Building Tomorrow: At Green Sands Global Summit, Private Equity Redefines Its Role In Society
By Shoshana O’Brien
Is there a connection between three seemingly disparate luminaries such as Gov. Tom Ridge, first Secretary of Homeland Security and a risk assessment expert, Shiza Shahid, a Pakistani-born global entrepreneur and cofounder of the Malala Fund, and Dr. Zuhair Fayez, Saudi Arabia’s visionary behind the Middle East’s first planned $800M augmented reality theme park? Well, Gov. Ridge, Shiza Shahid and Dr. Fayez were fellow panelists at the first annual Green Sands Equity (GSE) Global Summit where they spoke to a rapt audience about overcoming global misunderstandings in order to facilitate cross-border investment in the technologies of tomorrow. Moderating the panel was Green Sands Equity’s founder and CEO, Reema Khan.
Green Sands Equity is a boutique private equity investment firm headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Dubai, Frankfurt and Singapore. While GSE is a young firm, barely two years old, its network spans multiple continents with half a century of deep relationships through its team. The Green Sands Global Summit brought together over $100B in net worth from around the world in an intimate gathering of approximately 40 people to encourage engagement and knowledge sharing among global investors and thought leaders. Among the attendees, more than 17 countries were represented, including Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, UK, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, Pakistan, Australia and South Korea.
The speakers at the Summit included visionaries from various sectors. Educator Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, spoke about the importance of education as a strategic investment for our future. He regaled the audience with origin stories of Khan Academy and Khan Lab School even as he addressed important questions about the role of innovation and technology in education. He spoke of education as a fundamental human right that acknowledges no border and boundaries.
Sal also spoke about his One World Schoolhouse philosophy:
“I believe that personal responsibility is not only undervalued but actually discouraged by the standard classroom model, with its enforced passivity and rigid boundaries of curriculum and time. Denied the opportunity to make even the most basic decisions about how and what they will learn, students stop short of full commitment.”
“Perhpas the question to ask is not where to invest in AI, but also investing in what AI cannot do.”
Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity and Google X, spoke about industries which would reap the most profitable impact of Artificial Intelligence. The engrossing question was the discussion over corresponding issues of human purpose that an AI enabled world raises. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence traditional jobs that are labor intensive or include repetitive tasks will disappear. Sebastian irreverantly remarked with his charming smile looking at the investment community, “Even complex decision making including investment will be better done by AI, I am sorry to tell you.” This will lead to a new era of core skills that countries and enterprises across the globe should start to invest in. This new era opens up tremendous cross border investment and change opportunities.
We live longer lives today than 10 years ago, and will live even longer in the future, we must explore the causes of health decline with age, but also have systems to manage longer lives and the increasing older population.
Dr. Joon Yun, President of Palo Alto Investors brilliantly moderated the health panel with healthcare leaders such as Lily Sarafan, co-founder and CEO of Home Care Assistance, a leading firm in the in-home care market mostly focused on the senior population, and Francis Desouza, President and CEO of Illumina, a genomics company listed among Forbes “Most Innovative Companies in the World” with a market cap of 28B. Sarafan drew attention to the healthcare insights to come from applying data analytics to unprecedented quantities of data collected via in-home care. Desouza spoke about Silicon Valley’s increased attention to biology and the quest for decoding human health. He also discussed fascinating applications of genomics testing across sectors and industries including but not limited to human health, such as agriculture, natural resources exploration, forensics, new materials, and making pharmaceutical development more efficient.
“Fundamentally, blockchain technology allows for a democratic revolution in trust. Blockchain technology represents a technological sea change comparable to the early internet.”
- Nathana Sharma
Nikhil Kalghatgi a partner at Co-Venture, discussed Blockchain and Crypto Currency’s potential with a panel that included: Nathana Sharma, Green Sands Equity’s Managing Director and Faculty for blockchain at Singularity University, Kevin Fischer CIO of Crypto Lotus, and E. David Ellington Founder of Silicon Valley Blockchain Society. “ By enabling a decentralized peer-to-peer database, in which cryptography is used to validate transactions, blockchain opens up new possibilities for trustless transactions.” explained Nathana Sharma.
“Even though counter intuitive, wealth flow and innovation flow don’t intersect as efficiently as they could.” — Rob Jasminski
The global wealth flow versus the global innovation flow was discussed by Shadi Sanbar, Managing Partner of Green Sands Equity and former CFO of Kingdom Holdings Company, along with Bill Chua, Managing Partner and Board Director of Green Sands Equity and former Global Head of United Overseas Bank of Singapore, and Rob Jasminski, Citi’s Global Head of Equities.
