Continuing our series on millennial impact investors, meet one of Invest with Impact’s Co-Founders, Shuyin, as she shares her journey into the sector and how she landed a job with one of the leading impact funds in Southeast Asia.
Name: Shuyin Tang
Current location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Current role: Principal, Unitus Impact
Can you share a bit more about your career before getting into impact investing?
Before moving into the impact investing sector, my primary experience was in consulting – as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company, and also a development consultant at TechnoServe, where I focused on the agriculture sector. Apart from that, I’ve held various roles in the public and non-profit sectors, as well as at a think tank. Geographically, I’ve lived and worked in Australia, India, Southeast Asia, and the U.S.
What inspired you to transition into an impact-focused career?
I always knew I wanted to work in the impact sector, choosing to pursue international relations and development studies at university. At the time, though, I was quite blind to the wealth of opportunities out there and the different ways one could engage. My idea of an ‘impact-focused career’ consisted of working for the UN. As fate would have it, I ended up joining Bain & Company right out of university, thinking: ‘why not… let’s try it for a couple of years and see what happens’. It ended up being a great decision – an incredibly steep learning curve, great exposure, and the opportunity to meet many amazing people who are still my friends today. Bain also enabled me to go on transfer to India, where I was both struck by the tremendous growth opportunities that existed in emerging markets, and confronted every day with intractable social and environmental problems. A little while after returning from this transfer, I decided that it was the time to make the leap and follow my passion, and I resigned from Bain without a job offer or particularly clear plan in hand.
How did you transition into the space?
After resigning, I did what any good consultant would do and compiled a huge Excel of opportunities in the impact sector, spanning foundations, international non-profits, development consultancies and a handful of impact investors – the first time this emerging field came on my radar. While I did identify impact investing as something I wanted to try at some point, I ultimately got there via a series of adjacent moves.
First I took a role as a Volunteer Consultant with TechnoServe, an international development consultancy whose tagline is ‘business solutions to poverty’. They run an innovative program which places young professionals, typically with management consulting and/or investment banking experience, within the organisation to work on various consulting projects. It was the same skill-set and approaches that I used at Bain, but applied to different problems. This isn’t to say there weren’t challenges…it was a crash course in agriculture, and a wake-up call in terms of working in resource and infrastructure-poor environments (no graphics department or technology support group!), but it was encouraging to see how applicable my skill-set was in a different environment.
But I realised I did want to try something other than consulting, and impact investing seemed particularly appealing as I thought it would give me more ‘skin in the game’ (taking an equity position rather than just providing advice), while maintaining exposure to diverse sectors and business models. It was challenging to get traction though – many roles required direct investing experience, which at the time I didn’t have. I was lucky to find a Fellowship opportunity at LGT Venture Philanthropy, the impact investing initiative of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. A key part of the Fellow’s role was providing business consulting advice to existing portfolio organisations, and my consulting experience helped land me the job. During the Fellowship I pushed for opportunities to build up my investing skill-set – doing due diligence, negotiating termsheets, and the like – and ultimately transitioned into a full-time role within the organisation.
What is your role today?
Today I am based in Hanoi, Vietnam, looking at investment opportunities for Unitus Impact, a venture capital fund with the dual mission of improving the livelihoods of the working poor and generating strong financial returns for our investors. We have USD 45 million of AUM to invest in high-growth businesses that improve the livelihoods of the working poor in Southeast Asia and India.
What have you enjoyed most about this career path?
Being surrounded by smart people who love what they do. Entrepreneurs tend to be positive people, and entrepreneurs focused on solving social problems particularly so. Having the opportunity to work side-by-side with them to build their businesses is an incredible privilege.
What have been the biggest challenges?
It’s a very new sector, particularly here in Southeast Asia, and sometimes it can take several conversations for potential partners to really understand what we do. This is particularly the case for Unitus Impact, where we are seeking tangible, measurable livelihood impact alongside a financial return in line with commercial VCs. Many assume this can’t be done, but there are an increasing number of companies fitting this profile out there, where the social impact is baked into the business model and scales as the business scales. I hope our portfolio is a testament to this!
What advice would you give someone trying to transition into the space?
Be flexible and open-minded when looking for roles in the sector. Even if it doesn’t sound like your ‘dream job’, I’ve found there are usually ways to develop the skills and exposure you want over time as you build trust with your manager and team. If you ask for a step-up role, 9 out of 10 times the answer will be ‘yes’.
What are your hopes for the future of the sector?
More exits, more success stories. I believe impact investing will be transformative, but it will take more exits and evidence that it ‘works’ to grow the sector, and persuade more capital owners to redirect their funds into the space.