Kookai Chaimahawong, smiling.

Kookai Chaimahawong. Photography by Iris Chia.

The social capitalist

Kookai Chaimahawong

“Venture capital is seen as really cutthroat, but I can tell you the next generation is different,” says Kookai Chaimahawong, MBA’19. “More supportive, more inclusive, more transparent. We're sharing things like compensation surveys across the industry to reveal pay discrepancies. We're sharing resources to help everyone get to the next stage of their career.”

Before deciding to go solo this year, Chaimahawong worked for Pangaea Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in start up companies tackling sustainability issues such as climate change, food and water security, and waste management. Her previous experience developing sustainability initiatives for the United Nations Development Programme shaped her venture capital work and continues to influence her career path.

Not even a generation ago, venture capital was a profit-maximizing mechanism, where investments were valued solely for their potential return on investment (ROI). ROI still rules the roost, but a secondary focus on social responsibility has come into view. The “return” part of ROI is no longer strictly financial; there is a new drive to create social capital as well.

But social capital doesn’t pay the bills. Start ups that rely on charity rather than a viable business model don’t last long. More than a steady stream of donations, progressive-minded businesses need clear revenue models that not only keep the lights on, but make these companies attractive to larger corporations, who can buy the companies and incorporate these social and environmental solutions on a scale that makes a real difference.

Chaimahawong believes the timing is right to create a platform that doesn’t just support sustainability initiatives, but is itself sustainable as a business model that people want to invest in, not just donate to. This is a radical rethinking of the venture capital model, but one long in coming.

“How do I create a blend of impact investing and profit maximization?” asks Chaimahawong. “How do I support and accelerate entrepreneurship and innovation to truly change the world?”

Despite striking out on her own to find the answer, Chaimahawong is not alone. “All my peer venture investors are really supportive,” she says. “They still want to connect with me. I got this opportunity to step up because of my job, but I still retain those connections because fellow venture capital investors, ecosystem partners, and innovation groups, they’re all coming with me.”

Read Generation flex for more on Generation Z in the workplace.