After harnessing the power of ESG within global organisations for over a decade, Roshni joined BGF with the intention of delivering positive impact at scale. Her experience in emerging markets has given her a unique perspective on the importance of socioeconomic diversity and the power of purpose in driving meaningful change across global scales.
You’ve been harnessing the power of ESG for the last ten years in order to create meaningful impact. Tell us about your journey to becoming Head of ESG at BGF.
What I try to achieve with my work is connecting how financial success can be driven by being a more responsible investor. It’s an ongoing journey and one that is constantly teaching me new things.
It began with a lot of time in emerging markets – predominantly India, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia – where the focus was on delivering impact through financial and healthcare inclusion to people who are living below $10 per day.
When I began having conversations with BGF, I had already been living in the UK for 6 years. I felt that there was an opportunity to focus my skill set and purpose in the place I now call home, and contribute positively to progress and development here.
How does BGF support investees with ESG strategies?
At the core of how we support companies is our ability to guide them on what it means to be a responsible business. One of the first steps to that is recognising that it’s a constant process of growth, evolution and learning.
Businesses have an inherent sense of what the right thing to do is. By providing the right language, tools and ambition, we help them bring that to the surface. There is tremendous value in being humble and recognising that already SMEs have capabilities and potential within them. They don’t come to us for top-down answers, but to work with them as a partner who understands what is right for them.
Occasionally I will have a conversation with a company that says, “We already have an industry leading ESG approach.” At that point, what I’m interested in is what type of journey of understanding they are on, what impact they are seeking to have in the future and, critically, what we can learn from each other.
“Occasionally I will have a conversation with a company that says, ‘We already have an industry leading ESG approach.’ At that point, what I’m really interested in what type of journey of understanding they are on, what impact they are seeking to have in the future and, critically, what we can learn from each other.”
There isn’t a magic bullet solution; it is a continual road of steady progress that needs to be well communicated and transparent. Leaders can often struggle to find the right language around ESG ambitions and a lot of what I focus on is helping to articulate their vision and impact.
How does BGF support companies as the landscape around ESG evolves?
ESG targets are constantly shifting, but a business’s focus should generally be around four areas: robustness, accountability, implementation and transparency.
By focusing on these, a business is equipped to deal with the big topics like climate adaptation and they’re also prepared to tackle the less talked about issues that are just as critical.
As things continue to shift, my hope is that regulations – which are the biggest change drivers – don’t just address carbon emissions, but that they incorporate a more holistic range that includes important areas like biodiversity, regional and social impacts and socioeconomic diversity. Lots of people have been trying to move the dial on these areas for a long time, but they weren’t getting the right level of coverage or focus – it’s a positive step forward to see that changing.
In 2022, BGF launched its independent charitable foundation, the BGF Foundation. Tell us more about how it was created and how it is helping to deliver meaningful impact across the UK.
The Foundation started at a point where BGF had existed for a decade and recognised that we’d played a critical role in supporting this funding gap for the communities that we work in.
But we also recognised that business is not the only sector facing this funding gap. The charitable sector is also struggling to grow.
The idea behind the Foundation was to replicate our support model for SMEs and help charitable organisations to grow in the same resilient and sustainable way in order to create meaningful change at scale. By prioritising unrestricted funding and support for charities that are dedicated to empowering young individuals and leaders, our aim is to increase the opportunities for young people and transcend some of the barriers that they face.
Why is it so important to invest in entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds?
Diversity in investments is fundamentally the right thing to do. In business, it also means that teams are able to solve problems and deliver impact more effectively for the people they serve.
What we’re observing is that teams composed of individuals who hail from diverse schools of thinking are significantly more adept at addressing problems within their communities. Their varied lived experiences, ethnicities, genders, and unique characteristics enrich their perspectives, enabling them to address and resolve the challenges their businesses face more effectively.
“What we’re observing is that teams composed of individuals who hail from diverse schools of thinking are significantly more adept at addressing problems within their communities. Their varied lived experiences, ethnicities, genders, and unique characteristics enrich their perspectives, enabling them to address and resolve the challenges their businesses face more effectively.”
There is also an interesting conversation around the importance of socioeconomic diversity. I’ve noticed that some individuals who do not relate to the gender or ethnic discussions feel less able to share their experiences.
