During his 10-year career in impact investing, Majid Mirza (BA ’08, MBET ’09, PhD in progress) saw the difference that socially conscious investors can make — generating not only wealth but greener, healthier and more equitable communities.
Now, drawing on his spirituality and a commitment to social justice, he’s helping private equity investors ensure the organizations to which they allocate capital also operate in ways that are sustainable, ethical and equitable.
Mirza is the founder of ESGTree, a data management platform that allows private equity and venture capital firms to track and report their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. And as ESG-compliant companies increasingly attract investment, doing the right thing becomes a way to do well — and creates a circle of positive impact.
“ESGTree was built on the simple principle of being the change we wished to see in the world,” Mirza said.
Today, ESGTree’s portfolio of private equity clients holds more than $200 billion in assets under management. Mirza has also served as a development finance consultant to the Canadian government.
ESGTree was built on the simple principle of being the change we wished to see in the world.
Sowing the seeds for a startup
As a high school student in Pakistan, Mirza turned down a scholarship from a prestigious business school in California. Instead, he chose Waterloo, attracted by the variety of directions he could take his Arts and Business degree. The programs he chose, including economics, rhetoric and digital communication, eventually led him to the MBET program — and sowed the seeds for ESGTree.
Initially, Mirza says, sustainability and social enterprise were not part of his worldview. But during his master’s studies, he learned about Kiva, the world’s first non-profit, online lending platform. Kiva provides crowdfunded micro-loans to entrepreneurs in underserved communities world-wide.
The concept resonated with Mirza, but equity investing was even more appealing to him as it traces its roots back to traditional forms of business and risk sharing.
“I was always drawn to the equity form of economic development or sustainable financing. Equity venture funds and private equity firms take on the risks of the business they lend to. They lose if the entrepreneur loses. They gain if the entrepreneur gains. It’s a true partnership.”
You build it, we'll subscribe to it
After attaining his master’s degree, Mirza’s growing interest in social finance attracted him to international development and impact investing — first with portfolio company Acumen, an early social venture capitalist, and then with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). Over time, however, he wondered if the huge development projects he managed were the only way to create positive change.
In 2019, Mirza returned to Waterloo to begin a PhD in sustainability management at the School of Environment, Enterprise & Development (SEED). He focused on ESG and how financial markets were dealing with increasing pressure from investors and regulators to disclose their performance. He noticed that although publicly traded companies had many options for managing, measuring and reporting ESG data, no such tools existed for the $10 trillion private market.
“I sent a text message to a professional acquaintance who runs a private equity firm and said, ‘I have this idea to build a technology platform that will allow private equity and venture capital firms to monitor their ESG performance.’ He replied, ‘You build it, we'll subscribe to it.’”
In 2020, with an initial grant from Velocity and further support and space provided by Grebel’s Peace Incubator at the Kindred Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA), ESGTree launched.
“Because of our strong social justice roots, we are a great fit with the Centre. And the CPA’s mentorship led to our customer relationship with Kindred Credit Union, who in turn connected us with other large credit unions,” he said.
Continuing a legacy of social justice
Mirza’s strong ties to the CPA are reflected in an endowed award that honours Malcolm X, whom he describes as “the pure embodiment of social justice.”
“As a non-Black person, I think it’s important to be part of an initiative that elevates the legacy of a Black activist who inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world. And I thought it would be wonderful to continue his legacy through the platform of Conrad Grebel’s Peace and Conflict Studies program.”
With the endorsement of Malcolm X’s family, Mirza and several other donors established the Malcolm X Peace and Conflict Studies Scholarship. This award recognizes students enrolled in the Master of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) program who demonstrate a commitment to social justice, inter-racial harmony and inter-faith dialogue.
“ESGTree’s connections with the Centre for Peace Advancement, inter-faith communities and other activist groups are part of our vision. It all goes back to doing something because it’s the right thing to do.”