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Shining a light on the impact of giving

Alexandre Mars' Epic Foundation offers a new generation of philanthropists the tools to monitor the impact of their donations.
Friday, November 20, 2015 - 05:50
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Mr Mars, 39, picked up his mother's devotion to humanity as a child, and was later inspired by his wife's work with the Missionaries of Charity, an organisation set up by the late Mother Teresa.

ALEXANDRE Mars' journey to setting up his philanthropic foundation was inspired by the women around him. As a child, he picked up many of his mother's passions, including her devotion to humanity; later on, his wife's work with the Missionaries of Charity, the late Mother Teresa's organisation in Delhi, also had a big impact on him.

These influences culminated in 2014, when the French-born, New York-based entrepreneur set up Epic Foundation, a non-profit organisation that aims to create tools to help people give to charities dedicated to children and young people up to the age of 24.

Before starting Epic, Mr Mars had run a series of successful startups; his last two ventures, mobile marketing agency Phonevalley and social media-management solutions provider ScrOOn, were respectively sold to Publicis Groupe and Blackberry.

Mr Mars, 39, who was in Singapore this week to speak at the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum 2015, said that he saw firsthand the effect of poverty and inequality on children when he visited his wife in Delhi. "This experience was profound and it is also why I chose to focus on children and youth when I founded Epic - to build an organisation that would help children grow up healthy and protected from harm, so they can reach their full potential."

After some extensive market research, he discovered that those who are thinking of giving back are often hobbled by a lack of time, lack of cash or a lack of trust in the charity. To help them overcome these obstacles, his foundation created a tracking tool that enables donors to monitor where their cash is going and the impact it is making.

This tool, the Epic app, was launched at the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum. It features a dashboard through which donors can obtain information about the organisations they support and generate monitoring reports; the app also tracks the social impact of the donations, such as the number of children who have benefited from it.

Mr Mars said: "After checking your bank account or stock portfolio, you can use the app to check the good that you are doing.

"Our tools provide a new level of transparency and immediacy to philanthropy. We are helping a new generation to give."

The impact of each portfolio organisation is monitored by Epic's global portfolio monitoring team based in New York and Bangkok. These teams work hand-in-hand with organisations to improve their impact and provide donors with information on what their social investments are achieving.

Each year, Epic's team goes out looking for the best organisations working to empower children and youth, so as to connect them to its global network of philanthropists and corporations looking to give.

To identify the most impactful organisations, the Foundation has built a network of leading foundations, funders and think tanks around the world, through which it has receives applications from more than 1,000 organisations across 85 countries this year.

Mr Mars said: "From the favelas of Brazil to the banlieues of Paris to the bustle of New York City and San Francisco, to the heart of Uganda, to the slums of Mumbai and the outskirts of Laos, we have searched to find the 20 most trustworthy, innovative and impactful non-profits and social enterprises.

"At the same time, by merging my passion for entrepreneurship and technology with the best minds in the social sector, we are pushing the envelope of how donors monitor and experience the impact of the organisations they support."

Epic is funded entirely by Mr Mars personally; its operating cost hit US$1.5 million last year and is expected to grow as it expands its offices and takes on more staff. It will soon launch its 2016 selection process for the next batch of organisations to be included in its portfolio.

Said Mr Mars: "Our goal is definitely to connect more and more people with big heart, skills and money to amazing social organisations tackling youth issues, but we also want to change people's mindset about doing good."