Getting to Know B Team Leader Arif Naqvi

09/28/2017
Arif M. Naqvi - World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2010

What inspires you?

My inspiration comes from people I meet professionally or socially. My colleagues are a source of inspiration as are the entrepreneurs that we invest in and the community members we engage with in our markets. I am inspired by human beings at all levels of society that surpass themselves in trying to make the world a better place.

A few years ago, the Oxford Martin Commission came out with a report titled “Now for the Long Term.” The first sentence reads, “Now is the best time in history to be alive.” I don’t know if yesterday was better or tomorrow will be better, but I do know that the only chance I will get at being alive is today. So it’s every day that I find my inspiration so that when I leave the world it will hopefully be a slightly better place than when I found it.

Which B Team challenge or initiative are you motivated by most, and how is your company helping to lead on the issue?

The challenge of creating thriving communities really resonates with me. It’s about placing humanity at the center of all we do. When human beings are the raison d’etre of your corporate existence, your whole vision shifts. You see your customers differently, you see your employees differently, you see your products and services differently and you see your business model differently. Imagine a world where corporations are constantly looking to augment and develop the people they touch to realize their full potential. What an amazing place that would be. Making work 100% Human is, for me, one of the guiding lights of The B Team currently.

Since Abraaj’s inception, I have wanted to see each and every one of us engage with our stakeholders. We are not a myopic, internally-focused private equity firm – quite the contrary. We try to infect the companies we invest in with the same virus. That’s where my motivation lies. I can encourage 350 colleagues at Abraaj to live the underpinning values of making work 100% Human. But just imagine if I can get the hundreds of thousands of employees in the companies we invest in to do the same. Then we start changing the world.

What convinced you to take on this challenge? Why do you believe that it cannot be achieved without business engagement and leadership?

Nobody had to convince me. It’s just part of my DNA. Businesses are exactly the right place to lead change. In the words of fellow B Team Leader Paul Polman, “we cannot as businesses be bystanders to the challenges facing our world.” Companies, whether big or small, are essential elements to the social fabric of our nations. We need to be at the forefront of change because it’s within our premises that innovation occurs and can be scaled. That’s why the Sustainable Development Goals call for the private sector to get involved in a major way.

Look at how much time is spent at work – we all probably spend more time at our jobs than we do with family and friends. Businesses are living ecosystems that need to set an example of doing things right. That means staff and colleagues living day in, day out our values, which focus equally on our business as they do on our stakeholders. At Abraaj, we work hard to maintain our position and grow our business, but we do this with a higher purpose than just profit. That’s why we attract the best talent and gain the trust of the people we deal with.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on this journey?

Firstly, the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary, and secondly today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster. In other words: hard work, humility and no complacency.

What is the first thing you read every morning?

I can’t really name one single source. I belong to those who are endlessly curious so I read pretty much everything that comes under my hand. At Abraaj each of us is required to send interesting articles or research on new thinking to the entire firm, which makes for a lot of interesting and diverse reading – whether it’s in the morning or evening.

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur seeking to start a new company today?

I would say to always remember that entrepreneurship is an art form and not just a science. It cannot be learned. Put all the basics in place like planning, market surveys, risk assessments, prototyping and all that stuff. But, above all else seek to break from the ranks, break the status quo, see yourself as an agent of positive change, remain insatiably curious and remain constantly aware of your environment. If you don’t adapt, you will quickly be consigned to history.

If there is one big change you could make in the world today, what would it be?

Only 50 countries so far have made SDG commitments. I would like to see all 193 member states of the UN follow suit. I would also like to see the $9 trillion USD currently sitting in zero or negative yielding bonds be put into sustainable investment schemes in pursuit of the SDGs.

If you were given an extra day next week, how would you spend it?

I would continue living my passions – there is so much to do! Give me 8 days next week and nothing changes for me.

What is one thing you would change to help more companies go further, faster, towards sustainable business? 

I think the “Better Business, Better World” report by the Business Commission is a really good effort to try and make a convincing case to our peer CEOs that the SDGs offer the right framework to evolve sustainable business strategies. We have to continue making new converts by engaging the sceptics and sharing success stories. We are at the start of the journey so it’s going to take some patience. On the other hand, 2030 is right around the corner so maybe in this case impatience has to be considered a virtue.

This interview is part of a series to help you get to know the B Team leaders, what they are working on and what they are passionate about. You can read Richard Branson’s interview here, Yolanda Kakabadse’s interview here, Sharan Burrow’s interview here, Bob Collymore’s interview here, David Crane’s here, Christiana Figueres’ here and expect a new one each month.

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