Vikram Gandhi, The Social Banker


The Social Banker

Vikram Gandhi is an investment banker by profession and the founder of Asha Impact, a social fund. His CV checks all the boxes for a top notch banker. He is a graduate from the University of Mumbai, a qualified Chartered Accountant and also holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Gandhi splits his time equally between high finance and making a social impact. While interacting with Hindu Business Line Mr.Gandhi says that one can make profits even out of a social venture. By citing examples he says that “Social ventures are sustainable businesses that serve the under-served,” explaining that profits ensure that a social venture is able to sustain itself. Nor is it difficult to run a profitable social venture. Smokeless bio-mass stoves used for cooking prevent a lot of health issues arising out of inhaling smoke.It was this realisation that, in fact, prompted him to focus on social impact funds. “I started off by being a part of Grameen Foundation. Having worked in financial services and looking at how businesses can be run, I felt social impact funds are where I can add value,” he says. Vikram Gandhi’s current passion is his Asha Impact.Asha means hope in Hindi and life in Swahili, is a social fund that invests in three key areas — financial inclusion, affordable housing and alternative energy. The fund is in its early days and is likely to announce its first investment in the “next few months”.

Vikram is putting his negotiating and deal-making skills to good use in trying to engage policymakers, industry and investors. “There are many levels of policy — Centre, State and local. Getting everyone aligned is always a challenge,” he says. He cites affordable housing as an example of where policy can play a critical role. How land is made available by the Government, what are the terms of a public-private partnership engagement and the ways to fund the project — these need to be thought through to make them click. “India is a hot test bed to try out ideas. The key, as with the lessons learnt from the micro-finance issue, is to maintain a balance between social impact and profitability,” he says. As a CEO of VGS capital adviser he advises entities such as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and other sovereign wealth funds. He said that “We are looking at sectors such as real estate and infrastructure as areas where long-term capital can be deployed.” He has worked with the National Innovation Council over the last few years to set up The India Inclusive Innovation Fund and is also a Member of the Standing Council of Experts under the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. When asked how he manages all these, he said that “I travel a lot for my investment banking, social venture and my other involvements,” “I like to attend conferences, meetings and other opportunities to meet, network and interact.” “My philanthropic work relaxes me, I don’t think of it as work,” he says.

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