This month, we’re featuring one of our partner programs with an outstanding fellowship program, Frontier Market Scouts. FMS have been training professionals to become change-makers since 2011, and we had the opportunity to ask them a few questions about how their world-class program started, and how it’s making an impact…
What is the story of FMS?
The Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program began ‘serendipitously’ at SOCAP 2010, with a chance meeting of Ross Baird, Founder of Village Capital and Dr. Yuwei Shi, former Dean of the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS).
When needing some air during a session on Impact Investing, Baird and Shi wandered out into the reception area to get a drink. The two defectors struck up a conversation on their respective work. Ross had recently launched Village Capital, an accelerator program for early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs inspired by the “Village Bank”. A new concept in Micro-finance, they use peer review to replace traditional, high-cost due diligence methods in the investment process. As he likes to describe the model – “it’s as if angel investing and micro-finance had a baby.”
Yuwei shared the ideas that he had been brewing with Sabiha Malik, a U.K. designer and philanthropist, about an experiential learning program deploying graduate students into emerging markets to identify and support early-stage social entrepreneurs. Seeing the potential of linking MIIS students with scouting opportunities at VilCap, the Frontier Market Scouts Program was born – and launched three months later with a generous grant from Sanghata Global, Sabiha’s public charity organization.
The program started with just eight MIIS graduate students in 2011. Since then, FMS has trained nearly 300 professionals and graduate students who in turn have helped scale more than 100 social enterprises in 20 countries around the world.
The FMS program consists of two core components:
First, an intensive 2-week certificate training in Social Enterprise Management and Impact Investing taught by leading professionals in the impact space offering a unique blend of industry knowledge with action-oriented, hands-on learning.
Second, a 2-12 month fellowship with a seed-stage entrepreneur or impact investing fund in the US or abroad.
Ultimately, FMS is helping to scale a compassionate and talented workforce to drive social ventures tackling major global challenges such as poverty alleviation and clean energy markets.
In 2013, FMS received the prestigious AshokaU Award. More recently, in 2014, FMS became part of the newly launched Center for Social Impact Learning (CSIL) which was made possible with a generous seed grant from the Cordes Foundation.
After completing the training, how does a FMS Fellow typically support an organization?
FMS Fellows support impact funds and social ventures around the world, adding value in a number of ways including supply chain management, financial modeling, communications design, and business development consulting. Catriona (aka “Cat”) Forrester’s story is a great example of the typical FMS Fellow and how she helped a social impact fund in Guatemala accelerate their growth. Click here to read Cat’s story about joining FMS as part of her decision to make a career and life change.
What is the most valuable thing Fellows learn through the program?
The answer depends per individual, but we think the most valuable thing a Fellow learns is what it means to work in the social impact space. Working in this sector requires grit. Most Fellows commit to joining the program without knowing what role they will take on, or where in the world they will end up. It takes a special type of person to embrace this kind of change and ambiguity – we’ve seen amazing and inspiring stories as part of this process.
What is a fun or unique thing experienced during interactions with the Fellows?
It’s definitely fun mixed with adventure. There is a lot of community building happening during the two-week training. FMS participants are spending long days in the sessions but we always find time to have a little fun which includes hiking in beautiful Big Sur, or taking a Canal Tour together in Amsterdam.
What can we expect from FMS in the future? (e.g. new round open, geographic or thematic focus, new partnerships, etc.)
The latest innovation is Social Venture Profiling (SVP) which is a workshop offered during the certificate training and a field-based research initiative. SVP provides an overview of the current system of environmental, social and governance ratings (ESG ratings and analytics), including the ones commonly used in impact investing such as GIIRS. During the training, FMS participants compare metrics systems like ESG or GIIRS with the commercial financial rating systems and associated business models. During their fellowship in the field, specific Fellows are selected to develop an Impact Venture Profile associated with their assigned organization.
The goal of SVP is to provide a platform for recognizing the expansion of impact-driven initiatives across all sectors in the public and private spheres and to enhance access to and understanding of existing and emergent social impact ventures. This initiative leverages select FMS Fellows in the field to directly assist the impact venture community (investors, venture capital firms, portfolio managers, social entrepreneurs and others). It’s our aim to develop a more holistic ecosystem for impact, and to firmly establish FMS and CSIL as a leader in the social-venture sector.