How investment and philanthropy can combine
Nachson Mimran is an idealist. That becomes clear the moment you start speaking to him, or the moment you tune in to one of his presentations at the likes of the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in Munich. “I believe that all humans are inherently good,” he says. “I believe that when we’re born, we’re predisposed to do the right things morally, in a sense of community, sharing. These things are innately embedded in our DNA because that’s how we have survived. That’s how nomadic tribes have been able to survive: they’ve understood the power of sharing and community and developing skill sets that are complementary.”
Lively and animated, Mimran is compellingly articulate as he talks about applying this philosophy to investors, philanthropists and family offices. A dreamer, you might think, but this scion of one of Europe and West Africa’s most prominent business families is also a doer, and what he wants to do is simple to state, if far from simple to achieve. “Our mission is to heal the world. And that’s obviously a huge, potentially utopic vision. But I truly believe that our destiny is not to self-implode.”
Mimran is a changemaker supreme, an investor, activist and philanthropist making an impact across the globe. Along with his younger brother Arieh, he is founder of a combined sustainable venture fund and philanthropic foundation, to.org. With his elder brother David, Nachson cut his business teeth successfully leading his family’s agri-business Groupe Mimran in West Africa. He is still active in Africa, where he grew up, investing and supporting numerous philanthropic ventures. He is also chairman and creative director of The Alpina Gstaad – a contemporary luxury hotel in the Swiss resort beloved of the high-net-worth set – and a prominent collector of contemporary art.
He splits his time between Gstaad, the South of France and West Africa, and has four children – listing fatherhood as the most prominent item on his resume.
Mimran is compelling to listen to: a philosopher and preacher who cuts through corporate speak and greenwash. On a panel at the DLD conference in September, he challenged audience members to identify whether they were wearing sustainably made clothing, and how much they had examined manufacturers’ claims and investigated their supply chains.
In our interview, he says he is driven by his idealism and a need to bring enterprise and philanthropy together in a way that will make positive change for all. “I think that is what is accelerating my mission more than anything else: the pairing of ventures with philanthropy, the pairing of those that have talents, that are in the light, that have had the opportunity to be in the light, with talent that have not had that opportunity but are equally talented.”
The African continent is, he says, compelling because it contains a blend of human need and the moral imperative for those with capital to make a positive difference, with opportunities founded on urgency. “The African continent is a collection of many, many, thousands of ethnicities that are huddled into these countries. Northern Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa are very different regions. So, speaking of Africa at large is very complicated. But if we talk about sub-Saharan Africa, which is where we have been operating as a family since the ‘40s, what I’ve seen is really amazing: this ability to leapfrog and not have to follow the curve of development, at least technologically, that most of the developed world has.
“For telephones there have been no landlines. We went straight into mobile. There were very many unbanked individuals who are now banked through fintech and e-wallets. And those developments and opportunities are now happening in many other sectors. For example, in infrastructure, do we need the same type of road and railway system as before or are drones and other technologies able to satisfy the needs of cargo transportation and last-mile health delivery?”
Mimran says this enterprise for social good, and its overlap into philanthropy, is at the core of vast opportunities on the continent. “In our portfolio companies in Africa we have fast-growing companies that have tech-like returns, but they are all vital. Almost all are trying to solve a major societal or environmental issue. And the entrepreneurs who are minted on the African continent or who are ex-pats and come to create on the African continent, they are coming with a very serious mission in mind. There are so many problems, which means there are so many opportunities. For an entrepreneur, that’s the recipe for motivation and for success.
“One of the issues in sub-Saharan Africa is you do not have enough new great companies minted a year for an influx of venture capital. The market is still very small, which means that African start-ups are in a unique position to really filter and vet the individuals that they want on their cap table. And that’s a really exciting moment.”
It is to.org that forms the platform for both investments and philanthropic ventures in Africa and beyond. Mimran says that family offices like his, which can be driven by broader goals than shareholder return, have a moral imperative to move to a future where enterprise does good, and where wealthy individuals not only compensate for the impact they have on the planet, but actively and effectively work to repair it.
Mimran’s perspective is a 360 view. He wants The Alpina Gstaad to become a forum for creating solutions to Earth’s environmental emergency. For its guests, who are likely to be prominent in various sectors, to come together and be inspired to create solutions. And for those solutions to not only benefit one cause, such as carbon storage or the ocean plastics crisis, but to uplift the lives of the less privileged. He explains more about how he is doing this in the next part of our interview.
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: Groupe Mimran's Flour Milling Business sold to US company Seabord
2020: Appointed provocateur in chief of e-vehicle racing series Extreme E