We regularly hear from our SVI Partners that one of the benefits they most enjoy about this community is the ability and willingness of shared value practitioners to share and learn from one other. As part of our effort to provide more opportunities for the cross-pollination of ideas and insights, we’re excited to present the first blog in a running series titled, In Conversation, that will spotlight shared value leaders and practitioners and shed light on their day-to-day work with the hope that their stories will inspire you with fresh ideas and help drive your own work forward.
To kick off the series, I recently had the chance to ask Cristina David, a Director at 21 Invest, a European private equity group, some questions about 21 Invest’s unique approach to shared value and her journey as a leader. Cristina, who has led their Finance & Investor Management function since 2010, strongly believes that a company’s reason to exist is to create profit by solving societal problems. She dedicates time to spreading this sense of purpose among her team members and in her personal life. Cristina joined 21 Invest in 2000 as an investment team member before stepping into her current role. Our conversation touched on 21 Invest’s shared value journey, the role business should play in advancing equity, and leadership more broadly.
Bobbi Silten: Tell us about how shared value has become a part of the 21 Invest investment strategy.
Cristina David: 21 Invest invests in European-based mid-market companies to support their long-term growth, while being competitive, sustainable, and resilient.
To succeed in this, we collaborate with entrepreneurs and the top management of their companies to establish a joint vision for the company that looks five, sometimes even ten years into the future. We identify where we want the investee company to go, what type of business we want to build, and what type of buyer we ultimately want to attract. We make sure investee companies can grow while making a positive social impact that is valued and recognized by employees, clients, suppliers, shareholders, and society. Entrepreneurs choose to partner with us because they believe that the company they founded can continue to grow in a good way.
We think that delivering a positive social impact is essential for investee companies’ long-term success and has always been a core part of our value creation strategy, but after partnering with the Shared Value Initiative in 2016 we have started to communicate more explicitly about the connection between growth and positive social impact as part of the way we conduct business. We have seen that this has increasingly become a competitive advantage in sourcing investment opportunities.
BS: Has the global pandemic affected your practice of shared value? If so, how? Do you think it has raised its importance?
CD: When the pandemic hit, our priorities at 21 Invest were the health of employees and the financial security of investee companies. We invest in a variety of industries and the impact of the pandemic varied depending on each company’s business. Our objective to deliver growth and a positive social impact remains unchanged but the priority of projects to reach this objective has changed according to the new challenges and opportunities faced. We believe a shared value approach is more important now than ever.
BS: With the growing demand for the private sector to play a role in the creating a more just and fair society, what role do you think business has to play in advancing equity— racial, gender, and other forms of equity? Do you see any private sector examples you admire?
CD: Private business can be very powerful in delivering profit and solving social and environmental issues. I work in the financial industry, an industry which is global, it serves all other sectors and impacts the lives of people of every race and gender. I believe this industry can really play a key role in fueling sustainable economic growth, supporting innovation, driving the transition to a greener economy and promoting gender equality in the workforce. To reach these ambitious objectives the financial industry needs a quality workforce with plenty of enthusiasm and ideas that are as diverse as the multitude of people this industry serves. I think the financial industry should move in the direction of including a more diverse workforce as a competitive strategy to reach its global objectives. In some niche areas this is already a reality and in others we still have room to grow.
One positive example of this is the gender equity charter 21 Invest has signed in France alongside France Invest, promoting gender equality in private equity, which is a step in the right direction.
“…when companies can meet society’s most important needs at a profit, they are better positioned to generate long-term growth and value for shareholders.”
BS: You have a lot of experience as a leader. What advice would you have for upcoming leaders who are interested in having a career at the intersection of business and society?
CD: In my more than 20 years of experience in this industry, I have learned that when companies can meet society’s most important needs at a profit, they are better positioned to generate long-term growth and value for shareholders. My advice to women and men interested in developing a career in this field is to think about some key questions that help companies to adopt a social purpose such as:
- What are the salient social issues that a company can solve?
- How can unsolved social issues affect a company’s future profit?
- How can creating a positive social impact enhance the company’s competitive advantage?
I believe that thinking and brainstorming around these ideas can help to develop more awareness and create a flourishing environment where people and future leaders evolve in a positive way.
BS: What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s shaping your thinking as a shared value leader?
CD: I think that when we use critical thinking, every book, article, video, or piece of social content that makes us more conscious of people can be a good source of information to shape our own leadership style. Three authors that I suggest reading are:
- Michelle Obama, a true advocate of woman and girls who once said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”
- A second is Marguerite Yourcenar. She dedicated her career to studying the classics and in her book Memoirs of Hadrian she shows the humanity of the Roman emperor who tried to build a society where several races and several beliefs could live in peace.
- The third author is the historian Yuval Noah Harari. I like how he invites us to adopt a critical thinking approach to combine many bits of information into a broad and personal picture of the changing world we are experiencing.
BS: What is one thing you’re optimistic about for the near future?
CD: I am optimistic about the younger generations. They are responsible, they believe in social equity and they think with a global mindset. They are connected with their peers in other geographies and through the planet. I think younger generations have something to teach the older generation today.
This interview is part of In Conversation, our ongoing series that elevates shared value leaders and practitioners from around the world to share their stories and shed light on their day-to-day work – we hope that their stories will inspire you to think differently as you drive your own work forward.
You can view all of the In Conversation interviews here. The series is managed and edited by Sam Wollak.