Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts that tackles growing technologies around us. Technologies that changed how we engage the world, connect and come together as a modern society. This series discusses how the tools of our everyday lives have evolved and changed our lives.
Previously on SUSS Podcast:
People who created social networks and these apps, they had something good in their mind, to connect families and friends together. And even Google, in the beginning they said do no evil. And that was their mantra. So it's not like that wasn’t there before. It's just that what's happening more and more now is because of the challenges we're seeing globally and a new generation growing up.
You know, we say digital native, but there's now this like sustainability native or impact native type of generation who has been born into this world where we're seeing issues. With resource allocation and all the challenges we see that as they grow up, they're not like us, and us being, you know, myself, older people. So they're growing up in this different world.
Where they're bombarded by these things. And so they have this different purpose that has evolved. And this is what I mean by the shift. And so you're seeing more of these founders having that inherent drive, to try and make a difference. They’re less, I guess relatively speaking, concerned about just getting their 10th Lamborghini, perhaps more concerned about making a change in their local community.
Or making an innovation or invention that has a macro change in the world. And, and that seems to be something I see more and more, with the younger you go with the generation gap.
This is a change that's been happening and of course, one of them for 13 years, has been driving this change, Valerian. Is this what you see on the ground when it comes to founders who are very specific about the social impact they want to create or are passionate about doing something that can change the world?
Yeah, sure. I think I agree that a startup or a project is only as good as the team building and carrying it. For us at Jumanji, we've boiled it down to finding four values in our startups and in our co-founders. The first one is being ambitious for the planet.
As opposed to being ambitious for yourself and looking for this street cred and being motivated by money alone. The second one is keeping a positive attitude, always. The third one is openness, openness to making mistakes, openness to trying things, to listening to new people. And the last one is perseverance, to be able to turn your goodwill into impact actually takes a lot of perseverance.
So, these are the key values that are important to us and that we feel increase your chances to be a successful founder in this space.
So with such a strong business impact, and a great team, they're focused on social impact as well. I think the real next step when it comes to startups is sustainability, right? Financial sustainability.
So I think it was mentioned as well, with the rise of ESG investing, Kenneth or Sang Shin, maybe you can share with the audience what are some of the things that have been happening from the investing side of the ecosystem.
Well, there is a huge amount of capital. If you look at the many charts out there being diverted into quote-unquote “ESG funds”, and that's only increasing in the past two to three years.
Maybe share with us what are ESG funds. We hear that a lot. But specifically, tell us what the VCs or all these funds are looking at when they say ESG.
ESG, I'm not going to get too deep into it. Each one of those letters, the environment, societal impact and corporate impact, generally meaning it's something that has to do with positive impact for society. If you want to boil it really down to for the planet and because of that too, through society and people. There's a huge amount of money going into that because of what we're seeing in the world, the environment, the climate change and all this stuff happening.
And so the challenge now is, what is really an ESG fund? Is it a fund that just starts to tick a few boxes? And then now it's an ESG fund? What is the standardisation and definition of an ESG fund? Is there some kind of standard set out? Right now? No. And that's part of the problem.
One of the negative outcomes we see from that is the term called greenwashing, which you may be aware of. Where you are saying that you're for ESG or for environmental sustainability. But really are you, or is it more of a PR or marketing thing that you're doing? It might be an overlap of both.
For example, the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), which created the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), right. They're actually drafted right now. They have a draft for, let's say, private equity, bonds, and enterprises to actually standardise impact - an impact standardisation framework. They're in the middle of drafting it because of this problem.
There is no calibration of what the definition means, although we do have the 17 SDGs. And so the idea there that they're in the middle of doing right now, hopefully is to provide actually a seal. And let's see if it works or not, but the idea is with the seal that you would be stamped, like, okay, you are a quote-unquote “so and so”.
So I share these things just to paint the picture of how it's still very influx, how there's still a lot of movement from the capital or investing side on definitions and also implementations. But on the flip side, it’s very encouraging that there is interest and movement into this space. And I think the challenge is, how we properly assimilate and then transform.
So it actually makes an impact. Like real impact and not fake impact.
I like how you share the realities of things. And it's true. Social impact - probably none of us really know what this meant a decade ago. And we're still figuring things out as well. So Kenneth, what are your thoughts when it comes to the access for funding or resources that are available, whether or not, if there are key gaps, and what has been done or what interesting ways you've seen people cope with this?
I'm going to start off by saying that, where Sang Shin is coming from is right. There's no real formalisation of exactly whether a startup has certain aspects of ESG, or whether the fund is meeting certain fund requirements and things like that. But what we can do from our level where we are at with the Venture Builder, is really try to get people, founders who are really trying to build their startups that are talking about creating social impact to be a bit more aware about some of these terminologies being used, and be more aware about trying to at least have a certain level of metrics that they can use to measure their impact.
What we try to do is inculcate this mentality that it's not just greenwashing and seeing that we're doing something for the impact because we thought about it. But we try to implement workshops within the Venture Builder Programme to talk about social impact, the different types of entities that exist. In the past, we usually think about NGOs and non-profits. But it started to shift towards, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have corporates doing CSR, but then in between, you start to see more growth.
