“Empathy for others became my most valuable lens”
Interview with Hedda Pahlson-Moller, Venture Partner at Ananda Impact Ventures
You immersed yourself in the impact sector since its infancy, in various roles from impact investor to catalyser to advocate to educator. What is the impact that you are trying to achieve?
Like so many people who entered the impact economy I wanted to play a part in a systems change of integrating values in finance and business. It seemed obvious and self-evident. If I look back at the roots of my journey, I recognize inclusion as a common theme in my activities.
I grew up as a Swedish immigrant in the US and it gave me valuable perspective of the sensitivity to issues related to integration. Empathy for others became my most valuable lens, especially with the eyes of a child who was very different… a tomboy, terribly curious and enthusiastic and eager to be accepted. I experienced that when diversity is not valued, social fabric is torn and deep rifts appear; but when it works well and is celebrated and integrated, the results are powerful and remarkable.
So your impact driver traces back to your childhood.
Yes, my passion for JEDI (Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) came from a very personal longing to feel rooted and connected. I picked up from my mother a strong conviction that everyone should have access to a functioning social welfare system. She became a social worker and psychotherapist to address the gaps in the US system. She is still there today and refuses to leave so I suppose I picked up her stubbornness to play my part in fixing flawed systems, even if my tools are different. Being fascinated with different languages, cultures and perspectives also drives my activities and interests.
Another big step is embracing gender aspects. You are a passionate advocate for gender-smart investing. Why should this be key in any investment strategy?
Gender issues are diversity issues. If you subscribe to the basic concept that anyone who is excluded from the workforce for whatever reason is wasted human capital, then you have a simple driver to embrace diversity in your investment portfolio. And yet, if we struggle to address the status quo for 50% of the world’s population, how do we approach minority issues? There are enough compelling data out there that make the case for gender inclusion. We have seen enormous improvements in this respect, but there is still a USD 300 billion funding gap for women entrepreneurs. That is an undervalued asset! We have a lot of work to do on gender-smart approaches to investing.
What do these women entrepreneurs need most from investors, in your view?
I think the most important aspect investors should acknowledge is the systemic challenges that women entrepreneurs are facing — same issue for LGBTQI+. We need to learn to celebrate differences (gender positive!) and create a supportive environment by adapting our approach to entrepreneurs that have different motivations and backgrounds — there is no one size fits all.
You have the opportunity to bring this gender lens to Ananda in your new role as a venture partner. How did you get to know them and what drove you to take on this role?
I met Johannes and Florian over 10 years ago at various events and gatherings. We initially connected as being slightly oddball impact investors where neither of investment pals or philanthropy friends really knew what to make of our approach. Our unusual, impact-first, early-stage investment model (as well as our slightly offbeat sense of humour) and entrepreneurial mindset was regarded with some scepticism. Over the years, we built friendship, respect and appreciation for one another. I feel that the time is right to get more deeply involved with deploying capital, rather than sitting in the ivory tower of board seats. I have never been a venture partner before, but I am really looking forward to joining this innovative team.
What makes Ananda unique in your eyes?
First of all, I very much like the people. Their hearts are in the right places, they’re intelligent, experienced, competent and work well together as a team. My professional respect comes from the fact that they are very focused, strategic and smart in a sense that they didn’t raise huge funds right away. It is a huge validation for our field to have a firm that is on the fourth consecutive fund and demonstrates that impact investing is a very viable strategy.
What would you like to contribute to Ananda and the team?
I hope I can give them a new perspective in terms of trends as well as bring new investors and new investees aboard. I would also like to challenge their thinking, for example by bringing best practices on impact measurement and management from my own activities. I think there is a very healthy and courageous willingness on both sides to learn and disrupt each other’s comfort zones a bit. I would also love to see that our collaboration helps our field to grow, get stronger and inspire others to join.
Speaking of stronger: If you had the power to make one major change for this field, what would it be?
To create consensus around the taxonomy and impact measurement and management approach. This would help considerably to benchmark projects, dispel confusion, and bring many more people to our impact space.
Interview by Christina Moehrle
Hedda is the CEO of TIIME.org, an impact catalyst driving capital towards positive societal impact (#impactimperative). She is a private investor, independent director, adjunct professor and advisor on issues related to sustainable development, impact finance and social justice/equity/diversity/inclusion (JEDI).
Apart from managing TIIME and a privately-held forestry company, Hedda is an active board member on funds and organizations working with/towards values-based investing — from public and private equity structures to family offices and NGOs. She is the Impact Director and Mission Board member in EQT’s Future Fund, a long-hold private equity fund.
Hedda is Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation & Impact Economy at several European and US universities since 2006. She is a North-American Swede and has lived in 10 countries before settling in Luxembourg where she sits on the advisory board to the government for Sustainable Development and the Luxembourg Sustainable Finance Initiative (LSFI.lu).