The managing director of Amsterdam-based Anthos Fund & Asset Management’s impact funds portfolios talks about investing for impact with values as a compass
- Anthos Fund & Asset Management, Managing Director, Impact Funds Portfolios, and other previous positions, 2014-present
- DS Inc, founder, self-employed, 2013 -2014
- Hattery Labs LLC, Fund Principal, 2013
- Unilever, Pan Emerging Asia Investment Lead, Unilever Corporate Ventures, 2009-2011
- Omidyar Network, Manager Investments & Board Member, 2007-2009
- L Capital Partners, Kauffman Fellow & Board Observer, 2005-2007
- The Wharton School, MBA, Finance and Multinational Management, 2003-2005
- University of Chicago, BA, Economics and South Asian Studies, 1991-1995
Anthos Fund & Asset Management (Anthos) was established in 1929 to invest the wealth of the Brenninkmeijer family, founders of the C&A retail business.
As a values-based investor, the firm’s investment strategy reflects three key values: sustainability, human dignity and good corporate citizenship.
Dimple Sahni, managing director, impact funds portfolios, joined Anthos eight years ago, after years of experience in impact investing, investment banking and venture capital. Originally from India, Sahni moved to the US as a very young girl and spent much of her childhood travelling back and forth, becoming increasingly aware of the big differences between the two countries in relation to income inequality, gender disparity and infrastructure.
“Growing up between summers in India and school years in the US, I could see the differences between my life and that of my cousins and how they were diverging,” Sahni says, adding she grew up bilingual, bicultural and a dual citizen. “I always thought that eventually I would do something related to my native country to help uplift it. And I didn’t know what the tools would be, but when I started a career in finance, I realised that maybe finance could be that tool. And because it’s so personal for me, I wanted to work for an organisation for whom it would also be very personal.”
This desire was one of the main drivers behind her decision to move to the Netherlands and join Anthos. “I had never heard of the Brenninkmeijers or dreamt of living in Europe,” but she took on the challenge because “that conviction, that passion that I was looking for is exactly what the family business owners embody.”
“The whole ethos is about servicing their customers to the best of their ability with excellence but also about being a force for good in everything they do.”
“And then, with all their other tools including philanthropic capital, their grant-making money, and the financial capital from the family office, they also want to be a force for good. So that’s where the idea of impact investing came in.”
At Anthos, Sahni is responsible for originating investments, managing relationships and executing strategies for all dedicated impact investing portfolios.
“One of the benefits of working for an asset manager as part of a family business is the permanent, flexible patient capital available and the ability to be a contrarian or to do things on your own and to be catalytic. When you are working for a typical institutional fund with multiple stakeholders, it can be hard to get consensus sometimes and the fundraising part is not easy,” she explains. “Our business owners know who they are in terms of their values because they are in their sixth generation.” They, she adds, have a very clear mission statement and “our job is to translate that into an investment thesis”.
“Our strategy will continue to evolve because we have a living, breathing stakeholder who’s also changing with us.”Dimple Sahni
“Working for a family-owned business brings the human aspect into it in a way that I think might not happen in other institutions where everything is very transactional. Here it is very personal, so having transparency, go through lessons learned and also sharing everything we create, is very important.”
She said that having this strong compass in terms of values doesn’t mean she cannot be entrepreneurial and evolve with the markets. Also, new generations are also playing an important role and she expects them to be even bolder when it comes to their approach to impact investing. “Our strategy will continue to evolve because we have a living, breathing stakeholder who’s also changing with us.”
“When I first started, we only did private assets but in the last few years there’s been a rise in public markets. I think we need to move into these asset classes, including public equity, because it allows us to deploy capital quickly.”
Today, she invests across five different asset class – private equity, private debt, public equities, public fixed income and real assets (including social housing and renewable infrastructure) – looking at different SDGs and themes. “The fund has concentration limits. I wouldn’t invest any more than 20% of my portfolio in healthcare, for instance, whether I use debt or equity, public or private, or renewable energy.”
The public markets portfolio is skewed more towards Europe and the US, where Anthos can find bigger, more influential companies to engage to try and change their behaviour, or to make sure they continue to make products or offer solutions for the underserved.
In private markets, the focus is on companies that are global but with a material footprint in emerging markets and where the ultimate beneficiaries are in the ‘Global South’.
An example of investment in Anthos’ impact investing portfolio is Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), a non-profit fund for independent media in countries where free press is under threat.
MDIF provides affordable debt and equity financing and technical assistance to media companies offering the news, information and debate that people need “to build free, thriving societies”. Over the last 25 years, it has invested in 138 media companies, providing a total of $270m in financing. According to the company’s latest impact report, the media they support reached more than 330 million people in 2021.
In healthcare, Sahni mentions their investment in Adjuvant Capital, a venture capital fund focused exclusively on targeting global health care challenges, investing in companies that are in a clinical stage, meaning their products have yet to be approved by regulatory authorities, from drugs to vaccines, to medical devices and diagnostics.
Impact measurement and accountability
Measuring, managing and reporting the impact of their portfolios has been a key focus for the Anthos team who has also played an important role in the development of impact measurement frameworks which are used across the sector. Their More than Measurement impact framework, developed alongside Bridges Fund Management, played a catalytic role in what has now become the Impact Management Platform.
“I would say that half of my time is spent on the impact side and half is spent on the financial side. We bring as much rigor to the impact due diligence and analysis – we now have both quantitative and qualitative tools to assess the impact and ESG integrity,” she explains.
The baseline for all investments in the portfolio is ESG. “Everyone fills out an ESG scorecard and if you are a high performing fund in ESG, then the impact scorecard opens up and we ask more details about who, how much, about the theory of change, the investor contribution and the impact risk.”
The team conducts a quantitative scoring to decide whether a particular investment is eligible to be part of the portfolio. In the case of the MDIF fund investment, for instance, Anthos created a tailor-made impact target scorecard focused on the key KPIs they were going to be able to measure.
“And then, we engage with them to make sure they’re reporting on that. Because how do you measure peace and stability in a government? MDIF had already thought about this and had an impact dashboard,” she says. “Similarly with Adjuvant, we didn’t have to start from scratch either. They had the Gates Foundation as an anchor investor and a few other philanthropies, and already have two separate share classes in their fund structure, one for commercial investors and one for more mission-driven investors who were going to take concessionary returns. They already had a governance structure and a social impact council in place.”
In addition to engage and monitor the impact of their investments, Anthos has also put structures in place to hold themselves accountable. “Everything we do is self-reported so accountability is very important. This year we went through our own impact verification process with BlueMark to make sure that our process has integrity.”
Opening up to like-minded investors
Earlier this year, after almost 100 years providing services exclusively to the Brenninkmeijer family, their philanthropies and related pension funds, the Anthos platform was opened to other values-driven asset owners. Among others, Anthos launched a new strategy focused on accelerating the transition to a more sustainable, equitable and just society.
There were several reasons behind this move. First, there were enquiries from other family offices who were interested in joining in a much bigger, already established platform with a strong track record. This was particularly appealing for smaller family offices without the ability or resources to put up the infrastructure required.
“But also, the family business owners realised that while they have a deep capital base, it is finite,” Sahni explains. “So why not amplify their own capital by allowing other investors to join them, sharing the upside and the downside? That way it is not just one family doing it, but it is more about being an enabler to drive more system-level change.”
Anthos hopes their new strategies will attract more like-minded investors and contribute to scale their investments to make a real difference.