22 April 2021

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Keeping impact investments flowing

When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Finance in Motion, like many companies, was obliged to transform its operations seemingly overnight. Business needed to go completely online – requiring an unprecedented reimagining of activities that had always taken place directly in the field. The fact that Finance in Motion operates from 17 separate offices across five continents added even more complexity. And when it came to partners and investees, not everyone had the same ability to accommodate the new working modes. Yet most Finance in Motion staff reported that work was able to continue practically without a hitch.

Matteo Snidero and Tom Zahay
Matteo Snidero and Tom Zahay

How was this possible? Human Resources Director Tom Zahay and IT Director Matteo Snidero look back on this extraordinary time: the challenges, successes, learnings, and remaining a reliable partner to investees in times of crisis.

Let’s turn the clock back to spring of 2020. Did you have any idea what was about to happen?

Tom: Absolutely not. It was inconceivable at the beginning. But as the pandemic accelerated, we realized we needed to move quickly to keep people safe while also preventing business disruption. After all, systems and structures in emerging markets can be especially vulnerable during times of uncertainty. It was very important that we not let the circumstances keep us from delivering on our impact mission.

So what did you do to keep things running?

Tom: We took an approach that was both centralized and flexible. Everyone switched to remote work where possible; we even provided a stipend for staff to equip their home offices as needed. In cases where people had to be in the office, strict hygiene measures were enforced. It was a combination of adhering to guidance from public officials and interpreting what that meant from an operational and business continuity perspective.

Matteo: Fortunately, our IT environment was up to the task. One might say that our systems had already been designed to support agile working modes from the beginning. After all, Finance in Motion has always been active on the ground, in many different countries; it’s what informs our ability to respond to market needs. So even before the crisis, we had designed our systems to enable, for example, an investment manager to work from any corner of the world at any time. This proved enormously valuable when everything went entirely online in 2020.

What helped make the transition smooth?

Tom: Communication! Every department and local office was dealing with special challenges. Collaboration and up-to-date knowledge sharing were crucial. But also, I would add that Finance in Motion’s company character played a crucial role. Camaraderie and supporting each other have always been a strength of ours. So even during this time, you noticed this focus on addressing issues and finding solutions.

What did you struggle with?

Matteo: Well, it was a pandemic. That is simply a scary situation. Our staff is quite international, so many of us have families far away who we were worried about. Fortunately, those days really seemed to bring out the best in everyone. There was a lot of empathy, checking in on how others were coping. I have to say, if you are like me and thrive in an environment with a palpable team spirit, this was a huge help.

Tom: It’s true. There were so many questions: How long would it last? What does it mean for the future? And from a business perspective: Would we maintain the level of performance that we’re used to? Well, thanks to excellent staff and systems, we did. In fact, through our funds, we even managed to enable a record amount of impact investments to help our investees and partners cope with the situation.

What have you learned so far?

Matteo: That our systems can take on quite a heavy load in an agile manner. We had switched to a cloud infrastructure a couple of years before, and it was good to see the value of this confirmed. The move to digital has been a unique opportunity to obtain data on experiments that we had only run in our heads in the past. The situation has some implications for the future, too. For example, we now know for sure where we can reduce travel without sacrificing business excellence. That opens up more possibilities for avoiding carbon emissions and making our own operations even greener.

Tom: And more flexible. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is at the root of resilience, and I think this experience has made us an even stronger, more agile partner in overcoming obstacles to reach our target markets. The world is changing, but Finance in Motion views change as opportunity.

In addition to EUR 760 million in impact investments, Finance in Motion also provided direct support to communities struggling to cope with the pandemic through donations totaling EUR 100,000. Find some examples of these charitable projects here.

Discover more about how Finance in Motion continued to drive sustainable developmentin emerging markets in 2020 in our latest Impact Report. Read “Investing in Resilience” here.