“It’s a crucial moment in history. It’s an opportunity to immutably and absolutely change the course of innumerable lives.”
Arif Naqvi, a silver-haired man of soft, bearish charm, was giving the biggest speech of his life. Hundreds of business leaders were gathered at New York City’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to hear him speak on that Monday morning in September of 2017. This was his moment. The eyes of the global elite were on him and he knew he needed to make a big impression.
The U.S. press had published glowing articles about Mr. Naqvi, who socialized with billionaires, royalty and politicians. Bill Gates, Prince Charles and John Kerry were among those he interacted with for business or philanthropy. He was a member of influential boards at the United Nations and Interpol. He had signed Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, and had been touted as a potential future leader of Pakistan, where he was born.
He was one of the world’s leading “impact investors,” and his stated purpose was to do good and make profits—for his investors and for himself. Abraaj Group, his Dubai-based private-equity firm, managed almost $14 billion and owned stakes in a hundred companies in emerging markets. Abraaj appeared to be a moneymaking machine and was raising $6 billion from investors for a new fund.
It was no coincidence that world political leaders were meeting at the same time a short walk away at U.N. headquarters. Mr. Naqvi’s objective at the impact-investing conference, which he was sponsoring alongside Bank of America Corp. , was to convince his audience that he could solve humanity’s biggest problems—hunger, sickness, illiteracy, climate change and power shortages—better than the politicians assembled across town. Bank of America, which invested in Abraaj, declined to comment for this account.