Sir Ronald Cohen, also known as the “father of British venture capital,” is a highly successful venture capitalist and philanthropist who has made a significant impact on the business and social impact worlds. We sat down last week on The Caring Economy and he shared some of his philosophy on life and business.
Cohen declares regularly: “We are moving towards a better and fairer world, where markets drive doing good while making profit, and people want to do good and do well at the same time. We must embrace measurable impact as a driver in every investment, business, and policy decision we make. This is the ‘invisible heart of markets,’ guiding their ‘invisible hand.’”
According to Cohen, this new world will drive an improvement in the well-being of people and planet, creating a fairer and more prosperous future for us all.
He is someone who speaks from experience, having been a refugee when his family were forced to leave Egypt when their assets were nationalized by President Nasser.
He states in a matter-of-fact way, “I started life in Egypt and my family was kicked out of Egypt after the Suez Crisis in 1957. We shifted to live in London I was very lucky because I went to a state school and had an inspiring teacher who coached me for the entrance exams to Oxford. Thanks to Richard Farley, I made it to Oxford and then from Oxford to Harvard Business School.”
Cohen then began his career as a venture capitalist in the 1970s, co-founding Apax Partners, which is now one of the largest private equity firms in the world. Throughout his career, Cohen has been involved in numerous successful investments.
In addition to his successful career in venture capital, Cohen is also known for his philanthropic efforts. In 2000, he founded the Portland Trust, a non-profit organization that works to promote peace and economic development in the Middle East. He also chaired the Big Society Capital, a social investment fund that aims to address social and economic challenges in the UK.
One of Cohen’s most notable contributions to philanthropy is his work in the field of impact investing. Impact investing is the practice of investing in companies, organizations, and funds that generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Cohen is a strong advocate for impact investing and has been instrumental in promoting the idea that investors can make a positive difference in the world while also earning a return on their investment.
His acclaimed book, Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Societal Change, documents the evolution and the future of the practice as it becomes more common globally.
In 2018, Cohen was appointed as Chairman of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG), a group of global leaders in impact investing that aims to accelerate the growth of the impact investing market. He was a co-founder of CSG as well. Under his leadership, the GSG has been working to promote the development of impact investing in emerging markets, particularly in Africa and Asia.
When asked about pushback around ESG and impact investing, Cohen notes: “I think it’s a trend. I think you’re getting pushback from the status quo, from fossil fuel companies, for example. Companies whose impacts are very negative. But it’s not going to improve climate change, and the climate issues that we face are the catalyst for transparency on impact. . . Transparency begins to give us insights that you can relate to profit, you can provide incentives, or in the case of carbon, you could tax companies for their carbon emissions. This transparency is going to change our economic system so that it optimises risk, return and impact.”
Cohen has received numerous accolades for his contributions to business and philanthropy. In 2012, he was appointed as a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to philanthropy. In 2018, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the UK economy and philanthropy.
His main advice from our interview is tried and true. Each day, he strives to live by a simple principle: “Do Good, Do Well.”
As with all guests on The Caring Economy, Sir Ronald Cohen exemplifies how leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary lives for the better.