In the U.S., the concept of finance and money is reserved for the elite. It is often a taboo subject bringing shame to those who have investment portfolios and are asset owners. First, if we could simply reframe the conversation to be more oriented toward an emotional connection to finances and the meaning behind our money, we would increase interest in the topic of financial literacy. No one wants to be in a difficult financial situation. We are all looking toward the advancement of ourselves and families and alignment in how to get there.
Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eva Yazhari. Eva is the co-founder and CEO of Beyond Capital, an impact investment fund that invests in seed-stage for-profit social enterprises serving impoverished communities throughout India and East Africa. Eva has 15 years of experience and a passion for investment, entrepreneurship, and leadership that goes beyond traditional conventions. She is also a real estate investor, angel investor, art collector, and certified yoga instructor based in Dallas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Some things do actually happen by coincidence, and I found my footing in finance after graduating with a mathematics degree. I had an early experience interning at Merrill Lynch in the investment banking division as a sophomore in college, and I was able to network my way into the hedge fund world from there. I always knew I was looking for more thanks to the influence of my family’s history of public service. In 1959, my grandfather moved his family from the U.S. to rural Tanzania to establish a health clinic. I have been endlessly inspired by his example.
In 2009, I started Beyond Capital with my husband, Hooman Yazhari. We blended our backgrounds working on Wall Street and in the corporate world to launch an impact investment fund that seeks out, vets, and invests in seed-stage, for-profit social enterprises that are discovering innovative, sustainable solutions to pressing issues affecting impoverished communities in India and East Africa.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Visiting one of our portfolio companies in Tanzania in 2018 was truly like returning to family roots. Beyond Capital invested into East Africa Fruits Farm, a social enterprise that distributes agricultural produce from smallholder farmers to major local markets, in 2017 and had at that point been repaid for part of our investment. The company, although nascent, has already increased the income of more than 400 smallholder farmers by $917 per year. This is considerable for an individual who earns $1 per day.
Spending time with the CEO of East Africa Fruits Farm and meeting the farmers the company works with first hand was incredibly inspiring to experience, particularly in a country where my family legacy of social impact began. The meaningful symmetry of the moment was definitely not lost on me!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I believe strongly in speaking to a wider audience about impact investing, the practice of placing value on social as well as financial returns. This fall as a part of my belief that everyone can be an impact investor, I am launching the Beyond Capital Podcast, a series of interviews that will demonstrate the power and potential of social impact as a force for good. My co-host Ed Stevens, CEO of Preciate, and I will interview social entrepreneurs who are marrying their values with market forces to leave a lasting impact on the world.
Beyond Capital also recently launched our Ambassador Benefit Program, a powerful way for companies to engage and inspire their employees through the values of impact investing. Recent research shows that as much as 70 percent of millennial employees report that giving back and civic engagement are their highest priorities. Our Ambassador Benefit Program provides both through active, meaningful interaction with our team and the social enterprises we partner with, offering tangible access to the people and ideas in the world around us.
I believe both the podcast and engaging corporates around impact investing will add to the momentum of the impact investing movement by sharing real-life examples of people who believe that investing with their values top of mind and contributing beyond themselves are the keys to living an inspired, fulfilled, and successful life.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Beyond Capital was founded 10 years ago by my husband and I because we didn’t want to wait until we were retired to align our skills and money with our values. We harnessed the power of our expertise and our extensive networks from working on Wall Street and in the corporate world to start our organization. It is that meaning and motivation that fuels my work every day.
We are structured as a nonprofit, meaning we have the ability to maintain fidelity to our social mission alongside our financial mandates. We are also able to provide a wealth of advisory services and resources to social enterprises as an integral part of our early-stage investment strategy. These offerings include pro bono legal and financial advisory assistance, as well as access to our network of staff and board members, all of whom have diverse backgrounds and extensive expertise and experience to help guide our entrepreneurs. Often we are the first professional investor in these early-stage enterprises, so we collaborate closely with entrepreneurs to implement infrastructure that is crucial to helping the business succeed, especially in developing nations.
One of our portfolio companies, Kasha, aids women in Kenya and Rwanda by empowering them to take their healthcare into their own hands. We met Rosalie, a sales agent for Kasha, on one of our trips to East Africa to visit with our entrepreneurial partners. Rosalie earns a living selling women’s health products in Rwanda to women living under the poverty line in a culturally sensitive way. She delivers access to feminine sanitation products and contraceptives to her peers in discreet packaging and at secure locations because, for women in East Africa, having their period is still considered taboo. Beyond Capital invested in Kasha to support an early-stage company that is elevating the stories and standing of women. Rosalie is just one example of the impact Beyond Capital’s investments are having.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I was a part of the current generation of women who entered finance when it was a man’s world. It did not even seen strange at the time, and although my mostly all female education made me more sensitive to gender stereotypes, I learned to brush them off. Fifteen years ago young women in finance were taught to stay strong, to not show emotion at work, and I learned to develop a keen sense of how to navigate gender politics in the workplace.
Despite all these dynamics, I worked for many individuals who supported me for my merit and contribution to the work of the firm. One great contributor to my entrepreneurial mindset was Gregg Hymowitz. He built and sold a successful business and from the start was not concerned with male versus female. I also observed other hedge fund managers in our portfolio, like Bill Ackman who led by example and never made me feel “less than” as a woman.
