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Scholar Spotlight: Liesbet Peeters Helps Investors Make a Social Impact

ARTICLE BY: Dominick Albano

Siebel Scholars Program

June 20th 2017

In the world of big finance, investors look for monetary return on investment, but for Siebel Scholar Liesbet Peeters (MIT Sloan '05), the payoff comes in the form of social impact in developing countries.

Peeters is a seasoned expert in the impact investment space. She is the Founding and Managing Partner of D. Capital Partners, an investment advisory firm that uses capital to boost private sector development while also making a financial, social, and environmental impact. Since 2010, Peeters has guided the firm to use the incentives and instruments of disciplined finance and investing to provide transparent and efficient capital solutions to developing countries.

Siebel Scholar Liesbet Peeters (MIT Sloan ’05) is the Founding and Managing Partner of D. Capital Partners, an investment advisory firm that uses the incentives and instruments of disciplined finance and investing to provide transparent and efficient capital solutions to developing countries.

The term impact investing is sometimes used for projects that take a long-term view of addressing critical local problems. For example, helping a family-owned small business grow and generate revenue that is used to send their children to school, which in turn serves the larger community and improves the overall quality of life. “Quite simply, it is about more than selling a product or service,” says Peeters.

Impact investing is becoming more scalable around the world. “It is an investment approach that is here to stay. From pension funds to institutional investors, more and more people are putting their money where they see meaningful impact. However, for the industry to become fully mature we need more investors to provide cash flow to build a track record and portfolios that will demonstrate that this long-term approach is viable,” Peeters said.

Peeters’ success can be attributed to her ability to combine strong investor relationships, a deep understanding of financial solutions to development challenges, and extensive experience investing in Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America. Over the last seven years, Peeters has assisted private foundations, family offices, and institutional public-private partnerships building impact investment portfolios and fund structures in emerging markets.                  

For Peeters, impact investing sometimes means training small business owners in strategic planning and financial management, often focusing on women-owned business in developing countries. She is also an emerging leader in financial product structuring for international development, having led the creation of products such as Durabilis, to improve financial performance of investments of small holder farmers in the agricultural value chain, and the Mozambique Malaria Performance Bond, a Development Impact Bond mechanism using private funding to increase funding for efficient malaria interventions.

Before starting her own business, Peeters worked with a variety of financial services firms in Europe, where her work focused on small businesses with growth potential. She spent several years at the World Bank’s Grassroots Business Initiative, assisting with microenterprise development projects in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria. In addition to spending over 80% of her time in the field on these projects, she also helped her clients in Cambodia, India, and Nepal to develop income-generating activities for survivors of human trafficking.

Peeters, who holds a MBA from MIT Sloan and a Master’s degree in Commercial Engineering from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, recently spoke with the Siebel Scholars program about her work.

Q: What inspired you to work in international development?

I had done some professional work in the Ivory Coast to set up micro financing models for small businesses. I was also doing volunteer impact investment work on a very small scale during my MBA studies at MIT Sloan. When I received a Siebel Scholars award, I was able pursue my passion for impact investing and international development in emerging markets post-graduation on a much bigger scale.

Q: How do you decide which projects to focus on?

The projects must be income generating with a sustainable business model that can expand and demonstrate measurable results. Much of my focus has been in local agriculture including food security, as well as renewable energy, access to education and access to healthcare.

Our work is more than just financing innovative projects. We work closely with small businesses and local non-government agencies to provide technical skills. By applying strategic planning and financial risk management, we work to ensure the business is able to generate a return on investment. These are skills usually offered in university programs but many of our partners do not have access, or cannot afford, to attend higher education institutions. We work to bridge that gap.

Q: What are some of the challenges you find on these projects?

We have developed a solid record using established criteria to forecast if an endeavor will be successful. One of the challenges we have is related to talent development to pass on the skills to those within the organizations we support to keep pace with needs. Another challenge is developing the financial acumen of the small business owners we work with. In many cases, we try to impart what can sometimes take years of advance study in higher education to those who do not have much free time so it is very much learning on the job.

Q: What is most rewarding about of working in impact investing?

There are many rewards in impact investing both for the individual business leaders and their communities. For me, it is seeing the personal impacts such as a woman owned soap-making business being able to expand her sales so that all her children—including the girls—can continue their education.  This, in turn, will ensure that all the children can contribute to improve their community in the longer-term. For that working mother, running a successful business helps her self-esteem, taking pride in taking care of her family and demonstrating value in the community. To know I had some role in that is most rewarding.

Q: What advice would give to someone looking to start their own business?

Follow your passion. That is easier said than done, but when you navigate challenges it can help to draw on passion to get through uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to partner with others and ask for advice. It is important to build your network of trusted contacts. Seek out opportunities like the Siebel Scholars program to help turn your passion into your profession.