Shaiza Rizavi sees the world — American culture, politics and economics — from an outsider’s perspective. Raised in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, her family moved to Illinois when she was a girl. Rizavi now works as a partner at Gilder, Gagnon, Howe & Co., a growth equity brokerage firm where she seeks out companies with “disruptive, innovative approaches.” She also serves on the board of Acumen, which invests in strategies to end world poverty. NationSwell met up with her at a cafe in Midtown Manhattan, near the southern edge of Central Park.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
I think it’s important to be able to give yourself permission to take a lot of risk and make mistakes as you go along. I learn that in my business constantly. There’s a lot of risk-taking in the stocks that I invest in and pain that goes along with that. It’s a teeter-totter that’s only in balance for a nanosecond — or not at all. Understanding that it’s going to be up and down at all moments, and it’s important to feel those moments, to live in that, to steep yourself in it, accept it and not try to avoid it.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
I was actually re-reading right now “Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World,” a book that’s written by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen. I am also reading “Superforecasting” [co-written by Phil Tetlock]. It’s a study done over a long period of time to get a sense of who the best forecasters have been and what it takes.
I’m also reading Ron Chernow’s “Hamilton” again because I just took my kids to see the Broadway show. I think I first checked it out in 2005, but it’s been interesting to revisit, especially with this election and what’s going on in the world. It’s made me think about how sometimes we have to go backwards in order to go forward to understand that these moments of tension lead to greatness over time. It’s the same idea as having to steep in the uncomfortable sometimes — looking back we may see that this election moment is one that the country has seen many times. It’s not new; it’s part of the process.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started this job?
I suppose, in a job or in life or anything, how you approach the unknown has to be done in partnerships. In looking at stocks or nonprofits or assessing whether something’s going to be successful or not, it’s always important to step out of your shell. It’s really about connecting people and trying to figure it out together. It’s a powerful way of looking at it, to see all of us being in it together. I think it helps see what the real issues are, as opposed to what your perceptions are.
What inspires you?
Well, at 4 o’clock each morning, I get a quote emailed to me. I go to a Unitarian church, All Souls, on the Upper East Side [of Manhattan], and the minister sends out a part of a poem or a quote to people who sign up. So, I have a little ritual surrounding it.
On the flip side, how do you try to inspire others?
Be true to your beliefs. Knowing what you stand for and standing by it, people actually see that’s your truth. And I also think it’s really important to be a cheerleader and not a de-constructor constantly. There’s so much dart throwing, as opposed to actually wanting to help. So many people are taking critical chances in this country. There’s so much progress, but what we hear about is the lack of it. I think it’s important to remind people — that’s one narrative, but not the only narrative.
What innovations in your field are you most excited about right now?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about software and faster processing speeds. I got my first computer in 1984. My mother was studying at the University of Chicago, where they had computers available for a greatly reduced price, and she brought one home. It was just such an immediate increase in productivity through technology. All my friends were using typewriters, and all of a sudden, I was writing on a word-processing machine. In college, I didn’t have to go to the computer lab like most of my friends. Eventually my machine connected to the Internet, and there was an incredible unleashing of ideas. By delivering software to so many different devices today, we’re at an inflection point. We saw the number of people connected to the Internet double since 2008. We now have over 3 billion people connected, but that’s only 40 percent of the world. Over the next five years, we may see well over 2 billion additional people come online. As a growth investor, I see this and think growth happens during the most difficult times. We don’t know what new services or inventions will be created that will benefit us all.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
I think probably, in my life, I’ve been interested in understanding different perspectives, particularly of an outsider entering the country. I think we’re having a lot of that discussion on refugees: we versus them. I moved from Karachi to America, to just outside of Chicago. My family and I arrived in the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere. I experience the world around me as an outsider with fresh eyes, but I always felt like that was an opportunity, to see new perspectives in a new land that I’d never been to.
When I worked in Thailand, I tried to provide that too. I worked on a project where I asked Kodak and Fujifilm to give cameras to street children and then put on a big photo show. The perspective that gave me was really powerful. They were able to show me what they see, instead of me trying to understand from far away. I think that’s very important to me — that commitment to understand the complexities of a person or place from several sides — and I work on it as a personal accomplishment, as a way to live life. It’s fluid. It’s not something that will ever end. You hope that you continue that accomplishment on an hourly, daily basis.
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