• We Need More Female Angel Investors -- Here’s Why

    Submitted by carlos on Tue, 2019-05-21 14:21

    Calling the angel investment sector a male-dominated field is somewhat akin to saying that the ocean is wet -- it’s true enough factually, but the description doesn’t quite reveal the scope of the matter. In 2017, analysts for the UK Business Bank found that the vast majority of angel investors were men, with women accounting for just 14% of professionals in the sector. Believe it or not, this number constitutes a significant rise from a decade or so ago; in 2008, the percentage of female investors stood at 3%. For all that the global financial sector regards the UK as one of the most mature angel investment communities in the world, we nevertheless lag behind our international peers when it comes to offering gender-balanced opportunities in the field. Consider the US for example; in 2017, a full 30% of stateside angel investors were female.         
    The UK needs to encourage more women to pursue angel investment -- not only because it makes sense from a social perspective, but also because doing so will spur innovation and create opportunities for a more diverse subset of entrepreneurs. According to the Center for Venture Research, the rise in female angel investors has led to a corresponding uptick in the number of women-led companies. Researchers found that 24% of angel-backed companies were directed by women in 2017 -- a leap of over 75% from 2007, when the rate stood at 19%. Women investors certainly seem to place greater importance on gender than their male counterparts; another recent study from The American Angel found that 51% of female angels -- versus 6% of male -- considered a founder’s gender to be a crucial factor in investment deliberations.         
    The data is clear: female investors want to support female entrepreneurs -- or, as Loretta McCarthy recently put the matter in an article for Entrepreneur, “diversity among decision-makers opens minds to the possibility of investment in diverse entrepreneurs.”      
    The positive effects of having more female angels, however, do not start and end with greater entrepreneurial diversity. Female angels could also have a profound positive impact on their communities, given that women tend to place a higher value on a venture’s capacity for social change than their male colleagues do. According to data collected by the abovementioned American Angel project, 33% of female investors viewed a startup’s social mission as an “extensively used” criteria in their deliberations, compared to 16% of men. Given these tendencies, it seems fair to say that having more women in the investment sector could be a factor that brings new priorities and fresh ideas into a historically homogenous field.         
    The benefits of welcoming more women into the angel investing sector are clear -- and yet, the path to a more gender-balanced future is a long one. As I mentioned earlier, the number of female investors in the UK is painfully low at the moment, though it has increased over the past decade. Women interested in angel investing struggle to vault socially-imposed, gender-specific barriers to entry. Let’s consider a few here:      
    For women, risk-taking is seen as irresponsible.   
    Gender stereotypes can penalise women for deciding to make “risky” investments. As one participant recently commented in a UK Business Angels Association report on female angel investors, “Women can be seen as bad mothers when they make risky investments, instead of investing in real estate to offer a roof to their children, while men who are fathers choose to make risky investments.” Gendered stereotypes suggest that women should be more financially conservative than their male counterparts; rather than being viewed as bold, female investors are labelled as greedy for seeking financial gain.
    Yet, these stereotypes and labels are not reflective of most female angels’ motivations. The UKBAA study found that women investors were driven primarily by their love for entrepreneurship, the satisfaction of being involved in building an innovative venture, and a desire to pursue an interesting idea. Making money is a motivation, yes -- but on a list, it falls far lower than the stereotype would suggest.     
    Women usually don’t receive advice on how to become angel investors.  
    Given that risky investments are generally -- if subconsciously -- seen as unsuitable for women, it makes sense that advisors tend to direct female clients away from the angel sector. Researchers for the UKBAA study noted that over 90% of female respondents received “no information or advice about angel investing or the tax breaks that mitigate risk” from their financial advisors. Instead, their advisors directed them towards “safer” options such as property, stocks, and shares -- and left women without the advice they needed to break into angel investing.    
    There are few female investors in the angel sector.
    Women who are interested in angel investing tend to have less access to same-gender mentors and thus have less of a support network than their male colleagues might have. Female angels have to navigate the landscape alone -- and the journey can be intimidating. This lack of interpersonal support may be the reason that, as one 2015 UKBAA study points out, women tend to invest in networks rather than operate as individuals.        
    As matters stand, the angel investing sector is overwhelmingly male. Women can and should be angel investors -- but if they don’t have the information they need to step into the role, their potential will be wasted. More resources, mentorship opportunities, and advice should be made available to aspiring female investors. With time and work, we can achieve a more gender-balanced industry -- and reap the innovation benefits that such diversity naturally brings.   


  • Domestic Violence: A Root Cause for Homelessness?

