INSEAD Participant Interview
Building successful social impact ventures
"I was drawn to INSEAD because of the powerful reputation it has as a leading graduate business school. More than that, though, when I looked at the programme outline, I liked the way it integrated practical business tools for building successful impact ventures with a theoretical approach. There aren’t many courses on social entrepreneurship out there that have that academic aspect." Jessie Coates, Past-participant of the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme.
Tell us about yourself and your role at EY.
I’ve been with EY for about eight years now, working in various roles across our transactions, assurance and consulting practices. Recently, I took on the role of Head of Operations for Enterprise Growth Services, EY’s not-for-profit consulting practice that offers heavily subsidised services to social impact businesses operating in low-income countries. These enterprises are using the power of the market to create innovative solutions to diverse problems, from high unemployment and social inequality to a lack of access to services like health, education, clean energy, water and sanitation.
As Head of Operations, I manage the business side of the practice, looking at our funding model and value proposition both internally to our EY people and externally to social entrepreneurs, and making sure we deliver the highest quality services on deadline and within budget while also providing an unparalleled development opportunity for our EY people. I also lead our work in the off-grid energy space, scoping and overseeing projects with inspirational social impact entrepreneurs who are bringing access to clean energy to low income communities for the very first time..
What drew you to work in social entrepreneurship?
I’ve always been quite politically active. I have a strong drive to understand the macroeconomic challenges we face globally – from rising inequality to a lack of inclusive growth – and to work out what we can do to fix such issues.
At the same time, I’ve always worked in the private sector and am incredibly proud to work for an organization that cares so deeply about its people, clients and impact on the world in EY. I have considered whether my skills and experience would be put to best use by working in a social enterprise or impact investment fund, but corporates can also be a force for good. With 250,000 employees operating in over 150 countries, EY has the brand, scale and global reach to role model this. I see my role as identifying and driving opportunities to change the system from within.
Why did you choose the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme?
I was drawn to INSEAD because of the powerful reputation it has as a leading graduate business school. More than that, though, when I looked at the programme outline, I liked the way it integrated practical business tools for building successful impact ventures with a theoretical approach. There aren’t many courses on social entrepreneurship out there that have that academic aspect.
At the same time, I wanted to extend my peer network, and the mix of people who attend INSEAD’s programmes tend to be pretty global and diverse.
What expectations did you have about the programme, and were these met?
I was hoping for a deep dive into the issues facing the social entrepreneurship sector – to enrich my understanding of the trends and challenges facing impact venture leaders both now and in the future. I was also keen to understand current thinking on business model innovation in the sector – what works and what doesn’t. And I wanted to exchange ideas and experiences with others leading mission-driven ventures and projects.
The programme delivered on all fronts. My fellow participants were a fascinating bunch from all sorts of cultures and disciplines. There was plenty of sharing of knowledge and perspectives, which left me buzzing with ideas and energy. Developing my understanding of the sector and how best to support social entrepreneurship also helped me view what I do more objectively and strategically. I left feeling more confident about my approach and my capabilities.
What was the most important takeaway for you from the programme?
Realising how important it is to consider the implications of the work we do in this field. Being focused on one’s mission and doing it well is at the core of social entrepreneurship. However, you can only really have an impact if you also take into account all the externalities, including any unintended negative impact that may come with the changes you’re trying to bring about. That can be easy to lose sight of.
You mentioned the diverse mix of participants you encountered on the programme. Have you stayed in touch with your classmates?
Yes, we keep in touch as a group via a messaging app. We share successes and pose problems that we can all help each other with, so that’s been rewarding. On a more formal basis, I reached out to a couple of fellow participants – both social entrepreneurs – as there were obvious synergies between what we are trying to achieve. My team is now supporting them directly. I’ve also put participants in touch with other colleagues where I felt there was potential for collaboration.
Has attending the programme made a tangible difference to your work life?
In terms of setting our practice’s strategy for the future, very much so. We’re currently going through a significant growth period with the intention that EY will support 100s as opposed to 10s of social entrepreneurs each year going forward. We’re looking at where to focus our efforts over the next five years, understanding where social entrepreneurs need our services most and therefore how we can add the most value and enable the greatest impact.. Then there is also the issue of the negative externalities I mentioned, and working out what this means for us and for EY’s corporate social responsibility efforts as a whole. The skills and insights I gained from the programme are helping to shape all these processes.
What are your aspirations for the future?
To be resilient! Launching a not-for-profit practice and driving transformative change within a very large corporate organisation does come with certain challenges. Attending ISEP has made me even more determined to keep pushing forward and trying to change the system from within step by step. And on a longer-term basis, my aspiration is to keep in mind the positivity, optimism and energy I got from the INSEAD professors. I’d love to be able to bottle that and bring it to our EY leaders globally. Articulating the value proposition that everyone benefits when the world works better will be invaluable on our journey to become the role model for inclusive growth in the professional services sector