First with social enterprises, and then now social impact startups. Or impact startups, per se. And then we also give them a lot of exposure into understanding a bit more about the SDGs – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – to try and really get them thinking and get grounded with the fact that it's not as simple as saying, “yeah, we've thought about doing something green or something good for society.”
But are there actual measurable ways that you are going to think about calculating what your double bottom line is?
Because this is really what it's all about. It's not just making profits, but it's also having something measurable in which you are impacting the society or the environment.
So it's coming to, you know, properly define what each startup or each founder means by social impact. And how does that show in a business model.
How does that show in the kind of P&L statements, where is all the impact going and what's happening.
On this topic, I just want to add something. My personal belief is that the world today is incomplete in the way that it's doing its accounting and its ledgers.
We use currency, which is today fiat money, dollars and cents or whatever exchange currencies to determine that from a business point of view – it's incomplete. It does not take into consideration externalities. Externalities are second, third-order degree events as a result of what you're doing. We got into this issue, one of the reasons is because we haven't accounted for externalities in any way.
So that's why you can just burn the purse and make a billion dollars. It's only a billion dollars. Where's the cost of that? Now we're beginning to see a shift in the world where we're trying to slowly start to account for some of these extra externalities.
The ones that people know of, is carbon. And we're in the middle of trying to determine what the cost of carbon is as a unit of carbon in the world eventually. And we'll build carbon exchanges, which are being built up. And so I believe that we will see more and more of these valuations of these other, perhaps, impact, a way to determine what the value is, the story of value.
And that can be translated into, let's say, dollars and cents. But, I think the world is on a path now where if I look at two products, I'm going to be able to tell what the carbon footprint of this one, versus that one, forget about if they're the same dollar price and that'll help me make a choice in which one to choose. Today you can’t.
You can for organic foods, but you can't with that. And I think that's going to change.
That's a really very interesting point of view as Sang Shin has mentioned. I’ve seen a lot of startups as well, moving into this carbon credit, determining daily products as well.
How can we determine and help consumers make the better choice? And also it becomes part of the whole cycle where the businesses are forced to then think about all these externalities, because they know that the consumers would think about all of these before they make purchases and make business decisions as well.
On the ground, Valerian, is it tough? I know Kenneth mentioned it's tough to even justify, or even track the impact. Can you share more with us?
Yes. It always comes down to this, like calculating everything and it's fine.
It's good to do it. We're making progress. It's still quite costly to do. But the cost of doing it is going to come down as the methodologies improving the tools happen. I think there's still a need for a little bit more than just calculating and measuring everything, because we just can't wait for these to be ready.
So we do rely on, in a way, the daring entrepreneur who just takes the path and tries things. And I think beyond just measuring, I feel like in this new generation of social entrepreneurs, there is a bit of a different drive, which is just more about doing business a little bit differently. Again, not seeking just profit-for-profit.
I'm still sort of scratching the surface of what that is. As some people call it, just intentionality. But, you know, that's something you can't really put into numbers, but it's very important and is what makes these entrepreneurs wake up in the morning and people who follow them and work with them and people who buy from them. So it’s not only about measuring.
It's not by measuring. Yes. But I think it's about having different ways or different methods to show the impact. To have this common language, at least, to allow investors, consumers and the startup founders who determined that, hey, this is the social impact that we're creating and here's how we can do it.
So it was really very interesting. We have all the right people in the right generations with the right mentality, and VCs pouring money into this field, and it is about getting there. So I think my last question is really for all three of you.
Sang Shin, what gives you hope about the current state of things? I know that we still have challenges that we need to solve as a community, as an ecosystem. But what's something that you find really hopeful, at least for the next decade.
Well, I mean, quite honestly, us sitting here talking about it gives me hope. Learning about what Val is doing and what you're doing and seeing how we're trying to push forward gives me hope.
The other thing that gives me hope is more from a macro level, just you know, seeing how things are evolving. There definitely is a lot of interest into this space compared to before. And that to me is the starting point. And so for those reasons, I have a lot of hope.
I'll take things down to a micro-level, right?
So where I am at, with the Venture Builder here, I work day in, day out with the startups that come in. We do check-ins and we talk every day about the challenges they're facing. Sometimes they're tearing. But the fact that they come back the next day, they come back stronger. And then they want to work at it and really, just that whole never-say-die kind of spirit.
That keeps me going and the more trainees who we take in for the programme, the more we see people who are doing things that are not just for the traditional single bottom line. It's really about doing good things for the sake of doing good things.
Valerian, after 13 years.
You know, I have hope else I wouldn't be here. You know, I've been quite amazed and realising how the entire ecosystem, the entire economy has been able to switch and kick in when COVID happened, for instance. So, I feel we're getting there for environmental issues, probably not there yet for social issues.
But I feel like when people realise the issue and really appreciate it. Then the capacity of the human brain and energy to find solutions quickly is amazing. So, it's a bit annoying that we're probably going to have to wait for the big, more issues to happen before we get there.
But I feel we can. So those give me hope.
Hearing the works of all three of you gives me the hope that we're moving in the right direction. Hopefully, help more startups to find their purpose and also help change the world that they want to see. So thank you so much for all your time. Thank you.
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