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  • Writer's pictureSigne Jung Sorensen

Why Compassion Matters in Private Sector Support: Securing Funds and Sustaining Impactful Models




“Compassion is rooted in a desire to benefit and serve others.”

Joevas Asare


Joevas Asare’s shares his perspectives on how compassion has influenced his career trajectory. Founding ARK Group International he focuses on private sector support with a compassionate approach, fostering long-term partnerships. Why does compassion matter in securing funds and sustaining impactful models? How does it differ from a transactional approach? How can compassion serve as an anchor in our work? These are some of the questions we explore.


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Joevas Asare is the Founder and Managing Director of ARK Group International. He is focused on building mechanisms to enable investment into small growing businesses in Africa. Joevas has served as an Overseas Development Institute Fellow, International Growth Centre Policy Economist, and held several development finance roles at the Commonwealth Secretariat, African Development Bank and through numerous private consultancy positions.


Joevas loves spending time with family, attending church, learning new sports, and going for walks in nature. He lives in London with his wife and two children and is currently solving a new “impossible jigsaw puzzle” – usually over a glass of red wine and dark chocolate.


 

SJ: What resonates with you around the concept of compassion? What makes you feel connected to it?


JA: The connection between compassion and humanity draws me in. From my perspective, compassion comes from a desire to benefit and serve others.


Compassion has an anchor in humanity and informs how we can support each other.

This has inspired my own path and can play out in different ways. Whether you are a civil servant or work in business, remembering that ‘people are people’ in the face of the work we do matters.


I’m reminded of an article I wrote in 2018. It summarised the insights of other international development colleagues. I asked them: “What is international development?”. Reflecting on their answers now, they all have an element of compassion.


SJ: How has compassion inspired or motivated your own career trajectory?


JA: I stepped out of traditional, policy-related international development work and founded ARK Group International, which supports the private sector. This move relates to the humanity aspect of compassion.


I am guided by making a contribution, which impacts people. Policy work does that. It has a vital role. But it can be easy to feel disconnected from the results and how it benefits people.

With my current focus on the private sector, I can notice and measure how our efforts affect people. When I worked in policy, I would often intentionally meet businesses. They were creating real impact. Otherwise, my work felt very abstract, if isolated solely in the policy sphere.


SJ: Many people I’ve spoken to have mentioned how “impact” can start feeling abstract to them in policy. How do you think compassion shows up in the work you do at ARK Group International?


JA: At ARK, we help small, growing businesses (SGBs) primarily on the African continent access grant funding. We work with businesses that are in the “missing middle” – they are classed as too risky to invest in for traditional development players, and too big for the small-scale funding programmes. 


There are two layers of compassion: Directly serving and supporting the businesses we partner with. Indirectly serving and supporting the people that the businesses impact.

Compassion plays out in our work in three ways:


  1. We partner with businesses for a minimum of 12 months. We don’t have clients, we have partners. We are in it for the long run.

  2. We get an insight into the businesses’ vision. This is a privilege that is rooted in compassion. Our job is to catch that vision and serve the partner to achieve their vision. We get to understand what motivates Founders, CEOs and other visionaries of these businesses. They face problems they are closely related to. These problems might be about access to electricity, agri-tech, waste management, etc.

  3. Thirdly, we work with recent graduates and put them in direct contact with businesses. They see the real impact of their work on people. It plants a seed of compassion. They will remember it as they continue their careers.


SJ: What is an example from your career of a project or interaction that has been successful because compassion was present? 


JA: It’s hard to determine if compassion was the driving success factor. Yet, keeping the people that the company serves in mind is a good way to find a compassion anchor.

For example, we worked with Freetown Waste Transformers on a grant.


Because we had a compassion foundation to our approach it wasn’t simply a transaction. 

We went through a process to understand how the funding would help their mission. How it would connect with their model and serve people and businesses. If we hadn't gone through this process, we could have risked not getting the funds. Or, we could have gotten the funds without the aim to sustain a model for impact and purpose. The grant helped create a mobile app for the waste management sector in Sierra Leone. FWT aimed to support the whole waste sector - not just themselves and is a great case study for innovation.


SJ: How is your approach more compassionate rather than transactional?


JA: We value that businesses choose to partner with us. Even if we’ve had an unsuccessful grant application, they seem to also value the process and service they received throughout that grant pursuit, which also reaps value to them.


In our approach, we start with the question: Can we serve this company who serves these people? If we can’t and we aren’t a fit, then we say it.

We make it clear that we cannot guarantee a successful grant. However, we commit to putting in our best quality. We are rigorous in learning about the business’ context, challenges, and opportunities.


In my experience, a compassionate approach is slower than a transactional approach. However, it’s worth it. It brings good and sustained results.

We also ensure we onboard people at ARK with similar values. This is part of our culture. If someone has the technical skills but not the ethics, we are hesitant to bring them onboard.


SJ: In your experience, what is the cost when there is a lack of compassion? What have you experienced happening?


JA: When I worked in East Africa, I advised several governments regarding investments coming into their respective countries. Sometimes, I would also advise investors. Sadly, I have seen many failed investments. They had no tangible results because they were just transactions.


Investments in the energy sector, for example, have failed. This happened because investors didn't know the context. Nor did they plan to get to know it.

It was just a monetary transaction that didn't start on the right page.


There was no partnership or human beneficiary at the end of the investment. So, there was also no compassion.

SJ: What challenges do you see in bringing more compassion? This could be at the individual or structural level.


JA: Two challenges stand out to me. The structures in international development and civil service more generally, can easily make people feel disconnected from the people they are supposed to serve.


This human disconnect can lead to compassion fading. 

As we grow in our careers and functions, we should all focus on learning how to better serve people.


Secondly, unclear accountability structures are also a challenge.


If we don’t know what we are responsible for and who we are ultimately serving, there’s no root in compassion.

For example, when I worked on the National Development Plan in one of the governments in East Africa, the people in the communities had yet to be consulted. We then consulted many stakeholders. We did this to understand the problem that needed solving and to inform the strategy. Otherwise, the plan would never benefit the population. This may be a slower process with more steps but will yield much more sustained results.


SJ: What suggestions or ideas do you have for bringing forth more compassion in this space?


JA: I think the start is conversations like this. They spark new ideas, collaborations, and insights from those involved.


Any job in international development or civil service should have, at some point, a role facing people. This is to spark – or reconnect with - compassion.


We need to be accountable to those we say we serve and having mechanisms to maintain accountability across the board.

SJ: What are you curious about exploring further in the area of compassion?


JA: We have been talking about giving compassion. I am curious about the receiving end of compassion too. I think there could be a ripple or multiplier effect. If you serve one person rooted in compassion, they will probably end up serving another. How is compassion sustained by those who have received compassion?


 

This conversation is based on Joevas Asare’s personal views, and a reflection of the cultural values of ARK Group International, founded by Joevas.


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