Ben Banerjee Leads Business and Finance for Societal Impact
What do invalid street children in India, offshore wind turbines and Swiss financiers have in common? A man called Ben Banerjee: one part humanitarian, one part business and finance expert, and all heart. In his role as President and co-founder of the Swiss Impact Investment Association, Ben helps us understand why investing for environmental and societal impact matters, and how it could help preserve the world for our children.
Parvati Magazine: After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering you dedicated your career to changing the world through leveraging business and finance for environmental and societal impact. What motivated you to want to change the world? Was there a particular moment or event? How and why did you choose finance as a vehicle for implanting change?
Ben Banerjee: Maybe it is due to my Indian upbringing which always made me consider the environment, animals and socially underprivileged people in every decision-making process. During my youth I co-founded NGO’s including India Caregroup, which merged into Internationaal Hulpfonds and Young Friends of the Earth (JMA). Later on, visiting many parts of the world showed me the changes taking place, from the increase in air pollution in cities like New Delhi to the dying corals in Australia to disappearing glaciers in Switzerland.
Then my son was born. From that day onward I became absolutely focused on working to preserve his future by protecting the environment.
When I was creating a pan-European company, it became clear to me that finance and investment influence every sector of society and the economy. Immense changes can be initiated by transforming this sector.
Parvati Magazine: Can you tell us about an investment that made a difference in people’s lives and has continued to motivate you to do this work?
Ben Banerjee: I worked and invested at projects from windmill parks in the sea, to forest preservation in Central America. My best memory is from investing and supporting schools for invalid and street children in India and seeing the difference it made to their lives.
Now I am supporting a company from Zurich called Pioneering Ventures, which is contributing to the development of farmers in India. There is so much work going on around the world which makes good and strong commercial sense, making these projects economically sustainable. I see it just as a matter of increasing the market awareness of such projects.
Parvati Magazine: The 4th edition of the SIIA Zug Impact Summit took place September 16 and 17 in Zug, Switzerland, with a theme addressing the connections between Ocean, Health and Consumption. What do you hope to see come out of this meeting? What changes do we need to see now, and what changes are the most critical to address our global crisis?
Ben Banerjee: I strongly believe that we should use the immense power and influence of the financial sector to try to save the future. And to do that we need to inform the decision makers of these possibilities and find the right motivations to change the minds of policymakers. I want clear and measurable results for project owners like tangible investments in their projects. And we also want commitments from the financial sector to divert more funds into this sector. For example, to projects like MAPS (the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary), which has a clear and transparent objective.
Parvati Magazine: You have said, “Whenever a new technology develops, there is a transformational phase in which technology develops faster than human values.” When did you start bringing this philosopher’s perspective to the impact of technology on society, and what do you do to ensure that human values are driving change for public good?
Ben Banerjee: I grew up during the Cold War Era when technology grew faster than our values. We had the power to destroy the whole world a few times over. Luckily our values grew and we survived those dangerous times.
Today again in the information age, technology is growing fast. I believe that in reality today, we have technological solutions available for nearly all present day problems, including climate change, pollution, deforestation, etc.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the evolution of human values still has to catch up. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Even the western nations are lagging behind, for example, proceeding with the production of diesel cars and coal power generation.
Parvati Magazine: If you could send a message to elected leaders about the crisis facing our world today, what would it be?
Ben Banerjee: Please take your citizens seriously by listening to them, and please think long-term.
Ben Banerjee is an expert on investments and advisor to world leaders on macro-economic, financial and investment policies and new technology. He is President and Co-founder of the Swiss Impact Investment Association, board member of Innmind and a member of the European Family Office Alliance and the Climate Leadership Coalition.