“A Time of Global Misunderstanding”
This panel brought home the theme of the Summit powerfully. Moderated by Reema Khan, the panelists Gov. Tom Ridge, Dr. Zuhair Fayez, and Shiza Shahid explored the impact of business on reducing global misunderstandings. Gov. Tom Ridge, a global man made risk expert, spoke about the complexities of risk management for organizations engaging in cross border investments. Reema and Gov. Ridge deliberated over the difference between U.S. identity as America vs. American. While highlighting her experience as a Saudi born American, Reema said:
“The American values in harboring innovation and upholding business ethics have been the cornerstone of our global relationships with allies.The role of Bechtel and Aramco in laying the foundation of mutual benefit and trust between Saudi Arabia and U.S. was undeniable in making the two countries allies, long before any wars were fought on each others’ behalf.”
Gov. Tom Ridge added:
“I’m a firm believer that my country the United States can have geo political influence in 3 different ways around the world. 1- Military, 2- Diplomacy, 3- Soft Power of corporate engagement. I’m a firm believer in softpower and this is how I met Reema. How we do business elsewhere reflects our values, our respect and embrace of the cultures of the countries we operate in. We leave behind not just buildings and infrastructure but the right way to do business. I don’t understand how we could be less engaged in this interconnected world and grow. Despite all the problems in the world, we need to be more engaged not less engaged. Private sector has a very important role to play today.”
When media portrays countries as monoliths, nuances are lost and tremendous opportunities and talents missed.
Shiza Shahid spoke about her work with the Malala Fund, which she co-founded with Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai. Both are women of the same generation born and brought up in Pakistan. However, while Shiza was able to freely pursue her education in Pakistan and later at Stanford, and currently runs Now Ventures, a VC fund focused on scalable impact, Malala was shot in the head for going to school. The discussion highlighted the various socio-economic factors that led to their vastly different formative experiences.
Saudi Arabia’s preeminent architect, Dr. Zuhair Fayez, builder of cities, airports, universities, hospitals, palaces, and sculptures, opened his remarks with Einstein’s quote: “creativity is intelligence having fun” Dr Fayez wants the Middle East youth to have education but even more importantly intelligent entertainment. It is vital to progress. Dr. Fayez was educated at University of Colarado Boulder, as well as Michighan State University, the University of Colorado Board of Regents conferred on Zuhair Fayez, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa at CU-Boulder. He spoke about Change.
“ Change is inevitable and necessary but the importance of thoughtful change and the risks of building anything new must be considered. Whenever I build something, I know that I am affecting change. This change has a profound impact on culture, lifestyle, identity, as well as the thought process of the consumers of this change.”
Dr. Fayez used his experiences to illustrate the importance of change even through design and urban development in changing an entire country’s outlook. He shared his experience with Lee Kuan Yew, the Founder and first Prime Minister of Singapore.
“Singapore’s culture was dramatically changed by the redesign of its city layout and buildings. The same impact of design and use of space holds true for Middle East’s future. ”
Since 2010, Dr. Fayez has taken his responsibility to affect change into a new design arena. He has concentrated his efforts on establishing companies that specialize in using storytelling for scientific education and cultural preservation through virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. He founded the first CGI studios in the MENA region that produced the film “Bilal” due to release in the U.S. next year. Middle Eastern children love Disney but the lack in digital of any indigenous stories or representative characters for them is felt. Midlle East should share its stories with the world too. Dr. Fayez is developing entertainment venues like Zamakan, the $800M theme park using primary VR and AR with the objective of creating an entertainment industry in the Gulf region that will create entertainment and work for the youth as well as contribute creatively to global media.
Reema tied together the three panelists, Gov. Ridge, Dr. Fayez and Shiza Shahid’s work by highlighting the responsibility of the global investment community to not be afraid of risks and to continue to be builders and enablers of ideas towards that end. The panel ended on the uplifting note of coming together to collaborate, co-invest, and build each other up to march towards an era of global understanding rather than misunderstanding.
This year’s Global Summit recognized the power and responsibility of the Private Equity sector. In her opening remarks Reema said that:
“We are not just creators of wealth, investment is a serious responsibility of being builders. When working with sovereign wealth funds and large family offices, the motivation for investment is not always a fast financial return, it is strategic investment into a country’s future, it is an opportunity to explore a sector. And sometimes it is a statement to make a point of one’s priorities. It is important to understand the strategic alignment of interests to create a powerful ecosystem of companies that support each other. We build on the work of many that came before us and many will build upon our work, so let’s worry less about making our mark, and focus more on making a contribution. In today’s global marketplace, international capital mobility and social cooperation are vital for true progress and sustained profitability.”
Green Sands Global Summit was the most profound afternoon I spent in 2017. While San Francisco is more diverse and international than most cities in the U.S., we can become an echo chamber of our own perspectives. In a room where people in the audience were as much, if not more powerful than those on stage, it was a true summit of global intelligentsia and leaders. Making a product that the globe buys is not what makes us global, engaging the globe in the making is profoundly different and necessary in building tomorrow.