Meet a MaRSian, Nabeel Ahmed

Note: In his second installment in the Meet a MaRSian series, Casey interviews Nabeel Ahmed, Managing Editor of at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

What is your role at MaRS?

I work at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing in the education and engagement pillar. My job is to edit, which is a leading online community and information hub for impact investing and social finance in Canada. Our goal is to share relevant news and opinions in this area. If you want to learn more about social impact bonds, for example, our website is one of the leading places to go in Canada. I’m also involved in program activities and research at the Centre.

Meet a MaRSian

Why impact investing?

There are many reasons why impact investing is important. The most significant one, I think, is that we all realize that we are faced with huge problems that need to be resolved sooner rather than later, and financing social innovation is critically important. In my opinion, we have an outdated view of sectors.

Conventionally, the private sector exists only to make money. The public and not-for-profit sectors exist only to serve society. And there’s no meaningful interaction between them. I would argue that collaboration is really important: all three sectors (public, private and not-for-profit) need to work together. If we want to have a more sustainable world, where businesses act responsibly in the best interests of not only shareholders, but also all stakeholders (society in general), impact investing is one of the key levers that will make that happen.

What are your primary interests outside of work?

I’ve been volunteering for the Association for the Development of Pakistan, an organization that funds small-scale development projects in hard-to-reach areas. We invite proposals for projects and select them through a rigorous process of due diligence, judging them according to five investment criteria: critical need, social return, measurability, sustainability and credibility.

I’m also involved with an organization called the Tessellate Institute, which provides policy-relevant research pertaining to ethnic and religious minorities in Canada. Simply, their goal is to foster civic engagement and help shape a society in which everyone is part of a mosaic, but where each of the individual pieces is not necessarily the same.

One of the projects I did with the Tessellate Institute was called “Giving Ourselves a Voice,” which helped train young Canadian Muslim filmmakers and helped bring voices to light from people in the same community—those who feel alienated or marginalized.  During the two-week workshop, we took 12 youths through the entire process of shooting and editing a short documentary. They ended up making two films, which will actually be released on May 13. [For details on the premiere, click here.]

Why is it important to foster this kind of self-expression?

The people who are expressing their opinion feel better because their voices are being heard and their stories are being told. This also benefits the people who are hearing the stories, because one might not necessarily hear about them otherwise.

The mainstream media, at least in my opinion, does not do a good job of relaying these stories. There might be reports and there might be statistics, but we don’t know what that lived experience is like. It’s really important for Canadians to understand what each other is going through, so they can empathize and deal with these problems in a much better way. It’s also empowering for young people, giving them the skills they need to express themselves.

You are also a photographer yourself, are you not?

I’ve been an amateur photographer for about seven years now. It’s something I learned in high school and I just really enjoy it. I carry around a 1974 film camera wherever I go. It’s really solid – almost half a kilo – but it’s small enough to fit in my pocket. It helps me connect with what’s going on around me. Instead of looking at my phone when I’m on the street, I can look at what other people are doing, and it’s often more interesting than you might think.

The film premiere of Giving Ourselves a Voice takes place Sunday, May 13. For details, click here.