Early days in Africa lead Meagan Prins to impact in Latin America
Meagan Prins has always believed in the power of technology in fueling financial inclusion.
During her primary school years, the Ontario native spent many school breaks in rural villages across South-Central and East Africa, accompanying her mother who led an NGO that was active in the region. The nonprofit focused on identifying income-generating projects for widows impacted by HIV/AIDS. “As children, we would spend time in these remote rural communities, hanging out with the local kids while she worked,” she recalls.
It was during later trips to Zambia, Malawi, and Kenya that Prins began to observe how the lives of the unbanked women dramatically improved as they gained access to financial services. Ultimately, she had a front-row seat to the proliferation of mobile money and how cell phones could be used to complete previously arduous cash-based transactions. Many of them no longer needed to waste hours conducting simple financial tasks. “Seeing the impact that mobile money had, particularly in rural communities, was astounding,” Prins says. “I knew then that financial inclusion was my life’s calling.”
Today Prins, a vice president at Quona, focuses on Latin America, a region where she sees both impressive progress and opportunity. Previous investments in the region helped build a foundation of technology infrastructure. As a result, many of the companies fueling today’s wave of fintech innovation can get up and running more quickly. Prins is now working with founders who are focusing on everything from credit card issuance and B2B payments to embedding financial services within SaaS offerings and asset tokenization. Many of the newest offerings also cater to a wide array of customers, including small businesses and consumers looking for access to high-quality financial services that can help them do everyday things, such as sending children to school or renting a car.
Recently, she helped a portfolio company define a new business strategy and pivot away from a prior objective. “As fintech sector specialists, we often play a key role in supporting founders as they think about product extensions and layer financial services on top of an existing core,” she says.
While Prins resides in the Bay area of California, she spends more than half of her time in Latin America, including recent trips to Mexico City, São Paulo, Bogotá and Buenos Aires. The ability to work closely with founders who share her enthusiasm for bettering the lives of the underserved is something Prins never takes for granted. “The best part of my job is speaking to founders who are incredibly passionate about the massive problems they are looking to solve,” she says. “It’s a luxury to be able to trade notes and support folks who are energized about the market-changing potential of what they are building.”
Since the pandemic, this type of face-to-face interaction has only become more valued. Because Prins began working for Quona at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she waited more than a year before attending her first in-person meeting with founders. “My first business trip for Quona, in May 2021, confirmed for me that there is no compelling alternative to face-to-face interactions, which is why I am in-market roughly 60% of my time,” she says. “Spending time with people in person is something I no longer take for granted.”
Her time on the ground has also helped her tap into a wider VC community across LatAm countries, especially as a newcomer to the region. “Many of my peers at other funds, as well as entrepreneurs and talent in the startup community, have become close friends of mine — we hang out both inside and outside of work when I’m in town,” says Prins, who is also studying Spanish.
Even while on the road, Prins sets aside time to disconnect from work. She often carves out lunch breaks to eat at her favorite vegan taqueria in Mexico City, and spends a few minutes each day on her meditation practice. “Meditation has helped me stay grounded, even in the midst of chaos, and not miss the forest for the trees,” she says.
She is also committed to promoting diversity and inclusion within the business. Last year, she worked with Quona’s impact team on a review of DEI practices across the firm’s portfolio to better understand how individual portfolio companies approach and tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives. The in-depth exploration included everything from studying specific hiring practices to understanding how leaders create inclusive team cultures to examining whether a particular underwriting algorithm embedded biases. “We learned a lot from our portfolio and about how leading startups approach important DEI topics across disparate emerging markets,” she says. “We also are strong believers in the financial and social benefits of supporting diverse entrepreneurs.” Two of her most recent investments were in women-led businesses, and while excited by the progress, she underscores that we are still in the very early innings.
Tapping into experience
Many founders also appreciate that Prins was once in similar shoes.
By the time she graduated with a degree in economics and finance from Montreal’s McGill University, Prins had already launched her own financial inclusion-focused social enterprise. In 2015, she co-founded PennyDrops, which is now the largest financial literacy organization working with youth in Canada. She also co-founded Zua Microfinance, which provided affordable agricultural microinsurance to low-income female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s this type of relevant experience that she taps into when speaking with founders. “It has equipped me with a better understanding of what it takes to bring an idea into reality and heightened empathy for founders, and it better positions me to lend operational support to portfolio companies, particularly in their early days,” she says.
After graduation, she worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and then moved into an investing role within International Finance Corp., a member of the World Bank Group. Her 2020 move to join Quona’s global team felt like a natural next step.
“I had been following Quona for years prior to making the move. The firm caught my attention because it sits at the intersection of everything I’m passionate about,” she says. “When an opportunity opened up, I jumped at it and haven’t looked back.”