Two Friends’ Journey of Jugaad*

Two Friends’ Journey of Jugaad*

  
Edward Yee Edward Yee

Edward Yee is the Co-Founder of Givfunds, a non-profit impact fund. In his free time, Edward enjoys sticking his nose in a book and collecting stories from around the world. He has stood on Bangladeshi train tops, hacked in Silicon Valley, and travelled 16 days in an Indian sleeper train.

The sickly pale florescent light shone behind me as my shadow loomed long, out into the darkness at the end of Tilonia’s sole railway station. Seated alone at the base of one of the pillars supporting the station’s corrugated zinc roof was Irwan, though I did not know his name then.

He, like myself, looked dishevelled but grateful for the experience we had just shared.

Irwan and I were part of Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day train journey across India, where over 500 aspiring changemakers from across the country go on a yearly odyssey. During those 15 days, we travelled across cities, rural farmland, and villages, of all shapes and sizes, to visit some of the most inspiring social organisations across India. It was my first time in the country and a large part of the reason why I kept coming back in the years that followed.

Edward in a train ride of a lifetime with 18 people in a small, cramped space!

On that day, we had just returned from visiting a rural village in Rajasthan, India, home to the famed Barefoot College. It was 13 days into the journey, and there I was, having survived living in an Indian sleeper non-AC class bunk that packed eight in a space smaller in width than if you reached out sideways with both hands.

By that time, we were all eager to head back and recuperate, being physically, mentally, and socially exhausted – I know I was.

I wandered over and sat down heavily next to Irwan, with our daily paper plate of rice and daal for dinner and nodded at him in acknowledgement. From his lanyard, I could tell he was one of the facilitators of the program and over a decade older than I was. He had an air of wisdom and wealth of experience that comes with age. We shared a couple of pleasantries and didn’t think much of it – after all, we’ve met hundreds of new people in the preceding days.

Bonded by a common purpose

It was only after leaving India that I reached out to him. I found out about his experience in finance and the social sector and wanted to hear his story. I knew I wanted to do something at the intersection of both fields but had no idea where to start. Surprisingly, he was willing to entertain me. We ended up keeping contact over the next few months, talking frequently about the problems social entrepreneurs faced across South Asia and their barriers to capital. More importantly, we spoke about what we could do to help them. We could and had to do something.

This resulted in the birth of Givfunds, an impact fund that provides thousands of overlooked, impactful social enterprises access to capital.

The next summer, I headed to India to spend two months travelling the country and speak with many of the leading players in the sector to understand the social enterprise and impact investing sector better. Along the way, we faced multiple challenges and made many mistakes, ranging from hiring the wrong people to convincing pioneers with decades of experience in the sector we were serious about solving social issues.

Eventually, we were able to come up with a solution that was feasible and scalable. By working together closely with social enterprise ecosystem players, we were able to tap into their relationships and knowledge of local social enterprises to provide concessionary venture debt. These nodes allowed us to source and evaluate thousands of genuine, impactful social enterprises at the rural and grassroots level, without the usual high overheads.

Helping social enterprises across Asia

One of GivFunds’ social enterprise and their beneficiaries.

Fast forward to today, it’s been four years since I met Irwan and three years since we started Givfunds together. Since then, I’ve gone back to India numerous times, even meeting him in Turkey and Greece by chance! We’ve had the opportunity to support changemakers from South and South East Asia, investing in dozens of impactful businesses. Our work has touched tens of thousands of lives through these changemakers.

Most of the credit for Givfunds goes to him because without him, Givfunds wouldn’t even be off the ground. Our differences in personality, location, and age have made the business stronger and allowed us to contribute far more to society than we could alone.

More than a business partner, I consider Irwan a lifelong friend and mentor. Many of his lessons over the years have stuck with me and I am better for it. From always focusing on the important things in life to little aspects of Indian culture he’s taught me to enjoy while I lived there, my journey over the last few years have been shaped by my friendship with him. Thank you, Irwan.

*Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word, which refers to a non-conventional, frugal innovation, often termed a “hack”. It could also refer to an innovative fix or a simple work-around, a solution that bends the rules, or a resource that can be used in such a way. It is also often used to signify creativity: to make existing things work, or to create new things with meager resources. (Source: Wikipedia)


Givfunds provides affordable capital to thousands of small social enterprises who lie outside the reach of other funders. Using a unique approach, they lend extremely low-cost loans to social enterprises who are able to use such capital for maximum impact. Find out more about Givfunds at www.givfunds.org.

Do you have a friend like that too? Someone who is from a country, culture and community different from yours? Someone whose life experiences you can’t always relate to? How did that friendship grow into one that serves others? Write a blog about it! Click here to pitch your story.

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Edward Yee Edward Yee
Edward Yee is the Co-Founder of Givfunds, a non-profit impact fund. In his free time, Edward enjoys sticking his nose in a book and collecting stories from around the world. He has stood on Bangladeshi train tops, hacked in Silicon Valley, and travelled 16 days in an Indian sleeper train.