In recent years, emerging markets have captured the attention of global investors, but many promising businesses are unable to secure the capital they need to advance and grow. How can we increase access to funding in these markets?
Jay Bishen, WG’22, worked on bridging this financing gap in his summer internship at the Development Finance Corporation. Jay’s internship was funded in part by Wharton Social Impact’s Bendheim Program, which funds current Wharton MBA students to work with Wharton alumni who have received a Bendheim Loan Forgiveness award. Bishen reflects on his experience and how to make a meaningful, positive impact for entrepreneurs around the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Bishen: I was born in Boston and spent time living in St. Louis and New Delhi, but I consider myself to be a proud product of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. That’s still where I consider to be “home” and where I head for the holidays.
I’m a dual Wharton and Harvard Kennedy School MBA / MPA candidate and have tried to tailor most of my education to help me achieve my goals in development. That’s often meant enrolling in classes covering subjects such as international finance or economic development.
What is the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and what did you do there?
Bishen: The DFC is the development finance apparatus of the United States, investing in promising firms and projects in the developing world. Within the broader organization, I worked for the Social Enterprise Finance Team (SEFT), which provides either debt or equity financing for early-stage social enterprises.
In total, I was staffed on three deals — a microcredit lender in Western India, a logistics provider in East Africa, and a fintech debt fund operating in Latin America and Southeast Asia. My day-to-day activities largely depended on the maturity of each project, and ranged from due diligence calls with the firms’ management teams to the preparation of internal investment memos.
How did you make a meaningful, positive impact through your work?
Bishen: Access to funding is often quite constrained for entrepreneurs in developing markets, whose nascent capital markets are unable to reach those on the fringes of the traditional financial system. The SEFT team addresses this market failure by providing capital to early-stage social enterprises that are unable to tap private markets for funding. These ventures then utilize that investment to build and expand their businesses, aiming to become financially stable and sustainable. As a Summer Associate, I helped analyze the merits of prospective investments, from a financial and social impact perspective.
Why is this work important?
Bishen: Talent is spread relatively uniformly across the world. What differentiates countries’ economic potential is their ability to provide the resources and environment necessary for that talent to blossom.
In many of the regions where the DFC invests, entrepreneurs must navigate the headwind of malfunctioning capital markets as they search for the funding required to establish and grow their businesses. By investing in these entrepreneurs, the DFC is not only providing that essential funding but is also serving as a cornerstone investor that can “crowd in,” or attract, additional private sources of capital. This improves the overall allocation of resources, which in turn attracts additional private investment, ultimately yielding a virtuous cycle that improves standards of living.
What was your favorite part about the experience?
Bishen: My favorite part of the internship was talking to founders. Looking beyond their plans for their companies, it was fascinating to hear each founder’s personal life story and the driving forces behind their decisions to start their firms. Learning about their sacrifices and the gambles they were taking was incredibly inspiring for me, especially as I consider the next steps in my own career.
Did COVID-19 create any challenges during your internship?
Bishen: Working in a remote environment was the greatest challenge of the summer internship. A large part of investing in emerging markets involves traveling to the cities or towns your companies operate in to conduct due diligence. While it’s still possible to have these conversations via video conferencing, I think it’s more challenging to assess potential investments remotely.
How have you leveraged your classroom or prior work experience in this role?
Bishen: Prior to graduate school, I spent five years working in Citigroup’s Sales and Trading division in New York, trading corporate debt and constructing portfolios of financial derivatives. At Wharton, I was able to augment the technical skills that I initially built on the trading floor by taking classes like Corporate Finance or Valuations.
Furthermore, I had the opportunity to participate in Wharton Impact Investing Partners, where I got experience in sourcing and conducting due diligence on early-stage ventures for the first time. These experiences helped me develop the hard and soft skills necessary for my work as a Summer Associate at the DFC.
How has this experience been transformative for you?
Bishen: My summer internship at the DFC was my first experience investing in emerging markets, and it confirmed my interest in potentially pursuing that path after I graduate in 2022. While developing markets hold unique challenges for investors, they also hold a unique allure as well. I really enjoyed learning more about the particular histories and economic environments of the countries the DFC was investing in, and look forward to deepening that knowledge in the years to come.
Posted: February 21, 2022