We regularly interview our amazing Guarantors to learn more about their lives and motivations. In this Guarantor Spotlight, Max Brawer, MCE’s Intern, had a conversation with Antonis Schwarz, who has served as a MCE Guarantor since 2015 and doubled his guarantee in 2016.
Max Brawer: Can you tell me a little about your background?
Antonis Schwarz: I’m Greek-German and currently live between Munich and Athens. I studied in the UK and Spain, and I grew up between Greece and Germany. I consider myself a global citizen, and a European.
MB: In what ways do your personal values align with the values we have at MCE?
AS: For me, what stands behind MCE is leveraging your assets. I think that’s the beauty of MCE, you don’t even necessarily have to move your assets; you can simply sign a guarantor agreement and help a lot of people with that. It’s like a low-hanging fruit for me personally, and for a lot of potential investors it could be the same. Value wise, it’s about microfinance in the end. It’s about giving people a chance to help themselves and to be prosperous. Activating people to help themselves is topic I am generally interested in. This also explains my interest in direct democracy and progressive policies such as the unconditional basic income. The common theme running through all of these is the empowerment of individuals, which also stands behind MCE.
MB: What are you working on these days?
AS: I’m currently working on two projects, Vouliwatch and the Guerrilla Foundation. Vouliwatch is a digital platform that engages Greek citizens with legislative politics and grants them the opportunity to communicate, evaluate and hold elected representatives in the Greek and the European Parliament (MPs & MEPs) accountable. I am also currently setting up the Guerrilla Foundation to streamline my philanthropic engagement in the areas of refugee aid, social entrepreneurship and political activism. The Guerrilla Foundation focuses on Greece and Germany but is also open to support projects from other countries.
MB: Are you involved in any projects at the moment besides Vouliwatch and Guerrilla Foundation?
AS: I recently participated in an excellent Next Gen Impact Investing program at Harvard University. As a result I am supporting the launch of a university unit in Europe that will be the first effort globally that will be focused specifically on private wealth and impact investing. I believe that while the concentration of private wealth amongst a small group of private investors is a great challenge to our society, it can still be an opportunity if we can “activate” these assets for impact investing. The interesting thing here is that impact investing can also serve as an important trigger for a more active engagement of these asset owners not only with their wealth, but also in regard to the corporate sustainability of the firms that they own, the more specific focus of their grant work on catalytic impact, and more aware political engagement. This university unit will employ several PhDs and post-docs who will be conducting much-needed research on what exactly the barriers to impact investing in private wealth management are and how they can be overcome. Beside the research focus, the unit will also provide executive education, such as training for asset owners, family office staff, and private banking advisors. This should be supported by a number of co-funders, so if anybody reading this is interested in learning about this initiative, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
MB: The Toniic Institute recently interviewed you in their 2016 Millennials and Impact Investing Report. What were some of your general thoughts and impressions from that report?
AS: It was very interesting to read the stories of the other impact investors. Each journey is different and is reflective of the character of that person. What is very interesting is that impact investing is not just about the actual investment; it’s about adding that impact focus to everything you do and realizing that everything is interconnected. This holistic perspective is what’s slowly emerging. I read this interview with this guy, Seth, who has a solar farm, and is really living what he’s preaching. Just to read about those examples was inspiring for me.
MB: What advice do you have for millennials who are just starting out? What role do you think they will play in the future of impact investing?
AS: Advice I have for millennials starting out is reach out to peers that are further down in the process. What’s really crucial is picking a good advisor. Many people will tell you in the beginning that you need to know the ins and outs of investing by heart. From my perspective, this is totally not true if you have a good advisor you can trust. Also, do tap into existing family office resources if they are available, especially staff that is experienced in investing. Similarly, building your knowledge and a good network is also important. The role of millennials is very much to be seen because in impact investing you see a lot of talk and very little action. I have high hopes obviously and really hope that my generation will make a fundamental change, because you can feel that we hold different values than previous generations, for example when it comes to sustainability and transparency. Yet it remains to be seen whether we’re really willing to walk our talk. When it comes to pressing the button and actually making an impact investment or changing your own life, a lot of people get scared. In the end we’re talking about a lot of money and letting go of convenient habits.
MB: If you could choose three words to describe yourself as an impact investor, what would they be and why?
AS: I would say positive, open, and progressive. Open because I am open to basically all sectors. We made investments in very different sectors, from off-grid solar, to social startups, to free media in countries where media is censored. Positive because I want to be part of positive change and want to promote values beyond just money. Progressive because I want to help create the economy of the future, where impact investing becomes the norm rather than the exception. Traditional investing only looks at liquidity, risk, and return. The future will have a fourth category, which will be social impact.