It started one cold November evening in the late 1990s. Swedish entrepreneur Bengt Wahlqvist was watching the news when graphic images from the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan changed his life for good.
Sitting in the comfort of his warm living room, he saw families without a roof above their heads battling freezing temperatures and snow. "Around the same time, we were about to send annual Christmas gifts to clients of my company. I phoned my team and told them to buy big tents and heaters for the people affected by the earthquake instead," remembers Bengt and adds, "that became the Christmas gifts that year."
Or in any other year that followed as Bengt decided that the budget for gifts was better spent elsewhere. "From that moment on, I wanted to create change for people who couldn't create change for themselves," he says.
Building a community
Last Mile Health is just one of many projects Bengt has been involved in over the past few years. One of his key focuses today is growing the philanthropist community.
In 2012, Bengt decided to launch a philanthropy forum in the Swiss city of Lugano, where he now lives. "The idea was born after my wife and I attended the UBS Philanthropy Forum in St Moritz. In Lugano, impact investing and philanthropy were not big topics at the time – not because people did not care but because they did not know a lot about it. I wanted to change that."
Together with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and UBS, he has since brought together like-minded people and introduced them to impact investing and philanthropy. The forum is now in its sixth year and getting stronger as the years pass.
We will not only generate a lot of clean energy… We have also created a local foundation that will use the income for the better of the local community
Bengt and Eva’s philanthropic journey is far from over. It has just started. Bengt is a member of UBS Impact Investing Fund advisory board and also regularly travels to Indonesia where he and a partner are the founders of one of his favorite impact investing projects – building a number of hydro power plants with a target of 200 MW.
Bengt explains: “We will not only generate a lot of clean energy and receive a financial return. We have also created a local foundation that will, together with us, act as a shareholder, receive income from the power plants and use it for the better of the local community". Impact investing is a topic that stays close to his heart. "The ultimate goal is to have all assets invested in a meaningful way, making change, doing good" he says.
"Things get better in this world. It's not all bad," he concludes. "In the last decades, a billion or more people were lifted out of the worst poverty, we often forget. If we can open the eyes to people to spread happiness and inspiration, then it is going to get better. It feels good to spread joy – it creates energy."
UBS Optimus Programs
The foundation is fully funded by UBS, which means that every client donation fully goes to the programs it supports.