    Submitted by carlos on Tue, 2019-04-16 17:14

    It takes her months to plan an escape through the front door. The woman quietly bides her time in the house, putting away a few pounds here, a few there; anything that wouldn't flag her partner's interest -- and temper. She weathers the daily verbal abuse, the bruises, the fear, telling herself that all of it will be done for good in a handful of weeks, days, hours. Finally, the day arrives: she hauls the strap of her pre-packed duffle bag over her shoulder and steps out of the house, closing the door behind her. She leaves the house for the bus stop feeling nervous, relieved and -- at last -- hopeful.     
    But the lightness she feels dissipates more quickly than she anticipates. The shelters she visits lack the capacity to give her aid; her Local Councils and Housing Association tells her that she may not qualify for housing aid. By the end of the day, she finds herself at a bus stop with no destination in mind, unsure of where she will find shelter for the night.  
    Sometimes, getting away from a violent partner is only the first step in ensuring a safe resolution for victims of domestic abuse. Current government statistics in the UK show that 10% of all those who seek authority support for homelessness are victims of partner or at-home abuse. St. Mungo's, a homeless charity based in London, further reports that a full 32% of the women and 8% of the men that they work with cite domestic abuse as a contributing factor to their housing insecurity. Worse, that one-time homelessness can quickly turn chronic for women who are forced to sleep rough. One 2016 survey found that repeat homelessness is common among women; almost half of those surveyed said that they had been homeless before.   
    In the worst cases, victims of domestic abuse trade in at-home traumas for those on the street. As one survivor shared of her experience in Solace Women's Aid's Finding the Cost of Freedom, “You’re away from the perpetrator – he doesn’t know where you are. But you’re then putting another set of problems onto it, you know – drugs, violence. And you don’t want that. I just wanted peace."      
    Peace can be hard to come by on the streets. Recently, one group of homelessness researchers found that eight out of ten surveyed rough sleepers -- male and female alike -- across England and Wales have experienced violence, abuse, or antisocial behaviour in the past year; one in twenty have been sexually assaulted. Moreover, the traumas suffered while sleeping rough can damage a woman's ability to live a secure life. In a 2018 report, analysts for the nonprofit SafeLives noted that "women with extensive experience of physical and sexual violence are far more likely to experience disadvantage in many other areas of their lives." Potential areas of disadvantage include but are not limited to -- disability, debt, discrimination, addiction, poverty, and poor physical and mental health.
    Given how vulnerable domestic abuse victims are to further trauma on the street, their access to supportive services should be a given. Safelives estimates that roughly 52% of domestic abuse victims need institutional support to remain in their home or move to new accommodations. Unfortunately, however, many victims face barriers when seeking new housing. Women's Aid reported in 2016 that approximately 10% of refuge referrals were refused because "the service was unable to meet the support or access needs of the survivor.” Many victims of partner violence may, for example, not feel comfortable living in a mixed-gender environment such as a hostel. Some shelters do offer gender-isolated facilities; however, these are in the minority.      
    Moreover, this issue may be larger than referral numbers indicate; the same Women’s Aid report also found that 92 women and 75 children were turned away from refuge in a single day. For almost half of the women, the reason behind the rejection was a lack of capacity and underfunding -- the shelters simply did not have the resources to support the influx of those in need of aid. Worse, some women may even face hostility from the local councils designed to help them. As one spokesperson for the nonprofit Sisters Uncut reported in an article for the Guardian, “In July 2016, a woman approached [Sisters Uncut] because Southwark council had told her it was “reasonable” for her to return, with her three children, to the home of her violent partner.” If the woman refused to go, the writer goes on to say, she could be labelled as "intentionally homeless, " thereby leaving the council without any duty to help her.   
    National policymakers, local councils, and nonprofits need to come together to provide better solutions for those facing homelessness as a result of domestic violence. Here, a few suggestions:

    • Public and private organisations should gather more research on the tie between domestic violence and homelessness so that we can develop better insights on what public services can do to aid those in need.
    • Local councils should place all homeless victims of domestic abuse under "priority need" and offer more gender- and trauma-sensitive support services.
    • Victims should have more legal ability to remain in their home, rather than cede it to an abusive partner.
    • Private nonprofits and local housing services should develop better rapport and collaboration to ensure that fewer victims fall through the metaphorical cracks.

    No one should have to escape one trauma to find another. We can do better for victims of domestic violence -- and we should.       

