Advancing social ventures

Greetings from Bain London! I wanted to share two experiences I have had recently that make me especially proud of Bain’s commitment to social impact and the incredible things we can be involved in as part of our jobs: being a judge for the Hult Prize and launching our own social venture initiative.

Being a Judge for the Hult Prize 

On Saturday, March 2, five Bain leaders around the world—in London, Dubai, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Boston–were judges in the regional semifinals of the Hult Prize. The Prize, started four years ago in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, seeks to identify social ventures that tackle some of the most challenging issues facing the developing world. This year, President Clinton chose the theme of ‘hunger in urban communities’, as most NGOs and governments focus on rural food insecurity and less on hunger in slums.

Over 30 teams competed in each of the regional semifinals, and the winners of each competition, as well as the winner of an ‘online’ semifinal, are given the chance to work with social entrepreneurs in an accelerator over the summer, and come back to compete for a $1 million prize in the fall!

The ideas were fascinating. In London, they focused on two main themes. The first theme was about better ways to produce food — the regional winner, from the University of Cape Town, had developed a way to grow a full vegetable garden in a bag (!). We also saw several ideas around aquaculture, cold storage units in slums to better preserve food, and use of mobile technology to get produce to market faster. Other ideas focused more on community and education programs—for example, an idea to combine a bank with a provisions store to encourage saving whilst providing low-priced basic goods. To me the most innovative idea of the day was turning used shipping containers into community kitchens, employing women and teaching each other how to cook more nutritiously. They are currently piloting this in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi.

For the judges it was a great chance to meet leaders from other companies who are interested in Social Impact. In London, we had senior folks from the private sector–Google, Korn Ferry, P&G, Deutsche Bank and Ferrovial–as well as a great group of social entrepreneurs. Fiona Gately, the founder of Healthy Nation, a charity working with Jamie Oliver and the British government on school food improvements, was on my team.

But it was a very challenging day as well. We were there for nearly 12 hours and disagreed a lot as judges — some of us were looking for visionary ideas, others for lots of detail on execution, and still others for evidence of a great team. In my group, we fought quite hard for the ideas we were most passionate about (and have been helping some of the runner-up teams to sharpen their ideas for next year!) All in all, it was an exciting way to stay connected to grassroots social entrepreneurs around the world, and I look forward to doing it again.

Launching Our Own Social Venture Initiative

We had a chance to run our own social venture competition the following week in the Bain London office which was very timely.

About a year ago, a group of ACs and Consultants in London came to me with the idea to start an ‘incubator’ within the London office for early-stage social ventures that we could give some financial support to as well as some consulting help. So this year, after a huge effort by the team, we launched a pilot of the ‘Bain Incubator’.

We chose four finalists for the competition from the current cohort of social ventures at the Emerge Venture Lab at Oxford. We raised the money through a silent auction, and as part of our Winter Event charity day in December, we gave them coaching on how to do a ‘perfect pitch’. On March 8, we ran a Dragons’ Den for the ventures, where they pitched their ideas to four partners and managers, for a nominal cash prize of £5,000, but more importantly, some pro bono consulting support to help them develop their idea further over the course of the year.

The ventures included: Energy Bank, a way to future-proof energy prices through investment in renewables; Student Funder, a crowdsourcing-based way to raise money for university tuition; and Meducation, a vehicle for sharing medical information between doctors and students, and into the developing world. The winning idea was Harmonie, a cool idea which seeks to increase the western market penetration of Shea Butter moisturizer from southern Chad, and through this improve the livelihoods of the women that grow it in this challenging region.

We’re very proud of this pilot venture here in London and hope to expand it in the coming years to support even more of these great ideas. And I personally look forward to staying involved as we advance social ventures to effect change.

– Karthik, Manager, London



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