Meet Leah Nguyen, Investment Director – TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good

January 5, 2022

Windmill Microlending is one of the inaugural investees of the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good, closing on a $2 million, 5-year community bond in the fall of 2020. Windmill Development Officer, Janet Eremenko, had a chance to sit down – virtually – with Leah Nguyen, Investment Director of the Pollinator Fund for Good before the holidays.

Congratulations on the launch of the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good! Tell us about the Fund and your role in bringing it to life.

Thank you, Janet. I’m excited we can officially celebrate the launch of the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good together!

The TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good is a $100 million commitment from TELUS to invest in businesses to achieve social impact and drive economic returns. Through the Pollinator Fund, we want to invest in solutions that lead to positive outcomes related to the environment, health, food security and community inclusion. We think profit and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive – they can go hand in hand. TELUS is involved in philanthropy, volunteerism and now impact investing, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because purpose can be at the core of our business.

As the Fund’s Investment Director, my job is to help us source businesses, and evaluate and execute investment opportunities that align with the Fund’s mission. Working with the leadership team, I built out the Fund’s strategy to incorporate a “dual lens” approach to investing, making sure we’re evaluating both a social and financial return, and not just one or the other.

According to the 2016 census, 22% of Canadians were born outside of Canada. Most of us are only just a few generations removed from our own family’s experience of settling in Canada. Can you tell us about your connection to Windmill’s mission?

I’m very passionate about this topic! My parents came to Canada from Vietnam as refugees. They knew no one and had to learn everything for themselves to provide a better life for us kids. I’ve thought a lot about what would have happened if the pandemic and the resulting economic turmoil hit when I was a kid as my parents had pretty limited resources. I definitely would have been behind my peers. Windmill’s mission helps to close the gap and ensure that people like my parents are able to provide more opportunities to their children who are the next generation of Canadians coming up!

The microloans have a significant social and personal aspect, where people can feel like they’re succeeding, they’re belonging, and that the upheaval of settling in a new country was worth it. When a person is underemployed and feeling not understood, they feel like an outsider. Windmill helps to put people on a path towards success that will have individual economic benefits and community benefits. And ultimately, we all benefit from this multicultural Canadian ideal that embraces diversity and different points of view.

Overall, we’re just so excited about our investment in Windmill and its mission.

This investment, along with many others since we launched our community bond three years ago, has fuelled much of the growth of our loan capital. How would you describe impact investing?

Impact investing has started to gain a lot of awareness and momentum in the last three to five years for a few reasons. COVID-19 has highlighted that there is an increased need to create resilient and sustainable solutions to our health and socioeconomic challenges, and this requires investing in innovation. As well, there used to be a stigma that if there was a social impact component to an investment, it probably wasn’t profitable.

There’s been a gradual shift as people realize that businesses solving the world’s biggest problems can be profitable. And finally, people are increasingly wanting to ensure that their money is being used to do good in the world, and we’ve seen the increasing trend towards ESG and conscious consumption. With the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good, we’re here to prove that you can bring strong social and environmental purpose into the core of a business and still be profitable.

The TELUS Pollinator Fund has some pretty big objectives, and they’re closely linked to the United Nations SDGs. What advice would you give to businesses who want to aim high and, in the spirit of the TELUS Pollinator Fund, to bridge purpose and profit?

It’s important for businesses to think about what outcomes they’re trying to achieve, beyond growth and profitability. It’s worth taking some time to leverage design-thinking to consider the problem you’re trying to solve and for whom you’re trying to solve it. This helps to cement the vision and helps to hone in on what the mission is.

It’s also really important to be adaptable. If you’re always keen to be learning – about customer needs, market conditions, suppliers – then you’ll build resilience to scenarios like the one we’ve all been living through this past year. Things are always changing, so it’s essential that you can change with it, but with the right people around the table so you can keep that clarity of mission.

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