  • It’s Morning in Africa, Says $1 Million Franciscan

    Submitted by carlos on Fri, 2019-04-05 20:09

    *Originally published via the Catholic Herald
    Brother Peter Tabichi, a Franciscan friar who teaches maths and science in rural Kenya, gives away 80 per cent of his salary to support poorer students in his community. Last week he won one of the world’s richest prizes: the prestigious $1 million Global Teacher Prize, awarded by the Varkey Foundation.
    The 36-year-old teacher at the Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani village in Nakuru insisted that the prize was “not about the money”, but rather about giving his students a chance to raise their horizons. “As a teacher working on the front line, I have seen the promise of [Africa’s] young people – their curiosity, their talent, their intelligence, their belief,” he said. “Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will one day be famous in every corner of the world.”
    Brother Peter is the first African teacher to win the award, beating 10,000 teachers from 179 countries to the prize. He was congratulated by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who described him as “a shining example of what the human spirit can achieve”.
    Brother Peter has helped to change the outlook of many of his students, having launched a popular club which helps boys and girls design science projects. He has mentored many of his pupils through to the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair, where in 2018 his students showcased a device to allow blind and deaf people to measure objects. His students have been successful in many international science competitions, including wining an award from Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry after showing how to harness local plant life to generate electricity.
    Many of his pupils are poor, and almost a third are orphans or from single-parent families. Brother Peter says his main challenges include a lack of books, over-crowded classrooms (with up to 80 students per class) and an unreliable internet connection for the one solitary computer in the school.
    Other difficulties include persuading local families to value education and to encourage girls, in particular, to stay in school. Often he visits families whose children are at risk of dropping out to persuade them to let their children continue their education. He provides low-achieving pupils, in particular, with one-to-one tuition in maths and science outside of class and at weekends.
    Brother Peter sees this award as a hopeful sign. “It’s morning in Africa,” he said. “The skies are clear. The day is young and there is a blank page waiting to be written. This is Africa’s time.
    “This prize does not recognise me but recognises this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything.”
    Brooks Newmark is founder of A Partner in Education

  • How to Build Your Wings and Soar into Angel Investing

    Submitted by carlos on Tue, 2019-03-19 20:35

    When an angel investor offers to help, they do so because they see potential in an aspiring entrepreneur or business idea. They provide hope, funding, and support to innovators who might otherwise struggle to find backing for their high-potential -- but untested -- ideas. Their contributions are significant, too; the UK Business Angels Association estimates that on average, angel investors invest £1.5 billion in the UK per year. Often, entrepreneurs also receive the benefit of their investor's business experience, connexions, and industry influence.     
    The potential for reward is not limited to the entrepreneur, either. Investors who choose to become angels also have the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs, shape a developing business, and -- hopefully -- receive a significant monetary return on their contribution. For someone with the time, resources, and inclination to help a struggling business find its wings, angel investing might seem like an ideal way to do some good and make some money in the process.  
    That said, breaking into angel investment isn't as easy as it might sound at the outset, especially if the would-be investor hasn't spent much time in the financial sector. According to a recent report from the British Business Bank, the majority of business angels have eight or more years of experience in investment, and a full 75% are between the ages of 45 and 64. Given that both age and experience would play a role in defining a person's capacity to invest, these numbers are understandable. The same report also noted that there is a growing cohort of younger angels; in 2018, 9% of surveyed investors were between the ages of 18 to 34. This indicates that it is possible to become an angel investor earlier than usual -- however, doing so can be challenging and does require some forethought.   
    Know the Risks
    There is no certainty in the investment world. There is no guarantee that an investor's aims will be achieved, that the startup will execute its business plan, or that the investor will receive any return on their investment at all. As one writer for the international syndicate AngelList puts the matter, "While targeted returns should reflect the perceived level of risk in any investment situation, such returns may never be realised or be adequate to compensate an Investor or a Fund for risks taken.”    
    Total loss is always possible -- and even if an investment does generate a return, there is no promise that it will appear when an investor wants it. Statistics provided by the UK Business Angels Association suggests that as many as 58% angel deals leave the investor without profit or the stake money they had initially contributed. Factors such as changing economic conditions, revisions in government regulation, and outside technological innovations can render a business obsolete in a matter of months -- and sometimes, there is little to nothing an investor can do to mitigate the loss.    
    Check Your Basic Qualifications
    Not everyone is eligible to become an angel investor. In the UK, aspiring angels must be certified as high-net-worth individuals -- a label which requires them to have either £100,000 or more in annual income or assets in excess of £250,000. Importantly, calculations for the latter do not include the worth of a primary residence or income from pension benefits. If an investor meets these requirements, they can apply for a self-certification.  
    Those wanting to become an angel investor should take the time to consider how much they want to -- or even can -- dedicate towards an investment. According to the above British Business Bank report, the median initial investment for angels in 2018 was £25,000, and the median follow-on £7,500. Angel investing also demands quite a bit of time; a typical investor spends 1.6 days per week working with an investee and often maintains their focus for six or more years.        
    It's all well and good if you want to become an angel investor -- but you should ensure that you have the time and resources needed for it before you do.         
    Decide Your Method for Investing
    An angel can choose to invest alone -- but if a would-be investor lacks experience, they might be better served by joining a syndicate.   
    A syndicate typically includes three or more angel investors and allows those within the group to spread financial risk, enhance their investment capacity, and pool industry expertise. If a new angel joins a syndicate, they have an opportunity to tailor their role in growing a given company. They have the option to take an active position on the board or advise company leaders -- but if they would prefer to step back and allow the lead investor to take on the majority of investment decisions, they can choose to do so. In the end, the decision to join or remain independent is wholly up to the investor's preferences.      
    Even a new investor has the potential to help a struggling business find its start. If you have the time, resources, and will to invest -- do so! An entrepreneur will certainly thank you for it.   


