Profit and Values: Unitus Seed Fund

2 09 2013

Essay by Will Poole, co-founder of Unitus, a venture capital firm focused on accelerating innovation and positive change. Unitus Seed Fund is unequivocally committed to delivering both profits and social impact for our investors. We’re confident that this is the only way to drive sustainable positive change for low-income populations. Our model for delivering profits is described more fully in our private placement memorandum and other investor materials. There are three ways in which we maximize the positive social impact of the seed investments we make:

  1. Company Selection. We invest only in for-profit companies that primarily serve a largebase of the economic pyramid (“BoP”)populations, providing product and services that improve their lives. We do not invest in entertainment, vice purveyors, or any company we do not see making a sustained commitment to positive social impact to the BoP through their operations.
  2. Impact Metrics. Working with the CEO of each portfolio company, we develop a small number of measurable impact goals which are monitored at least quarterly. These goals are closely aligned with their business operations and success. For example, a village education services company tracks how many students are enrolled and whether they are reading at grade level.
  3. Policies to Align Values. For every investment made in 2013 and after, we have discussed and agreed on a set of core company policies and guiding principles which are memorialized in various corporate documents, employee handbooks, and policies.

Company Selection and Impact Metrics are self-evident. To ensure values-alignment with each portfolio company and execution of appropriate policy and adherence to principles, our investment documents  include affirmative agreements by each portfolio company as follows, which we call the “Profits and Values Approach“:

  • include the Profits and Values Approach in all business strategies and operations;
  • acknowledge that compliance with the Profit and Values approach might not lead to long-term profit maximization and/or could impact ultimate economic value for shareholders;
  • ensure a continued focus on providing goods and/or services that primarily benefit the BoP;
  • provide USF with reasonable access to all information necessary to monitor and evaluate the Company’s compliance with the Profit and Values Approach and attainment of social impact goals;
  • conduct the Company’s business operations in accordance with assessments of all environmental, health and social risks, including efficiency in resource usage, prevention of pollution, and ensuring community health, safety and security;
  • follow responsible employment practices such as payment of fair wages; providing appropriate insurance coverage; ensuring prohibition of child labour; providing equal treatment of men and women regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation; offering clean and safe working conditions; and
  • comply with principles of applicable laws; pledge not to accept or offer bribes including requiring employees to pledge to do the same; be transparent, ethical and accountable, including adhering to the principles of good corporate governance, in all business operations.

We’re confident that by focusing on both profits and values with companies that have been carefully-selected for their potential to deliver positive social impact to large BoP populations, we and our ecosystem partners will drive a wave of sustainable change that improves the lives of millions of people in India.

Will Poole is a Social Technologist and angel investor, focused on improving ecosystems that bring social and economic opportunity to low-income populations.  He serves as Chairman of NComputing, a leader in low-cost, low-energy computing and co-founded Bangalore-based Pengala Learning, whose mission is to change the way India learns.  He leads Social Venture Partners Seattle’s initiatives around social entrepreneurism including Social Innovation Fast Pitch, serves on the investment committee of the W-Fund, co-founded SVP Bangalore, and serves on three nonprofit boards. Will was previously a corporate vice president at Microsoft where he led several businesses, including Windows. His career started by founding two startups at the dawn of the PC era, working in the early days at Sun Microsystems, and pioneering e-commerce at eShop which was acquired by Microsoft in 1996. Will advises Western Governors University and Brown University on technology and is a Trustee of Bainbridge Graduate Institute. Will received a degree in Computer Science from Brown.

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