How To Be an Impact-Driven VC: 3 Lessons from a Human Rights Lawyer Turned VC
My personal journey from human rights to VC
October 7, 2020
Asia 21 Young Leader Sylvia Kim ('16) writes on her journey working on human rights issues to now investing in impact-driven ventures. Below is an excerpt of the article originally published on Medium on October 5, 2020.
When I was younger, I thought what was driving me was ‘justice’.
But as I’ve matured in my professional evolution as an advocate, I am realizing that it was the elusive, difficult-to-define, concept of ‘impact’ that really inspired me to make some of the biggest career pivots in my life.
Having spent over 15 years as a lawyer and advocate pursuing ‘justice’, I have concluded that it may be more effective and sustainable to be an impact-driven leader. Here are some insights I’ve gathered as I’ve pivoted from nonprofit work and human rights law to the world of VC.
From Human Rights to Innovation
The need for relevance
My journey into VC really started a few years ago — in 2016 to be exact. Ironically, I was at a conference being honored for my human rights work when I distinctly remember the humbling moment where I suddenly realized my irrelevance.
I was in a roomful of entrepreneurs, artists, and innovators; some were working with solar power in innovative renewable energy projects, others were finding sustainable solutions to empower those living in some of the most rural areas on earth. Our keynote speaker was Neil Cross — at the time known as the world’s ‘most disruptive’ Chief Innovation Officer. Neil’s claim to fame was in finding a ‘win-win’ social enterprise solution for his desire to save the orangutans in the Sumatra jungle; he ended up building a 5-star luxury hotel which not only saved the orangutans but economically revitalized the entire region.
It was the first time in my life that I had heard of ‘social impact’ and the opportunity to find entrepreneurial solutions to complex global problems. It was also the first time I realized that no one in that room was ever going to read any of my policy papers and that I needed to be closer to the world of innovation and technology if I was going to make the kind of impact I wanted to in the realm of human rights.