Creating Social Impact through Business Innovation

In early June, more than a thousand people convened in Washington, DC for the Social Innovation Summit to discuss how business innovation can launch social transformation. I recently joined FINCA as the Vice President of Social Enterprise Innovation and was asked to participate with a panel of experts at the Summit to talk about the role of business innovation in creating social impact.

FINCA knows this theme of business innovation for social impact well. For the last 30 years, we have been providing loans to entrepreneurs across the world to create economic sparks that illuminate families and transform communities. As the communities we work in change, FINCA has changed, creating new loan products that best suit our customers. That is the power of using a business approach to solve social challenges. We are required to listen to the customer and provide services that he or she values and will pay for.  This feedback from the customer to FINCA gives us confidence that what we do is impactful.

In order to expand our impact, our customers need more than our loans – they need access to better life-saving and life-changing products. As I’ve seen on the ground across FINCA’s network, our customers don’t want handouts. They want to be able to buy products that will enhance their lives – they want to choose.

Approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide, and more than 200 million in Africa alone, live without access to electricity. Many rely on kerosene lamps which bring harmful pollutants into the home and frequently lead to burns and fires. Access to solar lamps enables a young girl or boy in a village without electricity to study into the evening. A solar light also allows a young girl to feel safe if she has to run an errand for her family after the sun goes down. How can FINCA help poor households in Africa acquire quality solar products such as solar lamps? We have reach into these communities and we can create installment payment schemes for families who cannot afford the product outright.

Bright Life Group
FINCA distributes solar lanterns in Uganda.

At the Social Innovation Summit, I joined Mark Walsh, head of the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), James Higa, ex-Apple innovator, and Tina Arreaza, an associate with the Omidyar Network on a panel about Connecting Money with Values at Scale.  Each panelist demonstrated how innovation is important to social impact. James Higa talked about bringing the innovation mindset he honed at Apple to solving hard social problems in the San Francisco Bay area. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, became a billionaire with eBay’s initial public offering and channeled his new wealth to invest in ideas that can advance social good in a significant and scalable way through the Omidyar Network. Tina Arreaza talked about her work at the Omidyar Network and investing in organizations that can help people confirm and protect their property rights in places where property right protection is inadequate.

At FINCA, we know that access to non-financial services such as energy, water, sanitation and education would greatly enhance the productivity, economic security and quality of life of people in developing countries. I talked about how FINCA is in a unique position to make a positive impact because we have built social and physical infrastructure in these areas: we make loans in most rural reaches in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. We have earned the trust of our customers. I illustrated how FINCA is exploring partnerships with companies who are creating affordable, high-quality products, helping distribute these products and developing new ways for people to buy life-changing products – such as through installment payments.

FINCA has become synonymous with successfully delivering loans and changing lives in some of the toughest places to do business in the world. Today, I am excited to work with FINCA as we take on a new challenge: to use business innovation to expand people’s access to things we often take for granted – electricity, clean water and healthcare.