As a Principal on the Innovation Investment team at the Skoll Foundation, Raymond Guthrie develops and structures time-bound investment opportunities around Skoll social entrepreneurs. Every day, he and his team ask: Where can our investments make the most impact? What factors need to be considered? How can we test our theories?
Prior to joining Skoll, Raymond worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in India, and at Calvert Investments, a large socially-responsible investment fund. He holds a Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Miami, a Juris Doctor from Howard University, and speaks French and Vietnamese.
Tell us about your job. What do you like best?
The Innovation Investment program at Skoll is focused on doubling down on proven innovations from our portfolio of social entrepreneurs. We look at past Skoll Awardees and consider where they’re getting the most traction and where the ecosystem looks ready to take up their innovations. Our goal in making an Innovation Investment is to accelerate the impact that our Awardees can have in solving the world’s most pressing problems.
In each case, we look at what types, shapes, and sizes of solutions the problem requires, as opposed to only looking at one way of doing things. This approach gives us a lot of flexibility in solution delivery. It’s not just about “grants” or “equity investments”—sometimes we fund across the entire ecosystem.
I also spend a lot of time talking to other funders to see what they are focusing on, and get their views on certain aspects. Some of the things we hear are truly groundbreaking, and that’s exciting. Because I’m the person that says no more than yes, I ask a lot of questions. There’s so much rigor and analysis that goes into what we are doing, and this greater understanding of the ecosystem informs our funding. It puts us in the best position to help drive innovative systems change.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Every day is a new adventure. I’m usually speaking with the relevant funders and practitioners in the different sectors in which we’re focusing our investments. I talk to entrepreneurs about testing our theories, and gather more information about what’s happening on the ground.
We do a lot of analysis and research. For example, if we’re investing in healthcare, I read up on the maternal/child mortality situation in Lesotho and then go talk to the Global Fund manager for Lesotho to find out how our theory might fit into their strategy and how it would support other programs. First, I look at the drivers, then I go talk to the actors in that country and ask them what they’re thinking. It’s a mix of in-person and on the phone, and I travel frequently to do site visits. This July I’ll be going to South Africa. I also attend and speak at conferences relevant to our work.
What was your last job and how did it prepare you for working at the Skoll Foundation?
I was in the Foreign Service before this, living in New Delhi and working in the U.S. Embassy. I traveled throughout India to see problems firsthand, and it really helped me contextualize the work I’m doing here. There I worked on a program that provided seed funding to Indian social entrepreneurs, including a clean energy project in the Himalayas.
What are some of the new issues or trends you see popping?
I’m seeing more and more local entrepreneurs going back to their home countries after getting their educations elsewhere. There are also kids who are staying, getting great educations in their home countries and working as social entrepreneurs in their communities. And that’s exciting!