Q What are the main areas in which the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) works?
The foundation is, of course, a philanthropic foundation, it is not a fund structure. We started using impact investing as a tool primarily because we felt we could use this capital to catalyse a market shift, so that the market starts serving the needs of the low-income category, creating quality products, and a sustainable impact in society. For us, impact investing started with the objective of asking how we can achieve our mission faster so that it impacts the lives of children and addresses urban poverty.
In India, we work in three areas: Education, livelihoods and financial inclusion. All of these are focussed on the urban low-income group. For education, we have a vision of how to improve learning levels, or fill learning level gaps. For livelihoods, we look at how to create more aspirational job opportunities, and in financial inclusion, we look at how the low-income group can access similar kind of banking services— whether it is savings, credit or insurance—as you and I do.
Globally, we work in three countries—the US, India and South Africa. The mission of the foundation is the same, in terms of impacting children. In the US, we focus on education—K-12 levels, as well as higher and college education. We run a strong scholarship programme for college completion. We also work in the heath sector, centred around healthy living. A large part of our impact investing in the US has been in the area of education. In South Africa, our key focus areas have been education and livelihoods. We just impact-invested in South Africa, in the area of livelihoods.
Q How does the fact that MSDF is a foundation and not a fund affect its impact investing?
One unique feature about the MSDF, which regular funds are not able to have, is the flexibility in capital that the foundation’s structure allows us to have. We are not creating a portfolio of investments that cobble up together as a fund, but we are actually taking a sectoral view and defining the key objectives that we want in each sector. And then we make grants or investments to achieve these objectives. So if that means working with the government, we do that, or working with not-for-profits, we do that, or working with for-profits to push them into a certain area or to create more impact, we do that. We do want our impact investments to be sustainable, to be large-scale, and they should deliver a financial return. But we are always cognisant of the social returns.
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August 14, 2020