Suzette is an alumna of Harvard Kennedy School and the Dubai School of Government’s combined Post Graduate Studies in Adaptive Leadership, and Oxford University’s SAID Business School, where she completed the Impact Investment Program. Professionally, Suzette began her career in the Netherlands and Paris as the former Dutch delegate to the UNESCO focusing on Youth Affairs. Subsequently she has served as an Executive Advisor to national governments and corporate boards on market investment decisions and sustainable sector-driven economic development. At present, Suzette is the CEO and Chairwoman of the JP Dumfries Corporation, a Wall Street-based Investment and Advisory Firm that is positioned as a for- profit Economic Development Corporation. The company aims to invest US$2 billion in tourism, agriculture, technology and renewable energy in the Caribbean by 2020 through its four sector-based impact investment funds. Its investments have a deliberate focus on funding and creating sector-based enterprises that have social-economic and/or environmental impact and result in poverty alleviation, women empowerment and/or reduced damaged to the environment. As the Chairwoman, Suzette strongly believes that environmental preservation is equally important to socio-economic improvements, and therefore she is committed to ensuring that the company’s aim of improving lives includes ensuring the preservation of environmental resources for the future. The JP Dumfries Corporation is continuation of the legacy of her grand-father, the legendary Johannes Paulus (JP) Dumfries, who set up Suriname’s (South America) first Agricultural Bank in 1905 to help alleviate poverty amongst farmers through increased access to capital and sector development.
Leading With Passion
Suzette Dumfries is, among other things, the CEO, and Chairwoman of the Wall Street-based Investment and Advisory Firm, The JP Dumfries Corporation. She is driven by impacting the lives of the underserved, which is a commitment she carries through into her work. With her concisely phrased definition of leadership as the ability to create a future that other people want to belong to, it comes as no surprise that as a leader she has an intense focus on inclusion. What she is most passionate about is contributing to the future context of societies and creating outcomes that provide better access, more opportunity, and un-skewed inclusion to the masses. Her quest to find the answer to the question of how one can create societies where ‘access’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘inclusion’ are not skewed along social- economic classes or any other demographic, has guided nearly everything that she has done in her life, including her commitment to ensure every investment decision is intention-fueled.
Tenets of Impact Investing
Suzette’s time spent within the field of impact investing has made her something of an expert on the subject. She graciously shared her expertise with The Ground_Up Project, painting a fascinating picture colored by the unique experiences she has had.
For people who aren’t familiar with it, what exactly is Impact Investing?
“Using the power of capital and business in order to improve the lives of the under-served and the environment. That’s the most simple way I can describe it. Impact investing refers to investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. It is a form of socially responsible investing that serves as a guide for various investment strategies, including those of the JP Dumfries Corporation.”
What risks are involved in Impact investing?
“In my experience, and in practical terms, the risk in Impact Investment is emphasizing a positive desired result without having the right tools, the right approaches, and the rights commitments to realize that aim. I have learned that in the past four years. Wanting the good, but not thinking about the realistic path towards sustainably realizing the social and environmental impact that we say that we seek. Core questions like ‘How do we ensure that the initial impact we create leads to the bigger impact that we want?’ are pivotal and should encourage those in this field to look beyond initial indicators of impact. Especially when it comes to things like ‘lesser carbon emissions have resulted from this project’… it’s worthy of an applause, but it should not mean that we overlook the bigger picture and the bigger issues that continue to contribute to the environmental issues that we face.”
What are you doing differently from other impact or responsible investors?
“I am unapologetic about presenting myself as the voice and face of those that do not have a voice nor an ability to verbalize how the social-economic constraints or environmental issues they face can be solved. I use all that I am and have–from my education, my vast network of global leaderships and influencers, my access to global organizations, and even the fact that I am a woman–to gain access to platforms where I can advocate the benefits of impact investing. There is a need for a paradigm shift in how we catalyze economic development, alleviate poverty, empower women and preserve the environment. And what is beautiful is that in my case is that I have access to people such as government officials, investors, policy makers, decision makers, people within the corporate world, whom are the people I seek to advocate to. And as such I give a voice to those who do not have a platform. So, I focus on advocacy, creating that paradigm shift, and then on practical solutions to identified issues. This approach is inspired by the poor girl that I have seen with my own eyes walk miles to go to school in Haiti, who requires better access to education, and requires an opportunity to lift herself out of poverty, who needs to be included in government policy but is excluded – she doesn’t have a platform! It is inspired by the women in Myanmar who get up before 4 AM to go and sell their goods on the streets, but who could truly change the fate of the next generation if they had access to a market that paid fair prices for goods and an opportunity to outperform their circumstances. They can’t verbalize it, but I can. So what I do different than other impact investors is that I engage those whose lives are enveloped by the issues we are trying to solve. I include them. And since I have an opportunity here to concisely define what my company does, how it does it, and I use ‘who I am’ and ‘what I have’ to make it happen.”
Imagine you were in an elevator with a promising green entrepreneur. What advice would you give him or her about securing funding?
“Show your commitment to the result and to the method. Be very clear about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who you’re doing it for, and why you believe that the means you are presenting are the right means. Be prepared on every dimension in that pitch.”
The Future of Impact Investing
Suzette is pleased to see an increasing global focus on environmental and social impact. She hopes that society will continue prioritizing environmental sustainability for its own sake in addition to considering its economic benefits. Furthermore, to help make the impact investment field more understood and accessible to investors, Suzette suggests standardization within the industry to help define, identify, and measure impact investments. As there are many different products and standards on the market, it is often difficult to determine which instruments are impact investment-specific and which are not. She says: “We need a definition not just of what [impact investing] is, but also how it is executed and what results are to be expected of it.” Overall, however, Suzette is excited and hopeful about the continued societal improvements that impact investing has the power to facilitate.