A radical collaborator seeking radical impact. Half-Swiss, half-Colombian, raised in Japan and Hong Kong, Natasha Muller was born into a textile and manufacturing empire, she was just 17 years old when her father died by suicide, inheriting great wealth and responsiblity.
Here she shares some insights on her priorities and what drives her.
Natasha learned many of her values and her early lessons about building and scaling sustainable systems organically through her family business. But her childhood was rocked by tragedy when her father, who suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, died by suicide when Natasha was just 17. Inheriting at a young age is deeply traumatic, complex and difficult, and is an issue that tightly bonds those who have experienced it.
Having had experience in her family office and by chance came across sustainable investing through family deals, Natasha has since blazed her own path, splitting her assets from her family and for the past ten years focusing fully on impact. As part of an active, frustrated ‘next generation’ community who want urgently to use their wealth to address the global societal and environmental problems that they see, Natasha already has access to her capital and is using it to mould the existing systems to the priorities of a new generation, knowing that their resources will follow.
Natasha is the Founder of NM Impact and Kokoro, which runs the Future Mental Health Collective, a global peer-to-peer network for private investors and philanthropists supporting mental health. She is also a UNICEF NextGen Global Principal, a trustee for United for Global Mental Health and Philanthropy Impact, and is on various advisory committees and boards, including The Valuable 500, the Center for Sustainable Finance and Private Wealth at the University of Zurich, the Empower initiative with Harvard Medical School and Maanch. Here she shares some insights on her priorities and what drives her.
- What are some of the areas you are invested in?
While I am sector agnostic and invest across all stages and asset classes, I have a bias toward climate, food and health as three of my favourite UN Sustainable Development Goals. My first major investment many years ago was into a solar park and I have continued to try to accelerate the energy transition however I can. A more recent investment was an innovative company which provides drones and end to end services to inspect the blades of wind turbines.
Linked to my work on climate is a fascination with food systems and how we can improve nutrition while saving resources and emissions. It has been a great way to back foodtech entrepreneurs who are innovating in this space.
And health – well, we’re nothing without being physically and mentally healthy. A favorite investment in this space is those that provide employee mental health programs, from wellness support through to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and in-person treatment.
Technology features strongly throughout my portfolio. I am always looking for opportunities created by AI and the digitization of systems. And lastly, I am acutely aware of the need to tackle systemic inequalities within finance. I consciously apply a gender and diversity lens to my investing to tackle my own blind spots and to make sure that I am actively seeking out and benefiting from talent that comes from all walks of life.
- How do you blend your investment strategy with your philanthropy and activism?
I think historically, asset owners have bifurcated their capital into two worlds: traditional investing to maximize profits and philanthropy to achieve a desired social or environmental good. But now, what’s exciting is the huge range of opportunities that are being created between these two divisions. It’s becoming a spectrum with different forms of capital deployed at different stages. We can look at what outcome we want to achieve and think, “What is the solution to the problem we’re looking at and how do we get there? Which systems are ripe for disruption? And which form of capital is best used to achieve that?”
Some of my investments have used all three forms of capital. As a philanthropist, I might fund research that provides critical information to a company that I have backed. As an investor, I am helping a commercially viable idea to grow. And we’ve used activism, advocacy and human capital to get that idea on the political agenda, influencing hearts and minds. And because the company has impact baked into its DNA and business model (and isn’t just an afterthought), then scaling up the business through different forms of capital will scale both impact and financial returns…and this financial success allows me to recycle capital and invest into new ventures.
- Mental health has become far more talked about during the pandemic. How has that accelerated what you are doing?
Well, I’ve been crazy busy! This field is exploding because we have a global mental health crisis. Humans are feeling disconnected from themselves, from others, and even something greater than themselves. Waiting lists for public mental health services are long and getting longer, and the toll is particularly harrowing for young people. According to UNICEF’s State of the Child report in 2021, a child dies by suicide every 11 minutes. That’s shocking.
Companies, health systems, insurance companies are all interested and integrating solutions to help create better mental health. And thousands of entrepreneurs are trying to bring innovation to the field. Just in the US, USD2.4bn was poured into digital health start-ups in 2020; a trend that continued last year. I’m investing too and it’s become an important part of my portfolio.
In terms of the work we’re doing at Kokoro, the not-for-profit that I set up last year, we are using the heightened awareness around mental health to accelerate private funding for mental health services around the world, and critically to make the case for integrating mental health services into the work that private sector leaders do to support the Sustainable Development Goals. We do this because mental health is deeply interlinked – both as a cause and as a symptom – with other development problems around the world. In short, wherever a problem is human-made and needs a change in human behaviour as part of its solution, then mental health (and our ability to change our decision-making and behaviour) will be a factor that either supports or thwarts progress.
Too often, mental health is simply not at the table, despite the impact it has on the outcomes we are seeking. However, the pandemic has helped to shift that dynamic and pilots are already up and running across various areas of development to show the impact that mental health can make.
- What is the Future Mental Health Collective and how does it work?
The Collective is a global peer-to-peer network for private funders and philanthropists (individuals, families and corporates) that are investing in mental health services. It’s free to join and is fully independent – there’s absolutely no solicitation allowed.
Rather, this is a highly trusted space that funders use to hold space for each other. I set the Collective up in main part because I personally was facing challenges as a mental health funder – it can be hard to know what will have most effect and to work in countries where you don’t already have trust with the local community. And because the global need is just so enormous, being a mental health funder can feel overwhelming. Knowing there are others facing the same challenges is reassuring. And on the practical side, we are a highly action-oriented community, sharing contacts, intelligence, data, due diligence and best practice with each other. Anything that helps us to get things done.
Our mission with the Collective is to make existing mental health funding as effective as it possibly can be, and to help those who are new to funding mental health, including those who are integrating mental health into other SDG work, get up and running quickly – for example, by connecting new funders with those who are further along a similar journey.
- Which areas of mental health do you think are ripe for investment?
Some of the main areas that are flourishing are stress reduction platforms, Telehealth services, prescription digital therapeutics, psychedelic assisted therapy, new modalities of healing and community care, work with augmented and virtual reality and neuroscience to address dementia, schizophrenia, depression etc.
I am particularly interested in those companies that bridge the gap between credible research and services that make sense in the community and in the local context. They have got to be evidence and human-rights based and informed by people with lived experience. These also tend to also be the companies that can credibly measure the impact and the value of the services they’re providing.
- Who do you look to for inspiration in your work?
I am lucky enough to have a network of extraordinary people who inspire me because they’re brave, they’re disrupting systems, they’re elevating and fighting for voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.
People like Kristen Eglinton from Footage Foundation who has been working on the ground in Ukraine to support the physical safety and mental health of highly vulnerable communities; Natalie Molina Niño from Known Holdings that I mentioned earlier; Raj Mariwala, who has been blazing a path for mental health in India for many, many years; and the incredible Nancy Ruben who set up the US Suicide Helpline and Didi Hirsch mental health services, providing free mental health, substance use disorder and suicide prevention services since 1942.
- What do you do to support your own mental health?
I am careful about my routine, sleep and my self-care. It’s hard when we are ambitious to remember that, as much as want to be, we’re really not superheroes. The vast majority of us do need a decent night’s sleep! And we’ll be more productive and strategic if we get it.
And while we all have different things that help us with our wellbeing, for me, it’s exercise – from simply being out walking to weightlifting, horse-riding, anything that gets my heart pumping! Being part of a community is also something I deeply cherish, and I get great joy, for example, sharing my passion as a contemporary art collector with others in that world.