Q&A: meet our new Managing Director Tej Dhami

Numbers for Good is delighted to welcome Tej Dhami as our new MD. Tej has had a varied career working as a hedge fund manager, founding social enterprises in Myanmar and studying Kung Fu with monks in China. But what is the thread that runs through her career? Why is she excited about Numbers for Good? And why does she think social business is too good to be true? Read on to find out the answers…

What does good mean to you?

Kindness, empathy and acting without expectation. Good is not grand acts; it is the everyday generosity of spirit and setting aside of the ego which creates the ultimate ripple effect.

 What excites you most about working at Numbers for Good?

Being paid to think is a real privilege. To do so surrounded by exceptional individuals trying to address some of society’s biggest challenges makes every day spent at work a real treat.

 As the former director of UnLtd India, you must have an interesting perspective on impact investing. How would you describe the Indian social investment marketplace? How does it differ from the UK?

The biggest difference between the two countries is the route to market for social enterprises. In India, government contracts are few and far between, whereas in the UK, public sector contracts constitute a large proportion of social enterprise revenues. The lack of institutional frameworks has fostered high levels of innovation in India but has also created a less supportive context for scaling.

Entering the UK social investment marketplace for the first time, what do you see as its strengths and weaknesses?

There is an energy to the UK social investment marketplace that is infectious and is attracting incredible talent and interest from all corners of society including corporates, government, civil society and the philanthropic sector. My fear is that expectations remain too high regarding the pace of development of this very nascent sector and that medium-term frustration could lead to an outflow of capital and talent.

As a sector our role is not to create short-term impact or plug annual deficits but to create the building blocks for a new economy – an economy that moves from a transactional to a relational basis, one that serves everyone today and in the long term, and one that we can all be proud of.

You’ve had an incredibly diverse career from being a fund manager on $1bn hedge fund to setting up a social enterprise in military-ruled Myanmar. What’s the common thread running through your career?

Adventure. I love learning and experiencing new things, and, if I am honest, I may have been a tad competitive when I was younger.

How can social investment better serve the needs of social enterprises and charities?

The promise of the third way is an alluring one, marrying doing well with doing good to ultimately achieve more with less. It almost sounds too good to be true, and in many ways, I’m sorry to say it is. There will always be societal challenges and segments of society that can’t be reached through a social business model. There will often be conflicts between business and impact sustainability. There will be high levels of risk in establishing new models, and returns may well be lower than market expectations and take longer to materialise. To best serve the sector, we need to be honest about these challenges, we need to take a step back, learn from our failures and reset our hopes.

Who’s been the greatest influence on your life and career?

I have been privileged to have travelled around the globe, mixed in societies, cultures and professions that are worlds apart, learnt Kung Fu with monks in China and done a host of other things that I will forever be grateful for; yet the truth is when I look at what has really shaped me the answer is closer to home: my family.

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