  • From Umubano Primary School to Umubano Academy: Reflections on the Past 10 Years

    Submitted by carlos on Fri, 2019-03-01 21:32

    *Originally posted as a guest blog for the Conservative Friends of International Development


    I travelled to Rwanda in 2007 on the first Project Umubano, led by The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, who at that time was Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. I was one of eight MPs and 40 Conservative activists on this trip. We each worked on a specific social action project. I worked at a small primary school in Remera, a poor part of the capital Kigali. At the time the school had 83 children. We fixed up the classrooms, brought in running water and electricity to the site. After two weeks I left Rwanda feeling a huge sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of the challenges Rwanda faced as a post-conflict society. I never really expected to go back again. Little did I know what lay ahead for me.


    Six weeks after I left Rwanda I received a phone call from a friend who worked for one of the local papers in Kigali. “Brooks, there is a problem with ‘your’ school.” Ah, so now it’s my school is it. “After you fixed up ‘your’ school lots of children decided to go there. There are now not 83 children but 343 children and Rwanda Health & Safety want to shut the school down as the classes are too crowded.” I could only quip “Rwanda Health & Safety? I didn’t even know that existed. That’s crazy!” I went on “ok can you stop them shutting the school down even temporarily. I will fly out and see what I can do.”


    I arrived back in Kigali and through our High Commissioner arranged a meeting at the Ministry of Education. I found out that there were up to 60 children per classroom and even on a two shift day we couldn’t accommodate all the children at the school. So without hesitating I made an impulsive gesture: “if you don’t close the school down I will build a new school to accommodate the children.” Thus began a new chapter in my life and a journey that less than six months before I never imagined I’d travel.


    Ten years ago in 2009, after several false starts and getting the necessary permits, I found a new site for the school, started a new charity A Partner in Education (APIE) and provided the capital to begin building a nursery and primary for 300 children. President Kagame came and laid the foundation stone for this new project. We opened in 2011 and began our first academic year in January 2012. Umubano Primary School was born.


    My charity, APIE, provided support for the school and training for the teachers. However, we were careful to stick with the Rwandan core curriculum and only sought to bring best teaching practices from the UK. Our school was very child centred, with each child having their own Individual Education Plans and the use of corporal punishment (popular in most Rwandan schools) was forbidden. We were also the first disability compliant school in Rwanda and deliberately reached out to be an inclusive school for children with special educational needs.


    Almost immediately the parents and teachers asked me when I was going to build a secondary school. So I set the Head an ambitious target. I said if the school was ranked in the Top-5 primary schools within five years I would build a secondary school. “Top-5 within Five” was our goal and our mantra.


    Five years later in 2017 Umubano Primary was ranked in a combination of Peer Review and Ministry of Education Inspection to be in the top three in Kigali and indeed Rwanda. This success was very much down to the school leadership, led by the head teacher Jean De Dieu Dusingize, Pastor John who led an active Parent Teachers Association, APIE’s Country Director Amy Barnecutt and the head of A Partner in Education, Angie Kotler. Year after year, with the support of Amy and Angie, the quality of teaching improved and children achieved better and better results.


    As promised I bought a plot adjacent to my primary school and built a new secondary school and additionally a new Teacher Training Centre. I was determined that we should share what we learned with other teachers in Rwanda. In 2018 we opened the new teacher training centre and in January 2019 opened the new secondary school to a new intake. The school was renamed Umubano Academy and now takes in students from pre nursery (3 year olds) through to Year 9 (16 year olds).


    The school is unique in the way it delivers education, is very focussed on supporting both teachers and pupils in their personal development. Further the school has taken in a wide range of students with varying abilities, including children with physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities (including autism) and refugees from neighbouring Burundi. Uniquely we have integrated Peace Education into our curriculum (which we have worked with Aegis Trust on) and are starting an Early Years Learning training program for teachers (with support from DfiD).


    My charity A Partner in Education remains a non-profit organisation as does my school Umubano Academy. We are determined to share what we have learned over the past 10 years with other schools and teachers in Rwanda.


    Umubano means togetherness in Kinyawarda. The past ten years have been an incredible journey working together with an amazing team, including teachers, parents, children, the trustees and leadership at APIE, the Ministry of Education, the FCO and our partners at Aegis and DfiD. Together we have achieved so much in the past 10 years and I look forward to the next 10 years working together.


    Umubano Academy is a tremendous legacy of Project Umubano and I am eternally grateful to have played a role in what has been a life changing journey over the past decade.

  • Will Fintech Startups Disrupt the Investment Sector?

