I’ve met Elena Gibson, a partner at Ashoka Europe and the Director of Carry4Good, in Zurich at Superinvestor, where she introduced the Carry4Good pledge, a community of GPs who pledge a % of their carry to Ashoka – the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs. In Zurich, during Superinvestor, Elena was joined on the panel by Alain Nicod, founding partner of VI Partners who signed the pledge and Alain Werner, a prominent Ashoka Fellow that demonstrated the power of the impact through his work at Civitas Maxima, providing independent legal representation to victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. With Carry4Good Ashoka builds a growing network of pledgers who provide funding for Ashoka’s Fellowship of nearly 4000 social entrepreneurs spanning more than 90 countries.
Working towards social and financial ROI
After their panel, the audience was in awe and impressed by the wide array of entrepreneurs backed. Recently, Carry4Good has selected many social innovators into their Fellowship who wrestle with the ethics and implications of tech for humanity.
One example is Hadi al Kathib, who verifies and archives graphic social media content from conflict areas like Ukraine – before the algorithms of social media platforms delete these irrespective of their value as evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Another perfect example is Anna-Lena von Hodenberg, founder of HateAid, who uses strategic litigation to challenge big tech and strengthen the rights of users – as she did when winning a landmark lawsuit against Meta last year.
There is also a lot of innovation coming up in the climate space, but rather than technical innovations – which are mostly backed by VC funds – Ashoka finds and supports social entrepreneurs who work on a societal or legal level.
One example of that is James Thornton, founder of Client Earth – the first and so far only law firm that has only one client: Planet Earth.
And then there are several Ashoka Fellows that we selected many years ago but who keep innovating, like Bart Wentjens and his company Apopo, where Ashoka was the first backed for his idea of training rats to detect landmines and who today trains them to detect Tuberculosis. A detection rat can check 100 sputum samples for TB in as little as 20 minutes, which would take a lab technician 4 days using conventional microscopy.
Funds joining the Carry4Good initiative: Acton Capital, Redstone, Idico and others
Elena Gibson mentioned the organisation is indeed very grateful to count some amazing funds like Acton Capital, Redstone and Idico amongst their pledgers, as well as many individual pledgers who commit on a personal level.
“The biggest challenge in getting more GPs to pledge is the psychology of economic downturn. When fundraising is front of mind and not many exits happen, people are hesitant to give, even though the pledge only applies in case of a success and hence is entirely independent of the current climate. Luckily we still meet many partners who are longing for purpose and want to get involved with social entrepreneurship” explained Gibson and added that the investors like the idea that Ashoka is a recognized expert at assessing and selecting the most impactful charities and distributing donations to the most promising, systems-changing social entrepreneurs in whatever field pledgers feel most passionate about. It’s almost like the Carry4Good pledge compliments their personal investment strategy for social impact.
Markets can’t solve all problems, negative externalities and human tragedies require philanthropic investment
When asked about the returns Gibson explained that the success for Carry4Good is to provide a sustainable funding stream for the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and to connect the world of investors with the world of social innovators. It’s where great, systems-changing ideas meet capital that great change can happen. “Investors who understand that markets can’t solve all problems and that too many negative externalities as well as human tragedies require philanthropic investment and funders who believe in the power of social entrepreneurship” she explained. The success for Ashoka at large is to see how many of the social entrepreneurs they back achieve systems-change: how many of them change laws, bring about societal mindset shifts, influence market dynamics. How many actually change the root causes of a problem – not just the symptoms.Carry4Good tracks this by conducting a global Fellowship service which gives us an incredible bird’s eye view on social innovation around the globe, spanning all sectors and 93 countries.
Plan for 2024: doubling the number of pledgers
When asked what are the plans for the future, Carry4Good is hoping to double their community of pledgers over the coming years. They currently have 40 pledgers on board and Gibson mentioned she would love that to be 100. She also sees potential around what many call impact-carry – carry that would be forgotten if teams don’t achieve certain ESG or impact goals.
In that context, Ashoka has the potential to become a valuable partner in distributing funds effectively. Gibson continued: “My hope is to inspire ever more people in the investment industry to see how social entrepreneurship can fill the gap when it comes to investing for a better future. Social entrepreneurs innovate where risk capital doesn’t go, investing their own time and resources into issues that affect all of us as a society: affordable and just education systems, conflict resolution, healthcare prevention, climate justice, stable democracies and human centred technology”.
Gibson concluded by explaining that social entrepreneurs dedicate their whole lives to solving problems that affect us all, as a society and as individuals and Ashoka selects those with the greatest likelihood of succeeding. To back them, financially and strategically, surely is the best investment one can make.