Episode 80 | Interview with Kevin Starr, CEO of the Mulago Foundation: The state of impact investing and funding for social entrepreneurs today

Headshot_6Kevin Starr has been supporting social entrepreneurs since before we used the term. He built the current incarnation of Mulago Foundation, a private foundation that funds early-stage social entrepreneurs devoted to maximum impact at scale in the lives of the poorest people in developing countries. In 2003, Kevin set up Rainer Arnhold Fellows Programme to apply Mulago’s principles and tools to help social entrepreneurs turn good ideas into lasting change at scale. The Mulago Foundation is currently funding fifty or so social ventures including Last Mile Health, One Acre Fund, Blue Ventures, Komaza, and The Boma Project. 

In this revealing interview, Kevin talks about the Mulago Foundation’s investment philosophy and the different ways it supports social entrepreneurs. He presents a simple model of sources of finance for social entrepreneurs-and advises as to the appropriateness of each– and he shares his thoughts on how social impact can best be scaled. Kevin gives a frank assessment of the state of impact investing today, warns of the dangers of investors prioritising business models over impact models, and cautions social entrepreneurs about over-reliance on for-profit business models when working on solutions for the very poor. (A version of this interview has previously been posted on the Financing Social Entrepreneurs site).

Episode 79: interview with Toby Norman, cofounder & CEO of simprints

Simprints is a nonprofit tech company from the University of Cambridge that is building an affordable, secure, rugged, open-source fingerprint system that works in the world’s toughest settings. According to the World Bank, an estimated 1.1 billion people, the majority of them living in Asia and Africa, struggle to access basic services and rights due to an inability to prove their identity – Simprints is developing open source software and biometric hardware to break this identification bottleneck and empower mobile tools used by researchers, NGOs, and governments fighting poverty around the world.


In this interview, Toby sets the scene explaining about the identity challenges faced by poor people around the world and the disastrous impact on their lives, particularly when it comes to healthcare. He talks about the company’s journey from initial idea to set up and growth and the scale of the different challenges that they have faced at different stages of the journey. Toby explains the thinking behind setting up as a tech non-profit and identifies the different skills that they have needed to develop to succeed. He talks about the invaluable support that Simprints has received on this journey, and the different partnerships it has developed. This is a inspiring-interview, rich in insights, with lots of hard won advice for social entrepreneurs in all sectors.


Episode 78: Interview with KJ Erickson, Founder and CEO of Simbi

KJ Erickson is Founder and CEO of Simbi, an innovative technology platform that allows people around the world to exchange or barter services. Users can do exchanges directly, or for credits that can be spent in the Simbi network. Prior to Simbi, KJ spent 9 years as the Founder and Executive Director of FORGE, a nonprofit that provides education, skills training, and entrepreneurial resources to more than 70,000 refugees in war-torn Africa.


KJ has won many awards include the Skoll Scholarship for Social Entrepreneurship, the Do Something Award for public service, and the Stanford Haas Public Service Fellowship

In 2014, KJ was a Skoll Scholar at Oxford’s Saïd Business School where she completed her MBA. In this interview, KJ talks about the roots of the Simbi idea, how it works, and common misconceptions. She talks about her experience as a social innovator and some of the challenges they have faced building the business. KJ gives a candid explanation why she thinks professional investors like FundersClub, Y Combinator & Greylock Partners invested in Simbi –and talks about her future aspirations for the business.

Episode 77: Interview with Biplab Ketan Paul, founder of Naireeta services  

paul_co_400x400Biplab Ketan Paul is founder of Naireeta services, an Indian ocial enterprise that has developed an innovative water management solution, the Bhungroo system, a unique irrigation system based on rainwater harvesting for farmers facing both drought and flooding situations  Paul, together with his wife Trupti Jain, has spent some 17 years developing and improving the Bhungroo system which now benefits some 100,000 farmers in India. Paul has won multiple awards for his work including the  Millennium Alliance Award for Global impact and India Innovation Growth Award-he is also an Ashoka fellow.

Episode 76: Interview with Gregg Treinish, founder of Adventure Scientists

Gregg is founder of Adventure Scientists, a US non profit that partners with various conservation groups around the world to collect data from the outdoors that are crucial to unlocking solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. Since its founding in gregg-treinish-5902011, it has sent thousands of volunteers on missions to collect data from remote, difficult-to-access locations for conservation
groups.  This has led to the discovery of more than three dozen new species, provided key information to guide climate change decision-making, and helped protect threatened wildlife habitat around the world.