HOW CAN I INFLUENCE my work and world?

– ebbf interview: Paolo Russo introducing new investment models for renewable energy and technology

Very much living the theme of our next #ebbfLondon “how can I influence my work and world?”  international event, our recently graduated ebbf member and now ebbf journalist Giuseppina Cuccurullo starts a number of interviews with ebbf members on this topic.
Here Paolo Russo offers his views on finding (and creating) meaning in every day work, the importance and increasing relevance of new sustainable financial growth models and about creating new positive habits.

What’s your job? And how meaningful is it to you?

I am M&A and Corporate Development at Finergy and work as corporate finance advisor, specializing in clean energy and clean technology. I assist international players in their investment and divestment programs in the energy sector.

paolo russo

I see my job as meaningful because it allows me to both pay my bills but also to contribute to the growth of the use of renewable energy in the world. Furthermore, I really enjoy my work, it’s that special combination of being faced every day with a new challenge in an exciting growing sector.

What value does your daily work bring to people around you?

The people around me that I interact with do not benefit directly from my job, but the way I work and do things does have an effect.

I spend 70% of my day talking with people about investments, interests, returns, fees. In spite of that, I learnt that, even in financial environments, it is possible, and every day more necessary, to talk about values. I try to do it especially when some key decisions needs to be taken based not only on a financial criteria but also on ethical standards (e.g.: do we like this kind of approach? do we accept this kind of client?)

I was very pleasantly surprised to notice that once I openly mention and take into work these values, others also embraced them and I see how many more people share my belief that business communities have a profound responsibility towards the society.
I have seen how people appreciate when other professionals clearly stand up for their values and as response, in many cases, they reciprocate and start to push values themselves. The fact you did it first, makes others free to do the same.

You said that your empathy with your business partners’ values creates a direct impact on the people around you. Which values are most frequently shared with your business partners, which are the ones that create the strongest sustainable relationship and as a consequence allow your job to have a greater impact on society? 

I tend to make business mostly with people I like. For sure a client relationship leverages on a component of empathy and another component of business opportunity that make the relationship valuable for both parties.
Additionally, I usually get to know not only professional but also personal information about the investors that come to our office to work with us. I know about their families and their children, I know about their past experience and contacts. In that same spirit, they also get to know about me and colleagues. Indeed we usually trust each other and we actually find a mutual pleasure in talking about life events that go beyond our work and business relationship.

In terms of the impact of my values on the wider society, I am convinced and have had many confirmations that conducting business in a transparent, clean and regulated way is already a great starting point.

As per the values that I have in common with partners and clients, I see integrity and trust as two key ones.

You are a supporter of models for sustainable development, can you share with us your thoughts on this?

To me, one of the key drivers of sustainable development is to produce energy locally instead of producing it a few large centralized sites.
I give you a simple example: It became very popular to talk about the digital divide but I consider it a consequence of a larger and more dramatic problem – the energy divide.

The energy divide blocks progress. Lack of power supply makes small villages underdeveloped as it makes connection and communication impossible with people outside the village. The energy divide has the same characteristics of a dictatorship system because it keeps people in underdeveloped conditions.

Now the word has discovered the possibility to produce energy thanks to renewable energy sources (mainly sun and wind).

The exploitation of such sources has become cheaper and now almost self-sustainable from an economic perspective (it means that it can be financially sustainable even without the need for incentive systems or tariffs).
That’s an incredible revolution and it is particularly amazing because it is happening now.
It will surely contribute to extend prosperity and sustainable development across the World. Our role is to push in this direction, facilitate connections and positive investments (counterbalanced by adequate returns) that make this trend spread.

You suggest to facilitate connections and positive investments, how and where could potential investors (small and big ones) invest to support sustainable development models?

Honestly, the key driver for any investor is the expected return they will obtain. You can measure it as Internal Rate of Return, Net Present Value, Break even points or any other technicalities that you can find in any corporate finance book.
In spite of that, there is an increasing number of investors that want to sincerely combine such financial elements with ethical and social development ones.

Personally, I try to work with these kind of profiles by doing the following:
. Devoting more efforts and time in these kinds of projects
. Studying them in detail and trying to understand if the financial assumptions are reliable and sufficiently reasonable
. After getting the mandate from the sponsor of these initiatives, trying to promote such projects in the best way I can, without any fear to show the ethical part of it, backed by a solid financial scheme.
. Sharing it and asking for suggestions from partners companies that I trust very much and that I already know appreciate this philosophy (Indeed I met some of them in ebbf)
. The amazing thing is that is possible to combine 15% of expected IRR with a worth-doing sustainable agricultural and energy project in Southern America or in Western Africa.

Considering your experience, what are the key elements to build a sustainable model for community growth? 

I consider Cultural Innovation and Environment Awareness as the basis for a sustainable development.

When something profoundly good becomes part of your culture, it is quite impossible not have it become a habit that you then start doing automatically. I give you an example that I noticed in my personal behaviour:
20 years ago recycling was not very popular in my town. It was not a habit and there was no easy access to a recycling system. Basically nobody did it and nobody missed it because it was not part of our culture.

After a systemic and deep activity of promotion from the institutions, recycling became a habit. Everybody from my generation now does it. We feel it is now the “new standard”.
I appreciate the logic, I see the potential, I understand the system, basically it is part of my culture now and I feel the need to do it even for a single sheet of paper.

Recycling would have been a good habit even 20 years ago, but at that time it was not part of my culture, yet.

That’s the reason why great associations like AIESEC or ebbf have such profound positive impact in creating new sustainable models for community growth. They work on the positive change of mindset of individuals and they encourage people to act with greater standards, with higher cultural logic, with a more profound value system.

Maik Litjens

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