    Submitted by carlos on Mon, 2019-02-11 21:22

    New tensions are simmering in the wealth management sector. An industry long dominated by globally-active financial titans such as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase, the investing sphere isn’t one that most people would pick as a candidate for tech disruption -- and yet, the sudden rise of all-digital financial solutions suggests that it is.       
    In recent years, fintech startups such as Wealthfront and Acorns have made quick work of establishing themselves as alternatives to traditional (and notoriously expensive) wealth management services. Wealthfront, in particular, has thrived; since its founding in 2008, the company now manages roughly £3.56 billion for over 100,000 users. These robo-investment startups offer automated financial advising services through an entirely digital platform.         
    Their services are one-size-fits-all; when a client signs up, robo-advisors use algorithms and big data to decide where their assets should be allocated. Fintech companies like those mentioned above also allow Millennials to invest by making the minimum contribution threshold more attainable. They allow for investments of only a few hundred or thousand pounds and don’t charge the 2-3% fee that in-person advisors would.  
    Here, we come to the tension. As Millennials increasingly gravitate towards new, digital-centred solutions for the financial needs, those in the industry have begun wondering if fintech startups will ultimately supplant industry giants and render the in-person advisor obsolete.         
    Millennials want to be financially responsible; according to a 2016 study from Bankrate, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed put over 5% of their income into savings. Investing, however, can pose a challenge. Traditional financial advisors can be cost-prohibitive for early-career Millennials, given that many wealth managers have minimum investment thresholds around £100,000. In the past, financial titans have been comfortable in the knowledge that their clients will eventually accumulate enough money to come asking for services -- but now, fintech startups are offering more accessibility earlier.
    As Matt Harris, a managing director at Bain Capital Ventures and an early investor in Acorns through the company, put the matter for the Wall Street Journal, “The industry’s case is: ‘Oh yeah, when [millennials] grow up and have money they’ll come running [to industry giants], ’ but I don’t think that’s a safe bet -- not even remotely.”         
    These wealth managers expect that Millennials will follow the pattern set by past generations -- but fintech startups don’t appear to be willing to wait that long, or give up the clients they’ve accumulated so far.       
    Some fintech companies are working to keep their competitive edge by proactively diversifying their product offerings. Acorns, for example, rose to prominence by targeting Millennials who might not have the funds to make larger investments invest their spare change into exchange-traded funds. Now, the company has rolled out offerings that focus on ageing millennials and encourage longer-term usage, including Acorns Later, an individual retirement account product. Some reports also suggest that the company is pursuing Millennial-favoured impact-investment products as another way to interest users. One point is clear -- companies like Acorn are doing all that they can to keep Millennials interested in their services, rather than those provided by traditional investors.    
    To their credit, many of the old guard have taken steps into the digital landscape. Vanguard, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley have all launched robo advisors, although they still predominantly centre on investors who already have a few thousand pounds to invest. They also charge more in fees than most of the startups mentioned, arguing that their hybridised menu of robo- and in-person-services are well-worth the cost.     
    Naureen Hassan, the chief digital officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, made her case in a news report on the subject. “As people age, their lives get more complex—there are trust and tax and estate issues, mortgages and inheritance. That’s where we see people wanting the help of a financial adviser to help them talk through decisions and make decisions in a collaborative way.”     
    In other words, the old guard is attempting to create digital offerings that can both capture digital-savvy Millennials’ attention and meet their needs as they and their investment portfolios develop.   
    The question remains, however, as to whether these measures are too little or too late. While tech disruption has so far been contained to the younger or lower-value investors and not impacted traditional advisors’ older client base, the two may not be able to coexist so easily in the future. If fintech startups can expand their product offerings to keep pace with developing Millennial needs, they may be able to match or even disrupt traditional investors’ hold over the wealth management sector.       
    For now, there’s little to do but watch and wait to see if innovation will ultimately propel these small startups ahead of industry titans.         


  • Prevention is Our Best Bet in the Fight Against Homelessness. Here’s Why.