It’s important to recognise the challenges that people have to overcome, while also acknowledging that there are disparities in access to support and opportunities. If we can recognise that, it then becomes cyclical; and we begin to widen the umbrella of diversity and inclusion so that even more people are offered support and opportunities.
Why is it so important to make change personal in order to have a meaningful impact?
At the end of the day, businesses are a group of people who are trying to deliver an idea. The question becomes, how do we do it well together? How do we work with each other in a way that we feel enriched and fulfilled, while continuing to learn?
It used to be frowned upon, to some extent, to bring the personal into business – especially for female leaders. But increasingly people are recognising the different dimensions of life that business impacts, and as a result, more conversations are happening about the personal side of work.
“It used to be frowned upon, to some extent, to bring the personal into business – especially for female leaders. But increasingly people are recognising the different dimensions of life that business impacts, and as a result, more conversations are happening about the personal side of work.”
I think that’s one of the biggest ways to drive meaningful change; connecting the complexities of our inner lives to the work that we’re doing. Rather than thinking of business as a separate silo to the rest of our lives, business leaders are beginning to open up more and talk about both the good and the bad. The things they’re excited and passionate about, but also the things they’re scared or apprehensive about.
Humanising those leadership roles enables people to talk in a much more productive and genuine way about what the challenges are and how we can collectively overcome them.
Are you seeing a change in the way that businesses approach impact, investment and the future?
The number of companies that are changing their business model is really exciting, and it often begins at an individual level. I am noticing CEOs or senior leaders who have undertaken a personal journey of transformation of understanding feel a responsibility to be better and to do better.
The conversation has switched from ESG as an afterthought to a collective responsibility to deliver a common goal.
How can individuals shift from a negative, reductive view of impact to a positive, creative one?
The question to ask is: what do you want your legacy to be? Doing less harm is, in my view, the minimum requirement. That’s business as usual. The companies that we invest in should already be delivering on that; their focus and energy should be looking at strategically embedding ‘doing more good’ at the centre of their business strategy.
That shift is definitely already occurring; the business mindset has shifted fundamentally. If you run your business responsibly, actively doing more good will be automatically integrated into your impact.
What role does long-term and short-term thinking play in the conversation around meaningful and long-lasting impact?
There is definitely a balance. Running a business does have to be pragmatic and practical. If your only concern is next year’s profitability, you will be disadvantaged commercially in the longer term. There is a different type of investment and leadership effort that is required to think about purpose, but when that happens, the economic impact of prioritising profit and purpose starts to play out in a very natural way.
We have seen in our investee businesses that founders who have gone on to secure a very successful exits have intrinsically cared about what type of business they are passing on to their successors.
What role does community and connection play in good growth’?
We have five good growth principles: take thoughtful steps, keep broad minds, lead well, grow sustainably and go further today. Each one can relate to how we think about community building and relationships.
Due to our large portfolio, we are able to demonstrate to individual companies that they are not alone. I often think that CEOs, especially first time entrepreneurs, can be quite lonely. They feel as though they must have all of the solutions to all of the problems.
So at that stage, it becomes extremely important for us to add our value beyond the capital we provide. We can have conversations with them. We can show that there are many others who have gone through this journey and faced the same challenges.
Our portfolio then takes on its own life as a community and hub of knowledge; a passing of shared experience from one business leader to another.
What does purpose mean to you?
When it comes to purpose at work, you need a reason behind why you get up every single day. That reason could be anything, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be your life’s purpose. People can be happy in many different roles and businesses because within that team, there is a common goal that everyone is working towards.
As individuals, I think we have different purposes that drive us, beyond just business. My purpose comes down to scale of my personal impact. Depth is important, but the scale of my impact is what really drives me – trying to create solutions that help people in a consistent and progressive way.
“You have to ask yourself, what is the one gift that I have been given, and how can I use it to create something better for this world?”
Purpose is always a journey. Working in ESG, there are a lot of daunting issues and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Every day there is more bad news – we’re going to miss a climate target, or a species is going to go extinct. But if you focus on that, you end up spending too much of your energy on trying to solve huge problems and you quickly become burnt out.
You’re never going to be able to make everything perfect, or solve every single problem – even though you may care about them all. You have to ask yourself, what is the one gift that I have been given, and how can I use it to create something better for this world?