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James Clark of Cabot Square Capital joins the GIF Board

By Zach Johnstone, Senior Advisor  |   Posted 27th October 2020

We are delighted to announce that James Clark has joined the GIF Board of Directors.

James brings with him a wealth of financial experience and acumen. In 1996 he co-founded London-based private equity firm, Cabot Square Capital, which provides growth capital to small and start-up businesses in the UK and western Europe. Investing on behalf of a wide range of institutional investors including charitable foundations, university endowments and pension funds Cabot Square has supported over 25 businesses through the provision of growth equity capital and organisation development strategies.

Meet James Clark


What most interested you about GIF?

When I first got to know the GIF story a few years ago, what immediately struck me was how innovative the organisation was in channelling development aid funding to address the issues faced by the world’s poorest people. Not only were the projects and companies that GIF funds using new concepts, but the organisation itself was an innovation. Creating a vehicle that could invest multi-lateral support from several governmental agencies and philanthropic capital based upon empirical evidence of impact was and is a unique proposition. I immediately wanted to use what skills I might have to help further that mission.

Which investments in GIF’s portfolio especially inspire you?

Two investments stand out to me.

EM3 is very interesting to me as I think efficiency in farming is a key element of creating a better, more sustainable, economic system for small farmers around the world. EM3 creates that efficiency though its comprehensive funding and support model. Recently, the GIF participated in a further funding round for EM3. This follow on capital will allow the business to pivot its product offer to address the issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several years ago, my sons and I went to Kenya and South Africa to help build some housing for orphaned children closer to their schools. One day my eldest came back from the sight and said “do you know it takes the foreman one and half hours to get here every day and he doesn’t know when the mini-van will come.” My son was confused as to why this man would stand for this inconvenience. I explained he had no choice as there was no regular mass transit and the cost of a car was beyond his means. So, when I learned of the GIF’s investment in WhereIsMyTransport I was excited to see that GIF had found a team of entrepreneurs using modern technology to address this issue.

How does being a GIF board member align with your values?

My father always told me that a good life has three phases: Learn, Earn and Return. Being on the GIF board allows me to actively help in making the world a better place and hopefully provide some of the return.

I strongly believe that we are all only as strong as our weakest member and as such richer countries have an obligation to provide development aid. But this aid needs to be channelled in a way that creates lasting impact. I think GIF is doing just that.

What makes the GIF approach to impact investment unique?

In my experience, using empirical evidence and solid measurement metrics is the only way to assess and improve any activity. GIF’s rigorous testing and measurement of its investments is unique in the development world.

In addition, the fact that GIF is able to invest from the grant through to the scalability stage in the innovations it supports gives GIF a unique advantage in the market. Finally, GIF has a very wide sourcing strategy thereby allowing it to find investment opportunities from myriad angles.

Why is funding ‘innovation’ so important when seeking to improve the lives of those living in the developing world?

Improving lives is a worthy cause, but only if it is sustainable and repeatable and measurable. Supporting innovation through the GIF model does all of these things.

Local social entrepreneurs know what their communities need. They see the problems and design innovations to address them. What they need is patient capital that will support their plans. Alongside that capital they need experience and operational experience to make their projects a reality and manage through the inevitable bumps in the road. Finally, they need the discipline that comes with demanding empirical evidence of impact. Traditional forms of development aid and finance are not able to provide this combination of characteristics.

Innovation is by its very nature risky. Not all social entrepreneurs and their project will succeed. But those that do will fundamentally change the prospects for the people they impact. In addition, this success will crowd in market based capital and further innovation as other see the rewards both financial and social.

I also think the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world’s poorest communities can only be addressed through innovation. New methods of healthcare, transport, financial interaction, agri-business will need to form and they will be the result of innovative ideas nurtured through funding mechanisms like GIF.

Partnership is key to GIF’s model – who would you like to see GIF partnering with in the future?

When I joined the GIF board I was very excited about the potential for a vehicle like GIF Growth. GIF Growth is designed to fill the gap in funding from proof of project to scale. Many social entrepreneurs fall over when they have a viable business model but cannot access capital to fund the scaling of the business. The stage and size of these investments will be a perfect platform for GIF to “crowd-in” more risk/return oriented capital from philanthropic or sector-based impact investors. Such a partnership with GIF’s traditional government aid supporters will be unique and powerful in the development arena.