Entrepreneurs need funds and investors are interested in what they call “bankable” enterprises in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, but the money is not always flowing. How can these two worlds meet and the financing gap in the water sector be narrowed? As organisations working with both entrepreneurs and investors, this is our core question. Together with the Good Festival, we recently organised a Groundwork Day to brainstorm about how the Good Water Summit 2019 could leverage entrepreneurs’ and investors’ ambitions and become a reference platform in Switzerland. We were delighted to have so many experts in the room. And so much energy! A big thank you to all the participants.
We started the afternoon with a thoughtful speech by Violette Ruppanner from the Swiss Bluetec Bridge, who encouraged each participant to look beyond their individual projects and challenges and to think of the system as a whole to figure out how to remove the existing barriers. She also exhorted the audience to take action without delay and to take inspiration from Hugh Laurie, who once said: “It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready… There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
We then had the opportunity to listen to an entrepreneur’s and investor’s perspective. Lars Willi, founder of WECONNEX, explained the challenges many entrepreneurs face, from satisfying customers, developing the activity to adapting the business model, while at the same time pursuing a social mission, demonstrating sustainability and attracting investors. Lars also underlined the difficulty for entrepreneurs to know exactly what investors were expecting of them.
Risto Varynen, from the Family Business Network, reflected on Lars’ comments and gave his view as an investor. He commended Lars for knowing and spelling out what he needed and what he offered in return. Many pitches and proposals he’d heard and seen were missing these essential elements. He explained that the “rules of the game” in impact investing have been inherited from asset management, and therefore not really adapted to social enterprises. He also highlighted that we were all investors and that syndication could be a possible solution.
The participants were then asked to identify their most pressing issues, discuss these in a small-group setting and present their findings. Five groups emerged around the topics: early-stage financing, innovative funding vehicles, leveraging technology and science, ecosystem development in the Middle East, and reframing finance for the SDGs.
We finished the day voting for the best presentation. The winning Middle East group convinced the audience with its ideas around cleaning up a river in Lebanon. It offered a good example of a concrete business case engaging multiple stakeholders with a potential for huge social and environmental benefits, two aspects that are particularly attractive to impact investors.
We hope that all participants made valuable and lasting connections during the day. As a new community, we will strive to build on the insights gained during this day taking inspiration from the famous African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Stay tuned!