    Submitted by carlos on Mon, 2019-01-28 13:51

    Inside a small apartment on the outskirts of London, a woman is pacing her kitchen; her phone pressed tight against her ear. A few feet away, a baby coos in his high chair, playing with a pair of wooden blocks. The woman glances at him periodically as she talks to the person on the other end of the line. The call doesn’t go well; when she hangs up, she looks to be on the verge of tears. She puts the phone down on top of a well-wrinkled notice on the table. In big, bold letters, the notice proclaims that her failure to pay rent has sparked eviction proceedings. Her small family is on the brink of homelessness — and for all of her calls, pleas, and efforts, she has little recourse but to fall off the edge.
    Our current approach to resolving homelessness prioritises; it puts out the metaphorical fires and doesn’t address smaller sparks until they turn into flames. This crisis-oriented strategy makes sense — after all, someone who is struggling to find shelter for their family has a more pressing need for aid than someone who still has a few weeks of guaranteed housing on their lease.
    However, I would argue that while “firefighting” homelessness cases work in the short run, it isn’t a viable long-term solution. While we should continue to focus on helping those with a critical need for shelter, we also need to turn more of our attention towards the “sparks” — those like the mother above who may not be homeless yet, but are nevertheless on the verge of losing their housing. If we can help this at-risk population secure — or even better, maintain — a home before they lose their current accommodations, we stand a chance of preventing homelessness before it occurs and lessening rough sleeping overall.     
    The at-risk population is significant. In 2017, nearly 50% of all calls made to Shelter, the UK’s largest homelessness charity, were made by families on the verge of losing their homes. In only five years, the number of families living in temporary accommodation despite having steady jobs has skyrocketed to 33,000; a notable 73% increase from figures reported in 2013. Today, one in every 200 Briton are living without consistent housing — and according to statistics provided by Shelter, the number of homeless continues to increase by roughly 1,000 people every month.
    We need to help people back from the brink of housing insecurity before they ever tumble over; otherwise, these numbers will likely continue to grow.
    Causes for a Life on the Edge of Homelessness
    Living paycheck to paycheck is a problem with which most people facing housing insecurity are painfully familiar. One concerning study found that 37% of working families in the UK would be unable to cover their rent and utility expenses for longer than a month if one partner lost their job. These families live at the whims of their financial situation; if they lose an income source, they have to scramble to either make up for the lack or find cheaper housing in the short span of a month.    

    Worse, though, are the pressures imposed by the housing market. According to Shelter, the inability to secure new housing after a short-term tenancy contract ends is the principal cause of homelessness in England, and a significant factor in Scotland and Wales. Rental prices in the UK have been on the rise in recent years — and because local housing allowance (LHA) rates have been frozen since 2016, the benefits that might have helped families secure new housing are no longer sufficient.
    The mismatch between a family’s financial needs and their LHA — even if it is only a hundred pounds or so — can spell the difference between a family keeping their home or losing it. If they do lose housing, their struggle usually intensifies; with rents on the rise, landlords are disinclined to rent at lower-than-market prices and are often unwilling to take a chance on tenants who have been homeless before.         
    Prevention-Centered Solutions
    The long term fix to resolving homelessness lies in helping people maintain housing. Bob Blackman MP’s ‘Homeless Reduction Bill’ (2018) which both put a greater duty of care on local councils and which doubles the period in which housing insecure individuals can apply for aid from 28 days to 56 days is a step in the right direction.
    However, our housing strategy is still too reactive; we solve crises as they occur, rather than preventing them from happening in the first place. If we truly want to enact a long-term solution for homelessness rather than a for-now fix, we need to take more preventative measures.     


  • We Can Use the Private Rental Sector to Resolve Housing Needs

    Submitted by carlos on Wed, 2019-01-16 19:50

    For many enmeshed in the fight against nationwide homelessness and rough sleeping, the private rental sector offers the potential for relief. The number of independent landlords and listings has skyrocketed in the past decade, providing ever-more chances for the housing-insecure to find four walls to call their own. The relationship between the private sector and decreased rates of homelessness seems clear; in theory, growth in the private residential sector should alleviate pressure on local councils and housing associations.        
    In practise, however, the private sector and the social housing sector rarely work so well together. While England’s private rental market encompasses more than four million homes and houses over eleven million people, access to non-social housing is far less than it should be for those struggling with homelessness. According to one Crisis study on housing access in the private sector, only 20% of surveyed landlords expressed willingness to rent to homeless candidates. The same investigation found that of homeless participants applying for residency, 72% of respondents were unable to secure tenancy as a result of their housing-insecure status.   
    For those already sleeping rough and facing housing insecurity, this is difficult enough; however, even those who have privately-rented lodgings aren’t always living securely. Data collected by the advocacy group Generation Rent suggests that approximately 216 households face eviction and potential homelessness every week in England. Roughly four in five of those evictions occur under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants after their initial rental period without providing a reason, regardless of whether the tenant has done anything wrong. Uncomfortably, the same study also found that 39% of private renters are unaware of their landlord’s right to evict them without reason.  
    For a tenant facing eviction from a private residence, the descent into housing insecurity happens quickly — often in the span of a few short months. Unable to find housing at an affordable price point, the former tenants find themselves sleeping rough. The stigma of being homeless follows them as they apply for housing; the search soon begins to feel fruitless.
    The above scenario is hypothetical, but similar instances play out all too often in the real world. A full 41,000 repossessions occurred in England in 2015; 19,000 in the social housing sector, and a shocking 22,000 in the private rented sector. However, while tenants in social housing typically only face eviction after breaching tenancy rules or falling behind on rent, private landlords don’t need any evidence of wrongdoing to initiate removal proceedings — just the desire to do so. According to an English Housing Survey conducted in 2016, 63% of landlords evicted tenants because they wanted to sell or use the rental property.
    All that said, I firmly believe that despite its current contributions to the homelessness epidemic, the private sector can contribute to the fight for secure housing if we can reassure landlords that signing a lease with a formerly homeless candidate is a good investment.  
    Right now, private landlords lack confidence. According to a recent study from the housing advocacy group Shelter, about 68% of landlords are hesitant to rent to homeless candidates because the housing benefits that would pay the lion’s share of rent would flow through the would-be renter, rather than coming directly into the landlord’s hands. In other words, they felt insecure about the tenant’s ability to pay. To make matters worse, a longstanding freeze on housing benefit allotments has allowed rent prices to surpass the amount programme recipients would receive to cover their rent and thereby lifted the chances of arrears.       
    These factors pose more than a little risk to landlords and real estate investors; from their perspective, it may seem safer to lease their properties to someone who hasn’t yet struggled with housing insecurity. Left unchecked, the private sector’s unwillingness to reach out of its comfort zone only stands to worsen the homelessness problem overall.        
    If we want to convince the private sector to join the fight against housing insecurity, rather than exacerbate it, we have to set landlords at ease. These overtures could take a number of forms: local housing authorities might develop relationships with private landlords and serve as facilitators between private landlords and homeless households, or help craft lease agreements that promise longer-term tenancies and cut down on turnover costs. Today, many authorities offer to set up a guarantee scheme or put down a rent deposit to convince private landlords to take a chance on a homeless applicant. In any case, the goal remains the same: to reassure that they won’t risk their investment by providing a rough sleeper with a place to call home.  
    The private rental section can be part of the solution rather than an exacerbating force in the homelessness dilemma; we need only convince the private sector to align its interests with the social sector’s priorities.   

