Friday, June 03, 2011

George Hara: Public Interest Venture Capitalist

Longtime Beneblog readers may remember my visit five years ago to Bangladesh, where I was able to visit and write about a cool tech social enterprise, bracNet. They were going to bring Bangladesh better wireless internet than exists in California, and they’ve done it.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with one of their main funders, George Hara, in San Francisco. George is a financial mastermind with one foot in Asia and the other in California. Public Interest Capitalism is his personal brand of social change. A longtime venture capitalist with his DEFTA Partners firm, he wants to help solve social problems using hybrid capital structures that meld nonprofit and for-profit partners. He uses the Alliance Forum Foundation as one of his vehicles for making deals along these lines in Asia and Africa. He's written several papers on his approach, including this one entitled Retooling Capitalism.

bracNet is one of these hybrid ventures, joining a majority for-profit ownership led by DEFTA Partners with BRAC, Bangladesh’s largest social enterprise organization. BRAC can use its tax-exempt dividends to fund public service projects related to bracNet’s wireless internet connectivity (or for other public purposes, as it decides).

In our conversation, George and his team outlined ways to use this hybrid approach for expanding social impact in Africa as well as new ideas for enterprises for following up on natural disasters in Asia for sustaining positive change after the immediate humanitarian response.

It was a pleasure for me to make the connection with a cool technology play, and see that it was also a cool hybrid financial structure.

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