LGT Venture Philanthropy

"Together, we can drive positive change for generations."

In this interview, Oliver Karius, CEO of LGT Venture Philanthropy, talks about the organisation's history, its unique impact-driven approach and the exciting journey that lies ahead.

Flurina Ammann, LGT
Oliver Mara
Oliver Karius, CEO of LGT Venture Philanthropy

Most partners and friends may have heard of LGT Venture Philanthropy, but many may not be fully familiar with the organisation and its work. Could you give us a brief introduction?

LGT Venture Philanthropy (LGT VP) is an independent charitable foundation established in 2007 by LGT Group Foundation. Alongside the Princely Family of Liechtenstein’s vision of creating lasting, positive impact on people and planet, our mission is to contribute to thriving communities and ecosystems in Africa and India by scaling local solutions to global challenges in health, education, and the environment. These solutions contribute to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals. In line with LGT’s Sustainability Strategy 2030, LGT Group allocates at least 10 percent of its dividends to philanthropic activities, including LGT VP.

Our strategic and engaged approach focuses on local organisations and provides comprehensive support as they strive to achieve meaningful impact. We reject the transient nature of a "fly-in, fly-out" model, where innovative solutions are conceived in the US (United States) or Europe and then imposed on our partners in India or Africa, without consideration for local contexts. We recognise that organisations deeply integrated within their communities possess unparalleled insights and capacities for innovation. Thus, a key facet of our mandate entails identifying and amplifying solutions that have the potential to drive and sustain systemic change. This is another reason we have always had regional teams in Mumbai and Nairobi, in addition to our global headquarters in Zurich. 

Local organisations articulate what they need to have a long-term impact, and we partner with them for the long term, combining primarily grant-based core funding with non-financial support, management expertise, and strategic guidance to help them achieve their goals. This trust-based partnership approach underscores our unwavering commitment to long-term impact, aligning closely with the core values upheld by the Princely Family and LGT.

Profile Oliver

Oliver Karius is CEO of LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation (LGT VP) and has been with the organisation since its inception in 2007. He also leads LGT VP’s Environment portfolio and the advisory and impact investing work for the foundation. Oliver has over 25 years of experience in venture philanthropy, sustainability, and impact investing, in Africa and India. He is a member of the LGT Sustainability Think Tank and serves on the board of various portfolio organisations and foundations.

You have mentioned your focus on global challenges in health, education, and the environment. Can you give us a few examples?

We are facing a global polycrisis that has been building for years and that is accelerating. Climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics, economic collapse, and social unrest are just some of the issues that will threaten the lives and livelihoods of future generations. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a blueprint for a safer, more equitable future, though progress has been painfully slow. Sadly, the countries and communities most vulnerable to these global challenges are bearing the brunt of the impact. 

For example, 40 per cent of young people in the global labour force are either unemployed or have a job but live in poverty. Six million children, the population of the city of Johannesburg, die before the age of five each year, although we have the means and tools to prevent more than half of these deaths. 2023 was the warmest year on record, capping the warmest-ever decade with devastating consequences for us all. Eighty-seven per cent of oceans are damaged, and 40 per cent of land is degraded, affecting 1.5 billion lives.

We have only seven summers left to reach the SDGs – and we are not on track. There is no time to lose. 

Ahueni_Gjermund planting
LGT VP supports local organisations that want to bring about long-term change in their communities.

LGT Venture Philanthropy was founded in 2007 – how did it all start?

The Princely Family, in particular H.S.H. Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, has played a major role in the shaping and ongoing development of LGT VP. He did not believe in the idea of simply writing a cheque to do good. Instead, he was looking for a more engaged approach. His and his family’s approach to philanthropy centres on the conviction that creating strong local organisations leads to long-term, enduring impact. LGT VP’s approach has been heavily influenced by the values, commitment and business acumen of the Princely Family and H.S.H. Prince Max’s professional background in private equity.

Right from the start, we realised that effective, local solutions to global challenges already existed, but that many organisations lacked the right skills, networks, and resources to grow. They also face systemic barriers that prevent them from taking their impact to the next level.

