By the time the first activists set up the 'Occupy Wall Street' camp in September 2011, a series of protests in Israel had been up and running for months. By the end of July 2011, the number of protest camps in Israel had risen to 100, with the biggest and most audible of all set on the leafy Rotschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
The protestors – who were demonstrating against the high cost of living in Israel – would probably have assumed that the ethos of Arison Investment, a company that holds a controlling stake Israel's largest bank, Hapoalim, was far removed from their own vision of social justice. But, to hear Arison execs tell it, the two have more in common than the close proximity of Arison’s headquarters to the main location of the protests in Tel Aviv.
“We believe that the idea of optimising profit needs to take into account moral responsibility and values,” says Efrat Peled, chairman and CEO of Arison Investments. Ms Peled, who manages a portfolio valued at more than $4bn, says that such an approach is not just a matter of empty slogans. “Doing good and focusing on far-reaching goals can be also a powerful motivating tool. It definitely drives me in my everyday work.”
This drive has certainly taken Ms Peled far. Not only is she listed in Fortune's and Forbes' annual rankings of the most powerful women in the world, but her work-related achievements aside, she also serves in the Young Global Leaders group at the World Economic Forum as well as the LEAD group, a programme launched on behalf of the Clinton Global Initiative that brings together a select group of young leaders to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
The slogan that resonates in Arison Investment’s promotional materials – doing good business, by doing good – may sound like a cliché, but Ms Peled is keen to explain how this ethos is actually put into practice in the company’s day-to-day activities.
“We put much emphasis on sustainability and education. This way we keep our employees rewarded and we are able to build a relationship with customers. For example, we have created financial education courses. People have to understand what is going on with their financials. Such workshops proved to be very popular, especially as they were open to everyone, not only our existing customers." She adds that the workshops were also a way to gain new clients, as Arison Investment is a for-profit venture, after all.
The company, founded in 1991 by Ted Arison and now owned by his daughter Shari Arison, operates in 38 countries and is taking an increasing role in investing in infrastructure projects. “In developed countries facilities already exist, but the question is [one of] how to use them more efficiently. In the developing world, on the other hand, basic infrastructure is still needed, and why not build it in a environmentally sustainable way?” asks Ms Peled.
Testing the waters
One of the ways in which Arison is addressing these needs is through its spin-off company Miya, which works on urban water efficiency solutions. Although Miya was established only five years ago, it runs projects across the globe. The company aims to find ways of decreasing leakage while keeping costs as low as possible, and is estimated to have provided an additional 2 million people with access to running water in Manila, Philippines. Miya-run projects have also helped to save 11 billion gallons of water in the South African township of Sebokeng and improved the efficiency of the system in the city of Itapevi, Brazil, by 50%.
Ms Peled says that running such ambitious projects would not be possible without a dedicated and highly motivated team. “After looking at the skills, we look at the person. It is important to determine whether someone has the potential to work in line with our philosophy,” says Ms Peled, who quickly adds: “But most people have the ability to do good, even if they don’t fully realise it.”