Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! Today I’m meeting up with a young entrepreneur who is tackling the UN SDG 1—No Poverty. Edward Yee, the co-founder of Givfunds, is making it possible for people to start their own businesses and become self-sufficient. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Edward, it’s a pleasure to meet you! Can you start by telling us about the challenges you are addressing?
Edward: Thanks for interviewing me, Spiffy! We are addressing the challenge of The Pioneer Gap for social enterprises. Social enterprises are unique kinds of businesses that are able to both create an impact and earn money. Think about a company that sells affordable bed nets to the poor so that they don't get malaria! Unfortunately, many have no access to capital, especially at smaller amounts. As many as 70-90% of social enterprises fall into this gap. This results in life-changing and profitable social enterprises being unable to scale their impact. This problem still exists because many funders are unable to deliver affordable capital to these social enterprises at scale, accurately, and affordably.
Spiffy: Small-scale start-ups can be difficult! What motivated you to support this group of entrepreneurs?
Edward: Well, Spiffy, my journey began when I took a break to travel, beginning in Bangladesh, and visited over 200 social enterprises (SEs) across South Asia. Seeing firsthand their impact in slums, villages, and farms amazed me, but I also saw their lack of access to capital— inspiring me to start Givfunds. We started with the firm with the belief that many of the most impactful SEs were undiscovered in smaller cities and rural areas. This led us to take a unique approach of partnering with community organizations to source neglected SEs in local communities to invest in. These partners came in all sizes, from UNDP (United Nations Development Fund) and the Government of India (NTI Aayog) to TYCIA Foundation and Under the Mango Tree (UTMT).
Spiffy: Wow, you are covering the gamut! Can you talk about how Givfunds is working to make the world a more equitable place for people?
Edward: Despite what we have done, our road ahead is still long. We hope to revolutionize funding for impactful businesses in smaller cities and rural areas, including where some of the most impactful social enterprises are located. Through our work at Givfunds over the last four years, we're humbled to have supported the most incredible changemakers, proving that they aren’t only in big cities.
Spiffy: Have you reached any major milestones, Edward? What kind of impact do you hope it will have?
Edward: Today, we have done over 50 deals and are the first investor in over 80% of our SEs. Our SEs have raised major multimillion-dollar follow-on funding from various impact funds including Acumen Fund and TPG’s Rise Fund. They have won awards including Forbes 30U30s, Ashoka Fellowships, and Echoing Green Fellowships. More importantly, our work has directly impacted over 45,000 lives, indirectly impacted more than 900,0000 lives, and helped our social enterprises generate over $10 million USD in incremental revenues—all with 100% repayment. Recently, we pivoted towards providing selective options for our donors and funders to choose what causes to donate to or invest in—sectors, regions, specific causes, etc.—and then created mini funds for each of these.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a time when you experienced failure as an entrepreneur and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Edward: Starting Givfunds has been the most difficult thing I have done. As a young Singaporean in India and South East Asia's social sector, obstacles came at every turn. From dealing with corruption to living in slums and villages, the past four and a half years have been an amazing journey of lessons and trials. For example, I have learned how to navigate relations with social sector leaders who are 40 years my senior to partner with them and convince them we are there to stay and invest in their communities. What I learned the most is to listen, be genuine in my intentions, and be resilient—often times a way opens up that I could have never expected.
A pushcart is one way that lives are being transformed in South Asia: a person goes from being a beggar to earning a living. (Photo courtesy of Badlav)
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Edward: Badlav is a wonderful example of a social enterprise we supported. Badlav works for the upliftment of beggars in Lucknow. The beggars are taught skills and offered chances for self-employment. They are offered pushcarts from which they sell products and/or transport people around. The key challenges have been integrating beggars into mainstream society by giving them ways to earn a living, and dignity, for themselves and their families. The impact of our capital has resulted in more than 300 beggars giving up begging and becoming income earners.
Spiffy: What an amazing accomplishment for them, you and Givfunds! I can’t wait to hear more success stories. Thanks for sharing about your work, Edward, it’s been an honor!
Edward Yee is the co-founder of Givfunds, an impact fund that provides innovative concessionary financing to social enterprises at scale. He is a Rhodes Scholar, Forbes 30U30 Awardee, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Kairos Society Global Fellow, and a Diana Award Recipient. In his free time, Edward enjoys sticking his nose in a book and collecting stories from around the world. He has stood on Bangladeshi train tops, hacked in Silicon Valley, and traveled 16 days aboard an Indian sleeper train. (Nominated by Advisory Singapore. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 16, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.