In Conversation With Anders H. Lier
20 February 2018 at 8:37 am
Anders H. Lier is an international impact investor, a leader in the field of innovation and technology and the executive chairman of Nordic Impact, which invests in startups based around technology with a mission to have a positive impact on society.
He is also executive chairman of EXP Group which has the mission to make a positive impact on society and environment.
For Lier, one of his goals is to make impact investing mainstream.
In particular he invests in early stage technology start-ups, funds and projects, and is a believer that disruptive technology is a driving force behind changing finance, business and culture so that impact and purpose become standard.
Lier also co-founded the Katapult Future Fest, a three-day festival in Oslo which focuses on how exponential technologies and impact investing can be used to create a better future society for all.
Here he talks to Wendy Williams about why he is an advocate for impact investing, the future he would like to see and why we need to learn to live with robots.
Why are you an advocate for impact investing?
I think that the grand challenges of this world are so big and I feel that I am obliged to contribute back to solve these grand challenges with the knowledge and competence and capital that I have.
I want my kids to grow into a world that is a great place to be and I want my kids to prosper and thrive and become happy citizens of the world and I want all children to be like that, and so that is the starting point of why I am an impact investor.
Why have you chosen exponential technology as a focus?
There is no time to waste, there are less than 5,000 days to 2030 and that is the year we are supposed to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it is not possible to reach these goals if you work in a linear mindset. You need to work in an exponential mindset, meaning that you have to use what you have in exponential technology to achieve the goals in a much faster way.
We are behind. We are in the red on most of the 17 goals and I think we need to work smarter to make it happen, and I think we are going to make it happen but it is a big wake up call for the world.
Is there enough global collaboration to solve these global problems?
These global problems don’t have borders what so ever, and we need to work together in a collaborative manner which is totally different to what we are used to in the past, and we need to increase the collaboration.
But with the very negative attitude of Donald Trump and his counterparts, it actually puts an even bigger responsibility on our shoulders to lever together and solve this together without the support from him.
You have said previously it is your goal to make impact investing mainstream, what do you think needs to happen for that to become a reality?
I think it will happen, I think it will happen in about five years time from now.
I think it is all about understanding that with impact investing we will outbeat the market returns when it comes to financial outputs because investors look for financial return and I think the only language financial investors understand is financial return, and I strongly believe that there is no trade off between impact and financial return. I think it is the opposite actually. Because you have impact, because you deliver things that are good for society and for the environment, you will actually be able to make more money, and people need to understand that. When they come to that point it will be easier for people to embark in impact investing.
What would you say to global investors to bring them on board?
I would say something along the lines of there is no trade-off between high positive impact and financial return. If you enter the impact investing space, it is possible for you to be in a situation where you can create a superior financial outcome. With a superior financial outcome you can actually reinvest your money into more impact projects, that’s what we do. I don’t want that this high return of financial capital is used for more capitalistic needs or buying more stuff, we want to use the money to invest in new projects, so that is what we should do.
And I have been in the charity space and grants giving, and that is also important, but for us I think it is a more sustainable model, if your business is actually self-sustained, it is responsible, it is sustainable and you make money and then you can redeploy your cash back to the system.
Are there some countries that are further ahead than others in this space?
There are some countries that are ahead, I think the Nordics are very strong. The Netherlands are very strong, together with England and the US, that is where we see the strongest drive.
2017 was a record year for capital investment in Norway. What do you attribute that success to?
It was a record year, that’s right, and I think one of the reasons is that we come from an economy, a country, which is totally dependent on oil. We are an oil nation in that respect and this cannot continue and people understand that. So I think it is about people see that we need to create a new future for our country. And then people have woken up and they invest in startups and they invest in companies that are doing good for society.
What can Australia learn from what is happening in the Nordics?
My understanding is that Australians are very receptive to change, you are tech savvy and you are really concerned with how this world is developing, so I think you have all the elements of doing good. I would encourage people to look into how you can use exponential technology and invest in startup environments. I think the startup hubs are the most critical support mechanism for creating growth in a new country, disruption will not come from the corporates. Invest in tech startups which are doing good for society.
You are also the co-founder of Katapult Future Fest. What is the aim of that festival?
What we see is that there is a strong polarisation amongst politicians and if you look at what a lot of politicians discuss today, they hardly discuss anything that is relevant for my kids or for the young generations. These challenges are so grand that we need to come together and solve them together, so what we decided to do is set up Katapult Future Fest as a way to celebrate the future. We wanted this to be something positive and we wanted people to come together and spend three days discussing the future of society, impact investing and exponential technologies.
What is the future you would like to see?
I would like to see a collaborative future where everyone can be happy and thrive. I want to see a world where we can actually take advantage of a world of abundance, and I would like to see people be a part of creating this world even when they are out of a job. Because we are going to see a lot of people are going to be out of jobs because of robots and automation and stuff like that. And so we are going to need to have something which is driving people. Today we define ourselves through the jobs we do, most people do that. In the future, we will not have jobs many of us, and that means we will need to define ourselves in a different manner and that is in a collaborative society where we can thrive and be happy.
A lot of people are quite fearful of what robots could mean for the future. How can people better embrace exponential technology and look past some of the concerns?
Good question, and it is very difficult to answer because it is in the future. But I think we need to make a world where actually human beings as a race or species control the technology and that we also co-exist together with the robots in a way that we are not a threat to them and we can actually be in a position where we thrive together. I think that is not the world we are in today, it will be something for the future but we need to master and work together with the technology and not see it as a threat.
You mentioned Katapult discusses the future of society, impact investing and exponential technologies. How do you see these three things coming together?
I think that there are many business opportunities that are related to the use of exponential technology to solve the grand challenges of the world. To give you an example, in my job, the role I have as an impact investor is not a job my dad could have had, because it wasn’t invented when my dad worked, and I guess that many of the jobs we will see children have tomorrow, for the next decades to come, we haven’t really invented them yet, and human beings are very creative and we’re very adaptable. So we’ll be able to be innovative, find news jobs for our children. But if you are going to have new jobs you absolutely need to have a new way to educate people because our education system is not really tuned in for future jobs. So in order to create future society we need to create future jobs and it means that we need to disrupt the education system. I think for instance artificial intelligence will be a key driver to customise education for each one of us, and that is just one example of how you could use exponential technology to solve these challenges.
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Katapult Future Fest?
I am looking forward to discussing the ethical and moral aspects of technology. I am a big technology optimist. I love technology in many aspects but one thing that really is high on my agenda is how we actually use the technology for the best of humankind. Exponential technology is a very strong technology, especially artificial intelligence and it must be there for the best of us: we must bring ethics in technology on a global agenda.
What can we expect to see in this space in the next 12 months?
Of course there is a lot of buzz in artificial intelligence. I think that blockchain will come through as a more stable, mainstream platform, blockchain for identity, democracy, education etc. I think also we’ll see this year a big breakthrough in longevity technology, how to actually solve the challenge of human beings ageing. Ageing is a disease and there are many ways to deal with that so this year we’ll see breakthroughs in synthetic biology. So those would typically be my bet; AI, blockchain and longevity technology.