Acumen Fund Regional Director, Pakistan
Ayesha Khan has always admired the rigor and beauty of numbers. “I loved the elegance and clarity of finance,” says the Harvard Business School alumni. “I just did not agree with how they were used to make decisions.”
So after graduating from Princeton, obtaining her PhD at Harvard, and working in New York as a management consultant, she switched the safety of a career in mainstream finance for the adventure of impact investing with a focus on climate and agriculture. And, after having lived half of her life in the US, she moved back to her home country Pakistan.
Impact investment pursues social and environmental gains, alongside economic returns. “In a world with unequal resources, and abundant gains accruing to the same powerful groups, the single-minded pursuit of profit at all costs did not seem compelling enough,” explains Khan, who had witnessed the lack of opportunities crippling generations of otherwise capable Pakistanis—especially rural women.
As regional director of Acumen in Pakistan, she is now setting up the country’s first climate-focused fund, one of the world’s first private equity impact funds devoted to climate change adaptation. The country accounts for less than 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions but is the fifth most vulnerable to climate shocks—and agriculture, which lies at the core of the economy, is highly exposed.
The fund, which is designed as a blended finance instrument, will invest in growth-stage agribusinesses that are building the future of resilient food systems and contributing to climate change adaptation. Gender equity will be at the core of the investment strategy, and Khan hopes the fund’s design and philosophy can serve as a blueprint for other countries facing similar challenges.
“I truly love what I do,” says Khan who is now based in the capital city of Islamabad, but travels around the country for work. “Sometimes it is not easy to work around some of the biases and barriers that emerge due to my gender, but I have very thick skin and don’t mind pushing through. Plus, if you are ready to speak up, being the odd one out in the room may even be a secret strength.”
However, she makes it clear that it is necessary for more women to start leading the climate conversation globally—not just because they tend to disproportionately suffer the impact of climate catastrophes, but also because there is a lack of investment in women-led or -focused companies.