In this new year, we might just need to find our inner tiger

by Priya Thachadi

One of the biggest highlights for me in 2021 (or ever) was seeing the majestic tiger at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India. My family and I were in an open jeep accompanied by an experienced guide and driver, whose unmatched passion for conservation, helped us maintain distance and etiquette, making sure we were not disrupting the calls of the wild, as far as possible. The guide had spotted a recent kill at a location and bet that the tiger would be back at some point in the morning. While two jeeps waited out, all eyes were on the kill. As the hours trickled by, some fatigue and unrest swept over the groups. But there was still lingering hope. While the rest of the group was focused on the hill across the stream on our right, I happened to turn away for a moment to our left. The red terrain and the brown trees all seemed to merge together. And then I saw a rustle, there slowly emerged a set of black and white stripes, the orange camouflaged. A sense of fear, excitement, and admiration came over me in an instant, It took me a few seconds to signal to the rest of the group that the tiger was indeed among our midst. Then for the next few moments, all of us watched in dizzying amazement, the tiger striding across the road with an absolute focus towards the kill, to continue its business.

With the Year of the Tiger upon us, it got me thinking about the resolve of the tiger I saw in the reserve. It was in its natural habitat, yet there was huge activity every time it moved about during the day. But despite the din, the tiger was unwavering in its focus, undeterred to follow the path it had chosen, but flexible enough to change routes to get to its outcome.

A large part of my work revolves around ecosystem building, bringing people together around problems, and finding ways to address the gaps. I spent a good part of last year in conversations with peer ecosystem builders and impact investors in figuring out what’s needed, what we could all do more of. It’s a good time as any to be bold, focused, and look ahead through the mist. So what can we do?

Lead the pack with demand-led financing for early-stage impact enterprises: Many early-stage enterprises with great potential are in that no man’s land between grants and an institutional raise, the ‘missing middle.’ At this stage, they still ‘need more traction’ and ‘a bit bigger revenues’ to attract investments – this risk stage needs risk-adjusted capital. There is definitely a gap in the market, for demand-led financing or risk capital, one that is flexible, has the ability to take a bit more risk, with the objective of helping the enterprises get ready with the proof points and data rooms for an institutional raise. Smaller Private Impact Investors (PIIS) are among those who can play this role more frequently. But it takes a lot of good intention, effort, and innovation to get it done – understandable, as due diligence takes as much time and money as larger institutional deals. The gap exists and is desperately seeking more investors to jump in. Our investors and team at Impact Pioneers made two such investments recently, you can read about it here.

Create safe spaces for women entrepreneurs: While there is so much encouraging movement around gender smart investing, the fact of the matter is we have a long way to go to create a level playing field for women entrepreneurs. In a recent Stakeholder Dialogue that my team at the WE Rise Community organized with women entrepreneurs, two key things emerged – one, perceptions around women-led businesses is something they navigate every day, putting the onus on the women to prove that it’s not a ‘hobby-business’ or they have some magic skills to manage family/kids and a full-time (yes, it still happens); two, not enough peer sharing and learning around navigating the market and investment landscape to learn the tricks of the trade from shared experiences. There is a continuing need for spaces to facilitate peer learning as well as initiate dialogues to break down the power dynamic between investors and entrepreneurs. Activating such spaces and conversations will play an important role in creating a level-playing field for women entrepreneurs from diverse industries and backgrounds to access opportunities to grow. Check out one such space at the Nüshu Network.

Synergize our intentions and actions through co-investments: In young ecosystems, more often than not we are all working in our siloes, and often enough towards similar goals. A key to any successful ecosystem is to have a strong continuum of support and capital, and that takes time. But there are enough lessons to be learned from mature markets that those us building young ecosystems can glean from. To leapfrog, we have to get out of our comfort zones and turn intention into action. Collaboration is much easier intended and said than done. With early-stage investing, there are very exciting opportunities to co-invest and back entrepreneurs solving the most pressing social and environmental problems, while also managing risk, and bringing down the costs of due diligence. A conversation I had this morning with peer investors is around the need for better especially around gender lens investments (a newer field) for this to actually happen more frequently. One such avenue could be a localized network or council bringing together investors on the ground to set standards and context-based pathways to gender-lens investing – happy to say that we are at the early days of such collaboration here in the Philippines (more another time!).

As we dash into this year, let’s remember we have most of the year ahead of us to be resolute, uncompromising in the goals we want to achieve, to build a truly responsive ecosystem. Even as we fight fatigue to thrive in disruptive times, the opportunity is right to radically collaborate.

(Published on LinkedIn; Feb 17, 2022)

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