Nachson Mimran on how family offices should drive change
Nachson Mimran’s platform, to.org, which he co-founded with his brother Arieh Mimran, is a blend of venture fund, philanthropic platform and a collective of creatives. Not the most obvious combination, but Mimran says it is essential to his goal of making positive change with the resources of his family office. “When my brother Arieh and I first started out to create this, we asked ourselves, ‘Can we make money, do a lot of good and have a lot of fun while we do so?’ And this was something that in 2013, 2014, wasn’t quite as apparent as it is today. You went into the office and did what you had to do. And then you went on vacation to have fun and then you went to a charity event or donated online to be good.
“And that didn’t really resonate with my brother and me, so we really asked ourselves, ‘How do we bring the three main pillars that we believe are important for change under a vision that would allow us to accomplish those three things?”
He says they used the experience of their family company, which has been operating as one of the biggest agri-businesses in West Africa since the mid-20th century. “We had witnessed first hand how industry can help social economic development in a frontier market. We understood that entrepreneurship and for-profit capital can solve major issues.
“As young angel investors, we started screening for companies that had the potential for producing exceptional financial returns, but that also scored very highly on social and environmental returns. But that wasn’t all we were looking for in terms of returns. My brother Arieh, while he was at Princeton, added other returns that are a little bit more esoteric.”
He says this methodology included educational returns: “Can we learn something about that specific industry that could allow us to then sharpen our tools to be able to refine our thesis in that industry?” Others included spiritual returns: “If we were on our death beds today and we looked back at where we allocated capital, would we be proud?”
However, to.org is much more than a super-ethical investment company. Pure philanthropy is built into its DNA. “We realised that for-profit capital and market-based solutions didn’t necessarily find their way to certain demographics in the world. Some of the most vulnerable communities live in refugee settlements or slums.” These required direct action but could also be a ground to develop local ethical social enterprise – for example, to.org creative activists in Uganda have built various structures, including public toilets, using discarded plastic bottles and polyethylene bags for bricks. He says this involves using his family’s entrepreneurial experience for different ends. “Our role is to listen and to learn and then to provide the tools and the resources necessary for self-resilience and for community empowerment.”
The latest element of to.org, the enabling platform for the creative industry, came naturally, he says, as it helps with the storytelling of everything else he does – though Mimran is evidently a highly creative thinker and has empathies with the sector. It should also be noted that to.org also invests in ethical fashion and design brands.
He says that as Gen-Z becomes increasingly prominent, the next few years will bring a paradigm shift in expectations for social and environmental responsibility that will be a shock to many. “Greenwashing won’t pass with Gen-Z. Greenwashing works with Millennials like me and with the generation above me, but generations below are very switched on, they know how to search for information very quickly, at their fingertips.
“Things are going to change really quickly in the next five to ten years, which is why companies today are scrambling for young talent.”
Mimran’s latest launch this year is a platform (still in its beta testing phase and to be publicly launched in late 2021), which allows users to easily and seamlessly offset every ‘indulgence’ they enjoy, from drinking a glass of wine to staying in a luxury hotel. True to Mimran’s 360 vision, this benefits organisations on the ground doing everything from planting environmentally beneficial mangrove swamps, to providing opportunities for talented individuals living in refugee settlements or urban slums.
Mimran’s example is one that he says can inform other prominent families of means. He is proselytising about how family offices, unencumbered by outside pressure for financial returns, have a hugely important role – and duty – in shaping a future in which we stop damaging the planet and help vulnerable fellow humans.
“I encourage families to be more courageous, daring, bold and communicative with how they want to create legacy. It’s not enough to just want to preserve what we have for a future generation who have the same family name as us. If we don’t get the next eight years right (until 2030), there won’t be any other generations to hand our wealth over to.”
He says many of his own investments, and others in ethical and environmentally positive companies, show that excellent financial returns are available. “Family offices are private and they can operate quickly and efficiently. They have the tools necessary to deploy the same kind of mindset that we have. It’s always been our mission to create something that is almost open source, open platform. We love to share what we do. So, I hope that in the next few years, we’ll see many other organisations like to.org with their own character and their own specifications doing the stuff that we’re doing, because we don’t have time. We have about 72,000 hours or so before 2030 and it’s going to be a challenge. But family offices have a really important role, more than ever in our history, in filling some of the voids that government or institutions have left.”
Mimran is also a prominent art collector, with a focus on acquiring works from, and developing relationships with, artists and actors, for a social purpose.
2012: Appointed creative director and chairman of the board of The Alpina Gstaad hotel
2012: Became head of international affairs on the Senegalese Olympic Committee
2015: Co-founded and became CEO of to.org
2018: Sold Groupe Mimran’s flour milling business to US company Seaboard
2020: Appointed provocateur in chief of e-vehicle racing series Extreme E