Why Multilingual Leadership is Needed Today

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Last week, Triple Pundit published an interview with impact investment expert Jed Emerson. Here, Emerson explains why multilingual leadership is important for those involved in this field.

Recently, a new study called Impact Investing 2.0 was launched. This report examines the strategy of twelve funds that have found the key to good impact investing. One of the authors of the study is Jed Emerson, an expert on the subject on impact investing.

Emerson is Chief Impact Strategist for a company called ImpactAssets and chair of ImpactsAssets 50. On Triple Pundit, Marta Maretich interviews Emerson about multilingual leadership, which he believes is crucial to successful impact investing.

Maretich is a writer and editor for Maximpact, a portal that focuses on the social, sustainability and impact sectors. Maretich starts off by asking Emerson why he believes impact investing funds can benefit greatly from multilingual staff.

:: According to Emerson, multilingualism is so important because the leadership of today is dramatically different from the leadership ten to fifteen years ago.

He believes Impact Investing 2.0 is another step forward in this change, but also sheds a new light on the way current leading impact organisations are regarded.

Previously to Impact Investing 2.0, Emerson also co-authored a book called Impact Investing.

Maretich says that in this book, Emerson stated that leadership should make a transition from charismatic to collaborative. She asks Emerson whether this shift has taken place yet. His answer is affirmative.

In the past, Emerson coined the term “mutant managers” for managers dealt with social investing and who steered away from “either/or” and moved to “both/and.” However, he feels the term “multilingual leaders” is more accurate, as they succeed in connecting business to the social/development finance sectors.

Emerson reveals he himself comes from a “multilingual” background: he began his working life in the social sector, but gradually moved to philanthropy and community development. Later on, he then made the transition to impact investing. He says the notion that multilinguality is important for impact investing mainly came to him by looking at how the field changed in the past twenty years. He says a great deal of people who have a “finance first” attitude struggle to incorporate a social component in their impact investing.

It took Emerson and the other authors two years to fully research the twelve funds mentioned in the new book.

In these two years, the team conducted a lot of interviews with the managers of the funds. In these interviews, the managers explained how they used the strategies and products offered by their fund.

Emerson says that via these interviews, his team came to understand that leadership was often a big factor in a fund’s success.

This was a surprising outcome, he says, as Emerson believes discussions on impact investing often centre around completely different subjects, such as how to acquire skills that are needed for financial structuring or how to finid employees that are good in investing.

However, Emerson says research showed that funds need people that can juggle both competencies: employees must possess financial discipline, but at the same time, they should be able to concentrate on the impact the company has. In continuation with this realisation, Emerson also says their research was basically a reminder of something there were already aware in of: in order to achieve success, both financial and impact discipline is required.

Even though some of the research might not have led to any new insights, Emerson believes it did change the researchers’ view on multilingual leadership. When it comes to leadership, he says, fund investment teams should find a management that “speaks” the several languages spoken in the investment industry. According to him, funds that employ people who know how to work across perspectives are usually more cost effective than those in which people represent one single perspective.

Maretich also asked Emerson who his multilingual management “dream team” consists of. Emerson replied by saying there is not one single team outline that can bring success. All members of a team must be multilingual, but they can all have their separate strengths. According to Emerson, it is OK if one manager knows a little more about one field than the other, as long as all fields are covered. Emerson does stress importance of humility for all members of a management: every employee should be aware of the fact that effectiveness depends on their efforts as a team.

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