How a global investment magnate is helping bring business training to developing markets
Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild was an early mover in the mobile telecoms sector and built up businesses in Latin America and Europe, before co-founding EL Rothschild, her family-owned investment holding company
I was a lawyer at a Wall Street law firm for four years, and I was working for one of our clients, John Kluge, who went on to be the richest man in the world for the moment before Bill Gates was discovered. John was the first person to make a big commitment to cellular telephones — and he was an inspirational philanthropist too.
He learnt that cellular licences were being given away and he immediately saw that it would become something major. He hired me — at a very young age — to come in at a very senior role in this very tiny company, and I jumped at that.
I've always had an entrepreneurial spark. The best deal I ever made (before I was twenty) was when my parents took me to Israel. I had heard that Israelis loved American blue jeans, so I bought ten pairs of Levis for $10 each, and I sold them for almost $100 apiece through the concierge at the King David Hotel.
I call myself a 'serial entrepreneur'; I think it's because I really like to start things from scratch. I've been described as fearless — I look at risk very seriously, but I'm not afraid of it.
From a business point of view, what comes most easily to me is a translation of an idea into a good business model. I see how something can make money. Now that I'm an investor, the most important thing is to find people of high integrity and intelligence to execute our plan.
If you build a business, either by yourself or with partners, it's much more grit than glory. There was a story about me on the front page of the Wall Street Journal when I was pretty young, and that was glory. But to get there you pull all-nighters, you do research, you worry, sometimes you pull wires through buildings — I've done everything to make a business a success.
Our European telecoms business had licences in fifteen countries and we had about 15,000 kilometres of cable. We had a lot of contracts to deliver. It was a huge financial commitment that we signed before the financing was there — and then we got the financing, but that was scary. I guess I've been pretty lucky.
I actually shouldn't say that: women always say they've been lucky, and that's a bad thing to say. It's more like what Einstein said: 'The harder I work, the luckier I get.'
Giving to Hand in Hand International is not that different from the way I make an investment. I think that the objective of giving jobs to women to improve not only their lives but also their communities' lives is exactly right.
So far 2 million jobs have been created, most of them for women, by the programmes of Hand in Hand. Each working person perhaps takes care of four or five people, so that's almost 10 million people who have been affected positively by a relatively small budget.
There's huge power and leverage in each pound spent by Hand in Hand. It achieves its goal of giving unemployed or underemployed women saving and business opportunities at a very low unit cost, so it appeals to my entrepreneurial nature.
It's not just about buying women an object — it's giving them a job. President Clinton frequently says something that I think is so true: that everywhere in the world dreams, ambitions and hopes are evenly distributed, but what's not evenly distributed is the opportunity to exercise those dreams and achieve them. Hand in Hand gives people that little bit of help.
We're not talking about taking people from the fields and sending them to Cambridge, we're talking about taking people from the fields who don't know how to read or write and teaching them how to fix bicycles or sell mobile phones. That is an enormous improvement from where they stand today and that will keep them and their family fed. We're talking about millions of people who need a little help to help themselves.
I do understand their pride. I was a single mum and I had to take care of my two boys, and there's nothing more terrifying than thinking that you can't provide for your children, so if these women can take care of their children, we're giving them so much. It's a lifeline rather than just a handout.
Josefine Lind’nge has a background in development finance and joined Hand in Hand in 2008; she became CEO last year
When I worked at the United Nations in its Financing for Development arm, one key message was that development and the private sector really go hand in hand.
That's something Percy Barnevik knew. He's Sweden's greatest living industrialist: he created the robotics giant ABB and was chairman of Skanska and AstraZeneca. When he retired twenty years ago, he brought his business brain into his philanthropy, founding Hand in Hand after spending time in India.
Operating in mainly rural areas, we bring together women in groups and teach them to save, so they can be financially resilient. When they have pooled some savings, they rotate them through the group members so they can either pay some school fees or make some small investments.
Then we give them a structured business training package which goes on for six months or a year: what bookkeeping is, how you calculate profit, how you make productive use of your profit.
And when these entrepreneurs are up and running, they need some capital to expand, so we help them to get access to some either through our own small funds or through partner financial institutions — commercial banks or microfinance.
The last step is helping them to look at market opportunities. What opportunities are there in the village market or their local market? Or their regional market? In some cases, it's a national market and in a very few cases the export market.
These entrepreneurs become strong and proud. Often when we meet them they already do some kind of subsistence farming or they do something in their homes, but when we leave them — two and a half to three years later — they have a proper enterprise, they have their accounts, they have their loans. They can pay school fees, repay loans, improve their houses. This doesn't only affect the individual entrepreneur, but also their family and the generations to come.
Lady Lynn found Hand in Hand through Percy — I think they met twenty years ago at the Bilderberg Group. She joined our board in London in 2009 and it's been so inspiring and helpful to have such a calibre of expertise; she's an extremely successful entrepreneur.
Seventy per cent of our funding is from entrepreneurs and private individuals, and one of the reasons they find Hand in Hand so attractive is that we are all about entrepreneurship. These people understand the challenge that our members face in the field.
In the same way as Percy, she has really continued to push and encourage this speed, scale and efficiency in everything we do. We've been so lucky to have her: she's been very generous with her support.
Before Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, I was a garbage collector here in Kahawa Soweto slums, going house-to-house. We realised that there was a lot of charcoal dust which wasn't being used and we decided to mould some little briquettes from it which can be used for energy.
I started looking for some ideas on how to go on, and that's how I got to Hand in Hand. In a group of fifteen, they taught me how to do the business management, marketing and record-keeping. We started doing the saving and we got the loans which helped us grow our business.
Hand in Hand has changed my life because before I didn't know how to save and now I'm saving for the briquettes and also for my family. I have two boys and I have two other girls who I've adopted and I'm able to educate them. Hand in Hand can help the entire community, especially the women, because the women will be empowered to work.