Jesse Moore, Saïd Business School MBA 2007
From Postings, 2007
Skollar Jesse Moore practised “cultural change management” at a large aid NGO, evolving it from a needs and rights-based agency to one that began to focus on market opportunities.
I was working at CARE Canada, part of development charity CARE International, in 2003, when I became increasingly convinced that harnessing the power of business and enterprise was one of the best ways to help poor people.
I’d already been exposed to development work in Africa and Latin America and I deeply respect CARE’s aid work. But I saw that aid work alone would not eradicate suffering, only mitigate problems: it wouldn’t give people a means to properly break out of poverty for good.
I didn’t have a business degree, but the previous year I had been working as a management consultant for a corporate strategy firm in Toronto. The CARE Canada CEO in Ottawa asked me to start an office in Toronto, the business capital of Canada, with the aim of working with private sector partners. And this wasn’t about fundraising; we wanted to develop new programming on the theme of “making markets work for the poor”.
The logic underpinning this work was that markets are self-perpetuating, as is investment capital. Grants are limited, dry up and can create a systemic dependency. We wanted instead to enable poor entrepreneurs to help themselves and then take them through to economic independence.
There was one particular grant-funded project in Kenya whose funding was coming to a close. The project was called REAP – Rural Enterprise & Agribusiness Promotion – and it helped poor farmers produce better crops. It was being funded partly by DfID and CIDA and was doing a great job boosting their incomes, with some crops being exported back to Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the UK. A few of us thought, let’s turn this into a business that connects these farmers to the market. We did this with me working from the Toronto office raising money from investors in Canada plus several people on the ground in Kenya.
My job then was to go around and seed different ideas through the CARE world. I travelled to about 15 different countries. The Kenyan project kicked off a series of similar experiences where I’d meet with CARE staff to explore how to make a project commercially viable.
Meanwhile, we created a new unit back in Canada called CARE Enterprise Partners (CEP) staffed by business-minded folks. CEP has become a centre of expertise within the CARE federation and we get seconded to work with other CARE offices. We’ve also created an investment fund of £1 million so far, which we hope to grow to £5 million in the next couple of years to support projects.
It was sometimes difficult to develop CEP within CARE, a large agency with a culture that is used to grant-funded approaches. It goes against the grain of how NGO programmes work.
The culture before was focused primarily on relief, food, blankets, shelter and building self-capacity, rights and dignity, while CEP was trying to focus on opportunities. That meant convincing people to take risks. We were changing attitudes at all levels: from staff and board members to beneficiaries and donors. Primarily it was a financing issue – if you’re used to working with grants and fundraising, working with investment capital is completely different. When you begin to invest, you totally change the way you interact with beneficiaries – they no longer become beneficiaries, they become financial partners, there’s risk involved in that and there’s reputation involved in that.
By 2006 we’d hired five tremendous CEP staff – four in Canada and one in Kenya. With the new institution in good hands and CEP enjoying the broader organisation’s support, I decided to get a proper business training at Oxford so I could do this work even better.
Social entrepreneurship doesn’t mean you can skimp on business skills – social enterprise is harder, I think, than standard business: you’re trying to create economically viable and profitable projects and you’re also trying to generate great social impact.
I hope now to hone a good toolkit of business skills to do socially positive business in developing countries with a particular interest in renewable energy.