and Traction before Capital

Everybody knows that Startups with significant traction are most likely to onboard investors. For LatAm-based Startups — especially in the natural foods space — it’s proven hard to grow beyond their borders, especially without major investment and international connections. Looking at some examples of LatAm companies that did successfully expanded internationally (e.g. Pacari and Kiwa), one of the lessons learned is that onboarding the right expertise, connections, and coaching from the start gives entrepreneurs a significant head-start.

There are various ways to hack your growth by leveraging international connections and funding — one way is to get connected to professionals looking to donate their skills to startups in emerging markets through matching platforms like MovingWorlds. In addition, many western countries now have government sponsored programs that promote skills-based volunteering or free advisory services.

Tom Chi (Factory X) presenting the principles of Rapid Prototyping
Tom Chi (Factory X) presenting the principles of Rapid Prototyping

4. Innovation is Fun and doesn’t have to be Expensive

Tom Chi, a pioneer in Rapid Prototyping from Factory X showed us that innovation happens when you maximize your rate of learning, no matter how small or simple you start. When working with Google X, he developed Google Glass prototype versions in a few days for just a few thousand dollars, starting with just some pieces of glass and glue.

A visit to Kruger Labs showed that this is also possible in Ecuador. Kruger developed a co-working “laboratorium” allowing young Ecuadorian entrepreneurs to experiment with new technologies. Everything goes, as long they respect the guiding principles of this community: share your knowledge and give your time to different teams.

A similar approach can be applied to “social innovation” to tackle complex social challenges. It can be refreshing — and enlightening — to approach challenges in new ways, like in a game setting where participants change roles, which allows new insights to develop and people to arrive at unexpected solutions.

5. “Impact” is What You Make of It

Design Thinking at Kruger Labs in Quito
Design Thinking at Kruger Labs in Quito

Since Impact Investing has become the next big thing, the conversation around “what is Impact, and how do we measure it?” is often heard. During a multi-disciplinary investor panel, most agreed that it is very hard to put a single definition as to what positive impact looks like, let alone how to measure it. As an example, how do you measure impact if a female employee tells you that her job allowed her to get a divorce from her abusive husband, something you as an employer knew nothing about until years later?

Maybe we should stop trying to look for the ‘Magic Formula’, as every impact organization has its own objectives and spin-offs, and this diversity is a good thing. As Sebastian Carducci from TONIIC Impact Investor Network stated “You simply know impact when you see it – it should be heartfelt“.

6. “Believe In Me, As Much as I Believe In You”

One of the most inspiring presentations of the event was from renowned mountaineer Luis Benitez. He shared his personal story about guiding the blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer to the top of Mount Everest — an incredible and unlikely journey. His story taught us a valuable lesson: When you are truly sincere, you cannot fail.

Neither failure nor success are defined by reaching the summit, but rather by the journey, the connections you make, and the lessons you learn. Even if the world does not perceive you as well prepared or able, you can make the impossible possible as long as you are sincere and have people around you that believe in you, as much as you believe in them.

Luis Benitez and participants at Cotopaxi Volcano during the Unconference Orienteering Event
Luis Benitez and participants at Cotopaxi Volcano during the ‘Unconference’ Orienteering Event

We feel fortunate and honored to have been part of the KIWA Investment Summit, and are looking forward to its next edition!

To follow along for updates, including announcements about next year’s summit, be sure to visit KIWA Summit on Facebook.