Role & Organisation: Managing Director, Sweef Capital
What was your first job?
My father was a leading dahlia grower in New Zealand. I have many early memories of helping him sort seedlings ready for sale in New Zealand and for export. As far as my dad and I were concerned, sorting the seedlings was important business and I took my “job” very seriously.
In my mid-teens I began working at our family-owned bakery in Christchurch and helped my brother expand the business across multiple locations both in Christchurch and around the South Island. I learned firsthand the importance of endurance, being on my feet at times for 12 hour days with the ovens running behind me on hot summer days and dealing with long weekend queues of customers waiting for baguettes for their family barbeques.
I had the fortune of working across all aspects of the business – inventory management, production, customer service, staff scheduling & training and marketing. It was a fantastic way to learn about building a business and the multifaceted talents required to be a successful entrepreneur.
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
My early exposure to business also impressed on me the importance of customer engagement and the critical roles businesses can play in supporting their local community.
I remember first noticing that the team at the bakery was very much part of the local social fabric – they were the students and parents of the community. Over time the business took its place in the community – we got to know our regulars, the employees in surrounding businesses and, most endearingly, the elderly people living alone who enjoyed coming in for a chat.
From this early exposure to the business world, finance was set to be the career path I pursued. I studied law and commerce at Canterbury as I saw these as fundamental to any direction I took in the business world. I thereafter joined the leadership program of Fletcher Challenge to build knowledge from a large conglomerate perspective and I benefited there from having the opportunity to work in an operating unit as well as at the global headquarters. My role at GE Capital provided the opportunity to blend this entrepreneurial and corporate experience into a private equity career focused on growing mid-sized businesses in Europe and Asia.
These experiences set the foundation for my ambition to work with entrepreneurs and ultimately influenced my move into impact investing later in my career.
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
I came to Asia about 11 years ago and spent much time with GE Healthcare colleagues looking across Asia Pacific at the role GE could play in improving healthcare delivery systems, particularly addressing the changing needs of consumers and healthcare professionals. It was disconcerting for me to see for myself that whereas there were innovative delivery initiatives ready to address healthcare gaps across the entire region, these initiatives were not able to raise the necessary funding. The large pools of capital were focused on building large hospitals in major metropolitan centres. It was also notable that little of the investment attention was focused on deepening the skills of the healthcare workforce or solutions to increase their productivity.
With women making up a large portion of this workforce, this situation only served to underscore that women were being underserved and undervalued by mainstream capital providers. I decided to tap into my international experience and networks to make a difference in channelling investment into businesses that were not only set up to deliver strong returns but whose successes would also be reflected in positive, measurable social impact. Given an opportunity to pilot a gender focused fund seeded by the Department of Finance and Trade of the Australian Government (DFAT) I decided this was the ideal opportunity to test and build this new form of investment approach and gather a talented and focused team of like-minded professionals.
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
We are seeing more investment opportunities addressing the intersectionality of sustainable food systems and climate change emerging, particularly in Indonesia and Vietnam. With the growing urgency of tackling climate change, a number of women led companies have developed businesses that address how food is produced and consumed with a view to minimise potential impact to the environment.
In particular, we are excited about the growth prospects of a fairly large spices producer based in Vietnam founded and led by a woman entrepreneur. She has grown her export business which was founded on organic production of spices and close engagement with farming communities, including minority ethnic families, to cultivate high-quality, high-yielding spices. The scope of her venture spans tree development and growth to harvest and processing, and meets international standards of food quality and safety. This type of opportunity aligns with studies showing that women tend to have a smaller carbon footprint than men as they are more resource-efficient in their consumption as well as production. As consumers, women hold significant power in spending and make 80% of the household purchasing decisions worldwide which all the more supports women’s roles in building climate resilience.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
Last year marked an important milestone for the Sweef Capital team with the exit of our very first investment in the gender focused fund seeded by DFAT. In 2018 we invested in Phuong Chau Hospital, a maternal and family hospital group founded by a woman OBGYN practitioner who established her first hospital in 2011 due to her concern over the lack of quality maternal and neonatal health care in the Mekong Delta, a region with a population of 17.5 million.
The funding financed the next phase of its growth strategy, the set-up of a second facility in another city in the Mekong Delta and then a third facility. The hospital group has been relieving pressure on the public health system by building satellite facilities and improving the quality of care and access to affordable healthcare in the neighbouring areas. The funding resulted in more than 300 women gaining economic independence and a pathway to skills development that increased their personal autonomy and enhanced their economic and social status. Our investment and the eventual exit demonstrates that investing in women entrepreneurs delivers both financial, social and investment returns.
Name one high impact company (globally) that investors should keep their eye on?
CarePage CEO and former aged care nurse Lauren Todorovic is passionate about elderly care. The company is using its technology platform as a disruptor to the traditional perspective on elderly needs and what truly makes a difference in the delivery of care services. From its early beginnings in 2014 as an aged care directory and online reviews platform, the company’s evolution has been remarkable and it continues to explore new avenues to transform care for consumers, workers and organisations through its SaaS solution, big data capabilities and media properties.
The company has the first-to-market advantage and the largest data set in aged care when it comes to customer and employee experience in Australia. This makes it a product of choice for aged care, retirement and home care companies when needing a CX + EX solutions to ensure that they are putting the voice of the elderly/vulnerable at the centre of all their decision making. The company developed a Quality of Life (QoL) measurement tool to support care providers, known as the Happy Life Index , measuring what matters most to older people as they become more frail. The tool was validated in partnership with the Digital Health CRC and the University of South Australia. Ageing is a global issue and CarePage. with its presence in Australia, Singapore and Europe and will likely be expanding further.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years’ time?
Sweef Capital’s vision is to see more institutional quality impact investment products being launched and to ensure all investors interested in diversifying into impact investment have the pathways to do so. By aligning risk and return profiles with an impact lens, financial markets can lead in finding solutions to developmental challenges facing the world.
In order for this to happen, we need impact and investment frameworks as well as tools and standardised best practices for impact measurement, management and reporting. In the impact investing spectrum, we have taken the lead in developing the frameworks and tools for gender lens investing with a goal of validating that, by investing in companies led by women and benefiting women as employees and consumers, target financial returns can be achieved alongside strong outcomes for women, men, their families and communities being served.
Sweef Capital also anticipates increased private capital allocation moving to women-led investment firms. In our field, women still remain underrepresented as the investment decision-makers at private equity and venture capital firms. In aggregate, women make up only around 10% of senior investment professionals in private equity and venture capital firms globally. Data has shown that funds with greater women’s representation in investment decision-making can generate returns as much as 20% higher; and women partners invest almost two times more in women-owned companies than male partners, thereby giving women more opportunity to grow their businesses and create jobs.