By Caitlin Candee
Last May, I left Boston to complete a fellowship program in California that would then place me with a clean tech investment fund in India. Since then, I have met and worked with impact investing industry leaders, familiarized myself with the energy sector in India, practiced yoga on the Ganges River, and survived dengue fever, among other things.
The fellowship program is called Frontier Market Scouts (FMS), run jointly by Village Capital and the Monterey Institute, and it consists of an impact investing training program and then an international placement with one of the numerous partners. The program was a packed 2 weeks of impact investing lessons and getting to know incredible people. As an undergrad, I was definitely one of the youngest, and I was humbled by the rich experiences of the participants.
There are a variety of placement options after the training, including working at social enterprises, enterprise incubators, impact investing funds or ‘scouting’ for Village Capital, in 28 different countries (so far). My placement was at First Light Accelerator (FLA) in Delhi, India, a very small impact-investing fund focused on expanding access to energy in underserved populations. Coming from a civil engineering background, this was an appropriate fit because I’m interested in how infrastructure facilitates development and how we can push the expansion of infrastructure.
As I was preparing to leave for India, I noticed what I found to be a trend in the social enterprise space- the lack of human resource support in start-up environments. Both the fellowship program and the investment fund are only a few years old, and that means very little HR support to answer questions about visas or housing. So I bought a plane ticket, slightly terrified at all the unknowns – country, housing, co-workers, and job – and showed up in India. It was a good lesson in being self-sufficient and independent, skills I think are required to be successful in this space, especially this fellowship.
First Light Accelerator started as a co-venture between Shell Foundation and First Light Ventures (A Grey Ghost initiative), but it has undergone a few modifications in management structure, and is transitioning into a more independent entity. This made it an incredibly interesting time to work there, because there were formative decisions about the nature of the fund being made, as well as active investments being managed. The mission of the fund is increasing access to energy in currently underserved populations, and we were completing research and discussing strategy about the most effective ways to do that. We studied successful energy start-ups in India to understand how much money, what type of capital, and what timeline led to the most successful growth of these companies. We debated how to measure impact, in terms of helping portfolio companies, building a successful fund, and satisfying investors. In the midst of making these decisions, the fund was managing investments in early stage clean tech start-ups. First Light Accelerator is a very hands-on investor and now I have a much better understanding of how the investor-investee relationship works; what support is provided and what is expected in return. As a civil engineering major, I had little experience with these types of decisions, but working in this small start-up environment meant I participated anyways. Being thrown into those conversations was a great way to learn experientially.
But as any international coop student will tell you, my job was only part of the experience. While I had participated on the Social Enterprise Institute’s field study program to Cape Town, and traveled to Uganda with Engineers without Borders, I had to relearn how to do simple things, like buy groceries and travel around town in India. I met amazing people through roommates and Hindi classes. We took trips to a yoga ashram, a Tibetan community, a nature reserve, and ruins from prior kingdoms, among other things. There is an incredible richness in Indian food, colors, clothing, and history that I had only begun to understand after 6 months there. There were challenges- being a single woman in Delhi can be very hard and dengue fever put me out of commission for a few weeks, but overall I had an incredible experience.
This international coop was my first attempt at setting up a life abroad, and it was a successful trial-run for what I hope will become an impactful international career.