LGT VP was founded to bridge these gaps, recognising that philanthropic capital can be used as catalytic risk capital for models that are proven but struggling to move from start-up to scale. The word "venture" in our name indicates our focus on organisations and using business approaches to strengthen them. We combine funding with hands-on strategic and management support, for example, by matching experienced professionals with partner organisations through the LGT Impact Fellowship Program. 

Our engaged approach to philanthropy and putting communities at the centre as agents for systemic change, is still the exception rather than the norm in the sector.

Profile LGT VP

Since 2007, LGT VP has supported 77 organisations and facilitated the matching of over 200 fellows, contributing to improving the lives of more than 17 million people (about the population of New York). It currently has active partnerships with 33 organisations. Women hold 44 per cent of senior positions in portfolio organisations.

You have been with LGT Venture Philanthropy since its inception 17 years ago. How do you look back on this memorable journey?

There have been several interesting chapters in our journey so far. When we started, the term "impact investing" did not exist and the Sustainable Development Goals had not yet been launched. In the early days, our focus was broader than it is today, and we supported a wide range of different organisations and impact models both thematically and regionally, for example, the development impact bond of our partner organisation Educate Girls. 

In 2014, we launched the first generalist impact fund in the UK together with Big Society Capital and Berenberg. This was instrumental in laying the foundation for the impact investing approach within LGT. In 2019, the decision was made to set up a sister organisation, which is now called Lightrock, with an explicit focus on impact investing in emerging markets. 

In the last five years, we have pivoted to focus on deploying grants to organisations with significant reach and access to underserved communities and governments in Africa and India with a thematic focus on health, education, and the environment. Building on the solid platforms and track record we have established over the years we are now starting our next chapter: the Board of LGT Venture Philanthropy signed off on our new Thriving Communities Strategy 2024–2028. 

Antara_AAA meeting 1 - Kopie
The Antara Foundation, a portfolio organisation of LGT VP, is successfully campaigning for better healthcare in India.

Can you give us some insights into the new strategy?

First and foremost, we will continue to deliver on our core mission of supporting organisations to drive solutions that directly contribute to achieving the SDGs.

It is important to recognise that a lot has changed since 2007. We are operating in a very dynamic sector. Philanthropy is not static – we are part of an ecosystem and need to evolve and respond to social and environmental challenges. Just a few months ago, our colleagues from LGT’s Philanthropy Advisory Team published an interesting article on this topic, outlining some of the trends that will shape the future of philanthropy. At LGT VP, we attach great importance to taking these developments seriously and responding to emerging needs that we see in the market. More LGT clients, especially Next Gens and ultra-high-net-worth individuals, are interested in actively contributing to a more sustainable future and are looking for a partner. They want to be part of the journey. This increased interest from clients in a more engaged form of philanthropy was one of the reasons our Board decided to open LGT VP as a platform for other philanthropists to create impact with us – alongside the Princely Family. 

What does that mean exactly?

We are reshaping our offering to clients, employees, and external partners to enable them to engage in our portfolio in India and Africa, and catalyse what we call solutions portfolios, which address specific sub-themes such as early childhood development or vibrant African landscapes in a way that is similar to a platform of solutions. Why? Because, together we can leverage more capital for more impact and collaborate more closely. The challenges we are facing globally are complex – and we need to think holistically and collaborate to have a chance to overcome them. And, of course, this gives employees and philanthropists a unique opportunity to create long-term, sustainable impact alongside the Princely Family.

At the beginning of this interview, you said: "We have only seven summers to reach the Sustainable Development Goals." Time is short. What motivates you and gives you the confidence to embark on this new and challenging journey?

We are very grateful for the continued commitment from the Princely Family, from LGT, and our dear colleagues and partners, and are excited about what lies ahead. The positive feedback and impact from our partners on the ground is very encouraging and reinforces my conviction that our approach is the right one, and that our ambition is timely and will become even more important in the future.

I am inspired by the concept of Seven Generation Thinking, which considers the impact of actions on the environment, society, and the well-being of seven generations of people. It is based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. This philosophy is captured in LGT’s claim "forward-looking for generations" and its commitment to sustainability. More than ever, we need to take a long-term view, as the Princely Family has done for decades. We succeed by collaborating, working in partnership, and connecting with and learning from local communities. Together, we can contribute to thriving communities. 

Dakshin Photo 4_Fisherman in Andaman_2023-07-11_vLGTVP - Kopie
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