4 Female Investors Who Are Using Their Capital To Drive Positive Social Change
Amy Lo, co-head of UBS Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific, found her way to sustainability-minded investing through her love of cooking—after meeting the founder of Impossible Foods about six years ago, she began using its plant-based meat substitutes to make burgers and sandwiches, while talking up its business to potential investors.
For Jennifer Poh, an independent investor, it was a period spent learning yoga and travelling the world that made her realise, “there’s so much young entrepreneurial energy that is coming out of the developing parts of the world”. Angelina Yao, the founder and CEO of Heels & Yield, a Hong Kong financial education company, remembers a childhood trip to Beijing where a severe reaction to the pollution inspired her to pursue a career that included finding ways to help the environment.
And Scarlett Yin was just in kindergarten when, heeding the wise words of a grandmother, she realised that no one lives forever. “I got so scared of the limitation of time that one individual can exist on this planet, and I decided I wanted to leave a legacy behind,” she says. She decided to make a substantial impact by advocating for environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing.
They are part of a trend of investors who are focused on the environmental and social impacts of their capital, wielding their influence on businesses that address problems in education and equality, and also support start-ups led by other women. The majority of female investors globally want to use their wealth to make a positive change, according to Lo, who cites surveys showing as much as 88 per cent of women respond favourably to sustainable investing. UBS estimated in 2017 that women could invest US$2.3 trillion in improving social good this year.
Christina Dean, a founder of Redress, the sustainable fashion design competition, and the R Collective, an upcycled fashion brand, has seen the benefits, having promoted many social impact businesses over the last 14 years while also seeking capital to build her own. “I’ve become more focused on how investors can make more noise in the mix to drive change,” she says. “My interest in the investor space developed both because of frustration—put simply, not enough is happening fast enough—and also because of greater influence of and access to powerful groups of investors, many of whom are women, who want to see their cash make change.”
While seeking investments for the R Collective, she encountered several like-minded women who are seeking to transform the way women approach their portfolios through education and empowerment.
“These women ultimately welcomed me into a new world where money still talks, but it talks also about positive change,” Dean says.
Jennifer Poh, Independent investor moving her practice from Hong Kong to Singapore
Mission Statement: I was a corporate lawyer, working on capital markets deals, including debt financing for companies as well as IPOs. After I left private practice, I had the privilege of having some time off. I travelled around the world, including time in India training in Ashtanga yoga and doing my teacher training in Nicaragua. Yoga has been a huge part of the change in me. I changed from being a careless meat eater to training in raw vegan cuisine, and from binge-shopping on fast fashion to selling and giving away a large part of my wardrobe. A teacher told me that the definition of a yogi is someone who makes the world a better place than before he or she came into it, and this has become my guiding principle in life.
Starting Out: The first question for women starting their journey to impact investing is, What’s your theory of change? What areas are you interested in? As you consume, well, what are you more concerned about? If your fridge is full of plant-based burgers, then focus on investing in companies that support that cause.
Lessons Learned: During my travels, I got to work on a project to help an education start-up in Johannesburg expand to the rest of Africa. That really influenced my views. While I was confronted by tragic poverty in Soweto and the other poor townships in South Africa, I was also left with a lot of enthusiasm for change. It made me believe that the allocation of the right capital to the right causes can really make a difference. Impact investing in many ways is an improved version of philanthropy.
See also: 8 Richest Women In Hong Kong, 2021
Scarlett Yin, Partner in Y2 Capital
Mission Statement: The most important motivation for me is to hopefully drive humanity forward, by even a needle’s length, through my lifetime. Protecting the Earth and stabilising societies are prerequisites to buy our scientists as much time as possible for theoretical breakthroughs and a technological explosion. I like impact investing in new solution-providing ventures, but I think more important is transforming giant corporations so that they cease or decrease negative impacts. We opt for public market equity investment with active engagement to empower, transform and build future ESG leaders in Asia.
Starting Out: I think I will give the advice that before considering yourself as an investor, consider yourself as a responsible consumer. Consider each dollar as a vote, both on the stock market and in your daily spending. Think about the bags and jewels that you’re going to purchase for this year, think about how many Ubers or shuttles that you’re going to take this year. What do you believe? If you can pass the first period of acting as a responsible consumer, then I think a lot of the electives will come naturally.
Lessons Learned: I’m still pretty young, but I will look forward, and I hope that maybe a decade from now, my daughter or son won’t be talking specifically about ESG or responsible investing because that will be the mainstream already. They will just grow up in this environment where everyone takes responsibility for all their actions as a moral norm.
Amy Lo, Co-head of UBS Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific, and head and chief executive of UBS Hong Kong
Mission Statement: As one of the largest wealth managers, we are in a unique position to direct private wealth into businesses that generate positive impact in society. When we first started, some of the families were talking about values investing. Now we are seeing the advantages of the transfer of wealth from one generation to the next, who are more receptive and interested in sustainable investing. So I am convinced this is the game changer, this is the mega trend, and as a financial institution we have a very important part to play. As of end of 2019, we managed over half a trillion (US$) sustainable assets globally and it’s growing strongly. In Asia, we are one of the biggest ambassadors for sustainable investing, and I feel really honoured to be in this role driving wealth to where it should go. And in general, women care more about the society and doing good, and they want to invest in companies that are making positive impact to the world.
Starting Out: Interestingly, in the Covid-19 situation, we have had much more live engaging discussion with our clients. Personally I have also met with some top families in the region, talking with them about their purpose in life, and the legacy they want to build. This is the perfect occasion for us to talk about sustainable investing. It’s not just why, but why not.
Lessons Learned: Start early, don’t wait. What resonates well with me is that we borrow the planet from our children and our grandchildren, and we need to return it in better condition than when we borrow it. So please make sure we take good care of our Earth. We can start doing it right now.
Angelina Yao, Founder and CEO of Heels & Yield, a financial education company in Hong Kong that teaches women how to achieve financial freedom
Mission Statement: I believe women should be encouraged to invest as soon as they get that first pay cheque. As soon as they start managing their money and accumulate wealth, they can have the financial freedom to make the choices in their life that they want. They can start their own businesses, they can support a local charity or save for an early retirement. Some of my clients use the proceeds from their investment gains to build schools. I’ve seen a huge change where all sorts of investors are measuring returns not just by their financial impact, but also by their social and environmental contribution.
Starting Out: The first step is putting money into an ESG exchange-traded fund. Essentially, these funds avoid fossil fuel industries and focus on investing in technology and renewable energy companies. Then we suggest they go deeper and invest in areas that they are passionate about. For example, they can pick two sustainable development goals such as gender equality and affordable and clean energy.
Lessons Learned: When I grew up in California, the importance of sustainability and renewable energy was always drummed into me. When I came back to Asia, the focus was entirely on growth and the feeling was if you focused on sustainability, you would sacrifice that growth. I believe that mentality has changed and there is a feeling that you can now have both. China is making huge leaps in innovation and infrastructure, affordable and clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago. Looking back, I wish I’d been more assertive in putting this agenda forward and finding allies.
- PhotographyInga Beckmann
- StylingTasha Ling
- Make-UpAntonia Rudebeck
- Stylist's AssistantAngela Leung
- Stylist's AssistantVenus Chu
- LocationThe Wild Lot