  • Mistakes Aspiring Angel Investors Should Never Make

    Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 2019-01-07 19:48

    Up-and-coming entrepreneurs live their early careers in the spotlight. Their efforts are the centre of attention — when it comes to doling out advice, the metaphorical line of well-intentioned advisors who want to tell the beleaguered founder what they should do to attract and keep investors’ attention often seems to stretch on for miles. For aspiring investors, however, the situation is somewhat different. The entrepreneurial community’s close focus on the would-be founders can come at the — sometimes literal — expense of the person on the other side of the boardroom table in relative obscurity.    
    For all that shows like Dragon’s Den depict venture capitalists and angel investors as brutally honest and often dismissive business veterans, many of the apparent “dragons” in the investment field are almost as new to the game as the entrepreneurs they sit across. According to a joint report from the British Business Bank, IFF Research, and the UK Business Angels Association, around 17% of angel investors have under two years of experience in the field, while a full 44% have under five years. Like any other undertaking, investors need experience to thrive — and given that the average angel contributes between £10,000 – £500,000, the learning curve has the potential to be expensive.       
    Mistakes can be costly. Below, I’ve noted a few stumbles that every aspiring angel investor should avoid if at all possible.   
    Not Taking Proper Precautions
    Investment can be financially and professionally rewarding — or it can turn into a disaster. As with any other financial endeavour, angel investing comes with a certain degree of risk; statistics provided by the UK Business Angels Association suggest that as many as 58% of angel deals leave the investor without profit — or even the stake money they had initially contributed.  
    Aspiring investors need to think strategically and do their due diligence to preserve their capital. The most effective way to mitigate the potential for loss is to diversify your portfolio effectively and ensure that your financial health isn’t dependent on the success of one or two of ventures in the same sector. Aspiring investors in the UK should also take advantage of the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), as both schemes are specifically designed to incentivize investment in smaller or higher-risk companies by offering tax relief. They certainly succeed in drawing in investors; one recent market report found that 86% of respondents said that they typically — if not always — use EIS or SEIS, while a notable 58% admitted that they would have invested “less or not at all” if the schemes weren’t in place.  