I agree that the financial industry has been more resistant to change over its history, but strong female leaders such as Sally Krawcheck have broken down barriers to allow for more women to thrive in our field, and my cohort of young, motivated, female peers quietly broke through the glass ceiling. Many of these women are my closest friends today and we continue to inspire one another. I believe that society is increasingly accepting, in fact demanding, of women in leadership roles, and the financial industry is no exception.
As an alumnae of Barnard College, I recently joined the council of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, joining a team of female trailblazers from across the globe who are dedicated to helping develop and advance the next generation of female leaders.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
In my view, the greatest change can come from individual mindsets. I in fact feel uncomfortable when the world is described from the perspective of the male pronoun, i.e. “he” or “guys.” The impact our words have is immense, and even my five-year-old son is aware of gender stereotypes.
Furthermore, individuals can make a huge difference in the roles of women by demanding transparency and accountability from the businesses they give their dollars to; this is a unique time in history where people’s voices are being heard and acted upon. A recent report by Accenture revealed that 48 percent of US consumers who are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue voice their concerns, and 42 percent are willing to abandon the company altogether. This conviction has a ripple effect; take, for example, the recent Business Roundtable announcement stating that corporations have responsibilities beyond shareholders and to society at large. This is a seismic shift taking place as we consider the role companies play in society and individuals hold them accountable.
I also believe strongly that companies can play a greater role. There are ways to institutionalize gender equality, particularly through the B Corporation movement. Certified B-Corp organizations (such as our portfolio company East Africa Fruits Farm) are transforming what it means to be a successful business in today’s world by balancing purpose and profits.
It is in Beyond Capital’s DNA to raise the position of women in society because we believe when women thrive, entire communities improve. Sixty percent of our portfolio companies have female leadership and all benefit the health and welfare of 2.8 million women through better access to healthcare, sanitation, clean energy, safer food, and financial inclusion.
I look to Gwyneth Paltrow, for influencing my personal mindset and health, elevating important and unique conversations, and pioneering wellness as a normal topic of conversation. By identifying what matters most to you and committing your energy and, yes, your money, towards furthering and fostering your core values, you are creating what I call wealth consciousness, a place of abundance that inspires every area of your life.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
In the U.S., the concept of finance and money is reserved for the elite. It is often a taboo subject bringing shame to those who have investment portfolios and are asset owners. First, if we could simply reframe the conversation to be more oriented toward emotional connection to finances and the meaning behind our money, we would increase interest in the topic of financial literacy. No one wants to be in a difficult financial situation. We are all looking toward the advancement of ourselves and families and alignment in how to get there.
Secondly, it might be strange to think of investing as having emotional value, but the power of impact investing will fuel anyone to lead a life with purpose. Time and time again, psychologists have shown that the pursuit of meaning in one’s life is the real key to happiness and health. Having a sense of purpose can literally add years to your life, and the last step you can take is to act with meaning in all aspects of your life, which includes investments and finances.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
The movement towards conscious money is growing. Millennials and members of Gen Z are demanding the integration of social values into everything they do, from politics to work to investing. Fidelity estimated recently that a staggering 77 percent of millennial investors have already made an impact investment.
Even my 5-year old son is demanding more information about the world around him. He frequently asks about the “trash island” building in the Pacific Ocean, and a few years ago I set up a monthly debit into the Aspiration Redwood Fund for him, which invests in public companies screened for sustainable criteria and is accessible to anyone. I recently increased the small allocation for my daughter, as well, and plan to watch this capital grow, along with its social impact, with them over time. Even though these are small investments, the power of compounding will be a great lesson to share as examples for my adult children. Furthermore, being able to talk about more than the financial return of their money is a tool to get my children engaged.
Some other simple steps to make money a more enjoyable topic to learn about are:
1) Define your child’s values and how their money can meet those values
2) Recognize the importance of living all aspects of their lives according to those values
3) Find investments or savings accounts that match their values, a great example of which is Ellevest
Impact investing is not just for tech billionaires or philanthropists. It is becoming more accessible every year. You will find that contributing beyond yourself yields significant emotional value and naturally brings about financial acumen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Lisa Kleissner, the founder of Toniic.org, is an early impact investor, mentor, and friend. Lisa inspired me as a young professional to understand my own why behind becoming an impact investor. It took a while to fully understand what motivates me every day to get up and be an impact investor. After cutting my teeth in the finance world, I fell in love with entrepreneurship and the investment process.
The next step in my career was to marry my financial background with my family legacy of public service. My grandfather’s experience in Tanzania has been an endless inspiration. I knew early on that I wanted to create an organization that would marry profits with purpose.
Beyond my own work at Beyond Capital, I am deeply inspired by the power of impact investing. It’s a mindset, a tool that nurtures social entrepreneurs, and allows you to invest well and do good at the same time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
My modern version is: “The Best Thing Money Can Do is Good!”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
You may still be asking yourself about why should you care about impact investing. With just 1 in every 4 dollars invested into companies screened for environmental, social, or governance criteria, there is still much greater potential to invest money to do social good. A lot of people think it is a good idea for millennials just starting out, but that their current investing strategies work well. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Well, for one, there is no such thing as a neutral investment. Every decision we make, especially when it comes to where we invest our capital, can have negative outcomes, positive outcomes, or both! We need to stop thinking of money as being a neutral force. Rather, I envision a movement that inspires everyday people to think of money and investing as a force for good. This revolutionary idea — that money has the potential to create an impressive social, environmental, or ethical impact in the world — is real.
Thank you for all of these great insights!