New York Times DealBook with Andrew Ross Sorkin
Our CEO, Zo Orchingwa, shares Ameelio's work with the New York Times DealBook team, together with David Miliband, Anu Duggal, and Daniel Humm. View the original post here.
One focus of this year’s Summit is on leaders who have broken new ground. Ahead of the event, we asked four of these groundbreakers — who will each host a discussion during a special program — to share how they’re challenging the status quo. The interviews, conducted by Saskia Miller, have been edited for clarity.
David Miliband: applying data to humanitarian aid
Miliband, the former British foreign secretary, is the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit humanitarian group that works with people affected by conflict and disasters. He has implemented an ambitious strategy to measure the I.R.C.’s impact.
What does the I.R.C. do differently from other aid organizations?
We’re the biggest impact evaluation agency in the humanitarian sector. We do more studies of what works than anybody else. We’ve gone from being a $400 million N.G.O. 10 years ago to being a $1.5 billion N.G.O. today. And I think that part of that is that there’s more humanitarian need. But part of it is also that we’ve tried to speak directly to altruism that is focused on impact.
How do you measure success in concrete terms?
Well, you can obviously measure inputs: the number of teachers you train, the number of safe births that you deliver. But you can also measure outputs and outcomes. People often say, why are you spending your time measuring an emergency? You really just have to keep people alive. To which our answer is: It’s especially important to measure in emergencies because it’s a life and death question of what’s the right way to support people.
You’ve said that the connection between conflict and climate is underreported. What would help reinforce that connection in people’s minds?
I think that people are beginning to wake up to the fact that a one and a half degree rise in the global average temperature is not just an incremental shift in an average. It leads scientifically to more extreme weather events. What’s not entered the consciousness is the indirect effects when climate puts pressure on resources. Resource stress is one of the contributors to conflict. Ukraine is the only war between states going on in the world at the moment. But there are 54 wars going on. Wars within states. Some states have multiple civil wars going on. That this is a period when there are more conflicts going on than at any time since the end of the Cold War is not really in the consciousness.
My take is we’re living in a world of more global risks, but more national resilience. And that’s a gap. If you only think about resilience at the national level, when there are risks at the global level, climate risks, pandemic risks, even nuclear risks. Food security risks. Those are global risks. If you only think, how does one country, separate from every other country, build resilience for that, you’re not going to get good outcomes.
Anu Duggal: investing in women start-up founders
Ms. Duggal is the founding partner of the Female Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that has invested in over 60 companies started by women. Her strategy of betting on less-than-obvious opportunities has begun to pay off: The fund had its first unicorn.
Why did you launch the Female Founders Fund when you did, in 2014?
My takeaway from my own fund-raising journey as a founder was that venture capital was predominantly male. And so there was very little diversity in thought as it related to the way that investors looked at different opportunities. And then second, after my company was acquired, I moved back to New York and met a bunch of great female founders. But many of them were facing a very similar issue or struggle, which was they were having trouble getting access to that first round of capital.
How has the V.C. landscape changed since then?
The number of female partners has tremendously grown. Almost all the top funds now have at least one, potentially two, female partners. Last year there were seven female led I.P.O.s. And in the history of the stock exchange, I think there’s been a total of about 20. So that’s an inflection point. One of our portfolio companies last year, Maven, became a unicorn.
What have you learned by investing in women-led companies?
In the early days, you’re trying to prove yourself and get into all the best deals. And you just assume that when there’s a party round — where all the New York or Silicon Valley investors are writing a check — but there’s no lead, it’s a good deal because everyone else is excited. Looking at our value drivers in the portfolio now, the opportunities where we had conviction separate of anyone else, or almost in spite of everyone else, have really been our best-performing companies. So just really paying attention to our instinct around founders and opportunities versus the more easy route, which is, Oh, they’re doing the deal, so it must be a good one.
Daniel Humm: making vegan food luxurious
Humm, the chef and owner of the New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park, reopened the restaurant with a plant-based menu last year.
Why did you pivot to vegan food?
At the start of the pandemic, I turned Eleven Madison Park into a community kitchen, and I was able to save some jobs to produce the meals.
I felt so connected to food again in a way I haven’t been in a long time. I also started to get more curious about climate change. And when you start digging into it a little bit, you all of a sudden can’t unsee it. I just felt that whatever I’m going to do moving forward, it has to matter in a bigger way. I knew that if I would reopen Eleven Madison Park, it had to be completely vegan because that was actually the place where creativity is needed the most in food. The world didn’t need another preparation of another poached lobster or another, you know, roasted suckling pig.
Can plant-based menus scale to a broader market?
For a restaurant on a corner, just serving à la carte food, it would be very challenging for the business model to work just serving vegan cuisine because of what you can charge and what people are willing to pay for just vegetables. It’s not so easy, but I think the conversation can change. If the most luxurious thing you can have is a carrot, then people are going to start thinking differently about a carrot. A frozen block of Kobe beef that’s flown in from Japan, that’s not luxury. I think what we do today is much more luxurious. For me, what’s luxurious is to get an experience that you can only get in one place.
So if you can shift attitudes about luxury, then maybe people will change their eating habits, even on a large scale. Is that the basic logic?
There’s a history of things trickling down from fine-dining restaurants into more casual restaurants and even into fast food. You can have truffle French fries at a diner now.
Uzoma Orchingwa: connecting incarcerated people with their loved ones
Orchingwa co-founded Ameelio, a communication and education platform for incarcerated people. The company’s first product makes it easier and cheaper to mail letters, card games and other content to friends or family in prison.
What led you to become involved with issues in the U.S. criminal justice system?
I’ve always had it in the back of my mind, obviously, being African American. But it crystallized my senior year in high school when one of my really close friends was incarcerated. That was really my first time losing a very close friend, trying to stay in touch with him through letters.
What was it like to launch Ameelio during the pandemic?
My co-founder and I were starting off with the first product, a letters app that allowed users to send letters, card games and other content. We were making it completely free for families at the start. Once Covid hit, prisons shut down all in-person visitation, and that really kind of scuttled our plan because we weren’t able to do in-person user testing. So we started connecting with different Facebook groups, with different forums, media, trying to get the word out. Once we were able to build this community to get the word out, things just kind of caught fire.
You’ve also had to get buy-in from corrections officials for a new real-time communication system you’re building. What was the lesson?
The standard narrative is that, you know, they’re trying to keep incarcerated people down. But really what you learn from working with these people is that the significant majority of them are well-meaning. These are very low-paying jobs. They often come from the same community as incarcerated folks. These are public servants who are trying to do the best they can with limited resources.
One of the key ways we’ve been very successful is really listening to on-the-ground staff, because they’re the people who interact with the technologies. So we get a lot of positive reviews from those guys, and then it really helps us. And that’s how we got our first contract. We spent over four months interviewing Colorado’s correctional officers.
Saskia Miller contributed reporting.