    Straying Beyond Your Expertise
    Odd as it might seem, even years of experience as an entrepreneur won’t necessarily prepare you for a role as an angel investor. Former Dragon’s Den star and investment veteran James Caan puts the matter well in an article for the Financial Times: “What most people do is — because they have built up a business, sold it and made money — start to believe they can run any business.” Caan himself made this very mistake; he put money towards a venture in the tech sector and promptly took catastrophic losses because, as he says, he “knew nothing about the key drivers of the technology market.”     
    Up-and-coming investors need to stay within their realm of expertise — or partner with someone who has complementary experience.    
    Investors can sidestep the expertise boundary and mitigate their share of risk by joining an angel syndicate. Syndication is an increasingly popular option among angel investors; researchers at Deloitte estimate that around 73% of investors in the sector contribute in a collective. These groups collaborate to find better investment options, lessen their individual contributions, and benefit from a shared knowledge base. Syndicate investing is also an invaluable opportunity for newer investors, as it empowers aspiring angels to hone their skills and gain experience within a reduced-risk environment.      
    Mismanaging Expectations
    Unlike more distant venture capitalists, angel investors tend to work closely and personally with the entrepreneurs they support. The money these investors offer does, after all, stem from their personal funds — why wouldn’t they want to take a more active role in ensuring that the seed funding they provide helps that business grow?    
    However, misaligned expectations between entrepreneurs and investors can turn one-promising business relationships sour. A founder, for example, could seek out an angel investor for their hands-on advice and industry contacts — and quickly realise that the investor doesn’t have the time or inclination to help in the way the founder expected. Alternatively, an angel investor with a background in entrepreneurship, for example, might hope to provide strategic advice only to find that the founder doesn’t want their hands-on intervention.        
    The latter situation can become particularly awkward, as investors do tend to have more of a voice in a company’s strategic planning as they purchase more of its shares. It’s in an angel investor’s best interest to establish expectations early; if they don’t, they run the risk of trapping themselves in hostile and costly business relationships for years on end.    
    The learning curve for angel investors has the potential to be costly, stressful, and unrewarding — but it doesn’t have to be. With enough support and care, up-and-coming investors can collaborate with their peers and investees to gain experience without undue risk. Setbacks happen on the path to investment success — and while they tend to be costly, they are rarely impassible.    


  • Brooks Newmark: A Partner in Education for Rwanda

    Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 2018-11-07 19:36

    (Brooks Newmark at Umbano Primary School in Rwanda, a school that was built by Brooks' organization, A Partner in Education.) 
    When Brooks Newmark embarked on the very first Project Umubano trip to Kigali, Rwanda in 2007, he could never have anticipated the positive impact the journey would have on the next decade of his life.   
    The initial trip was organised by the Conservative party and brought together forty-three uniquely-qualified volunteers, each with their own specialties and experiences to share. All aimed to do what they could to share their professional expertise with their Rwandan hosts and increase access to the skills and resources needed to cultivate positive growth in the Kigali community.

    Over the span of a few short days, the trip planted the first seeds of international partnerships in fields ranging from education to health to the private sector. Within the next few years, the number of volunteers burgeoned from a few dozen to well over a hundred, and the programme’s impact grew accordingly. Within five years, the group had refurbished a local school, began a youth football coaching programme, and launched a rural health clinic that would provide quality healthcare services to those who lacked easy access to medical care.   

    For Brooks, there was little more engaging than sparking positive change and seeing the good that Umubano project created firsthand; as one volunteer put it in a retrospective article on the project: “It is an experience that keeps people coming back every year to do more. I know for many of the old hands, there’s a sense of home when they arrive in Kigali.”  

    But for Brooks Newmark, nothing was so impactful as the school.

    As a member of the first cohort of Umubano volunteers, Newmark had a hand in refurbishing the Girubuntu primary school for local children. The project was initially launched as a way to provide a better educational experience for eager young students — Newmark, however, had a more complex dream in mind. Inspired by the programme's work in Kigari, Brooks Newmark connected with fellow philanthropist Kitty Llewellyn; together, the two launched A Partner in Education, a charity dedicated to implementing high-quality education initiatives in Rwanda.      

    The pair's vision was ambitious. For Newmark and Llewellyn, it wasn't enough to merely polish a school; they wanted to create an educational space that could serve as a model of excellence, one that would both provide high-quality, inclusive education to children and offer supportive training environment for teachers. After years of work, Newmark and Llewellyn officially opened Girubuntu Primary School's doors to eager students, parents, and teachers. Rwandan president Paul Kagame attended the opening ceremony in 2011 and remarked that Girubuntu Primary School was not just an academic institution, but "a symbol of something much bigger — the strong relationship that exists between the people and the government of Rwanda and those of the UK."   

    Accomplishment aside, APIE was not ready to rest on its laurels. Newmark knew that the school could not support all of the students who wanted to attend, and so insisted on expanding the premises enough to accommodate all interested students comfortably. Once construction concluded in 2013, Girubuntu reopened as the Umubano Primary School — just in time to welcome a new class of 115 students and 13 teachers.        

    Over the next few years, the school grew into its potential as a model for academic excellence. Working hand-in-hand with APIE, administrators at Umubano Primary School developed an advanced teacher training strategy and forged partnerships with local, national, and international players who could provide expertise and practical support to local teachers. By 2016, the school had established a scholarship programme which would provide financial assistance to up to 30 children who might not otherwise be able to afford their education.        

    By 2016, the school had 242 enrolled pupils and had been formally recognised by the government as an exemplary educational centre; a year later, APIE had begun construction on a community centre to serve as a central hub for ICT, sports, and the arts. Looking ahead, APIE hopes that the school will become so self-sufficient as to enable APIE to scale back into the role of a supportive partner rather than that of a directing force.  

    Brooks Newmark remains on the Board of Trustees for APIE to this day and he has little doubt that APIE’s potential to enact positive change in Rwanda will continue to grow.