Nachson Mimran is the philanthropic version of those chaps in Inception. He plants good intentions and noble motives in people’s heads via subterfuge, playfulness, and what he calls ‘Trojan horses’. If you want to make some of the planet’s most powerful people think about female sanitation in the developing world, you don’t lecture them — you build an innovative portaloo in the middle of a luxury hotel in Gstaad. If you want to change the perception of electric vehicles, you don’t use graphs and charts — you make Extreme E racing as adrenaline-filled as possible. It’s what he hopes to do with To.org, a platform for accelerating solutions to Earth’s biggest challenges, to use his influential network and the methods of modern capitalism to crack unlikely philanthropic briefs. Here, the serial ‘Provocateur-in-Chief ’ discusses brain chips, porta potties, and becoming a CEO at 21.
About 10 years ago, I suddenly had to provoke myself to think differently, behave differently, and see the world differently. It began after our mother passed away. I didn’t know how to handle losing a parent abruptly, so I had to provoke myself to not fall into a negative mindset. I really re-thought my purpose in life. With my family, I thought: how can we make a lot of money to do a lot of good and have a lot of fun at the same time. We ended up building a business and philanthropic model around that mindset.
The greatest part of my childhood was that my parents exposed us early on to the different experiences that people live through. I grew up partly in West Africa and partly in Gstaad in Switzerland. Dropping in and out of these worlds, I realised there were things that the developing world could teach more established economies — and vice versa – and that a privileged life is not necessarily one that ticks all the material boxes, but one which allows us to surround ourselves with kind, talented, open and motivated people.
When I was 21, I was asked to show up at my father’s office. He gathered all the managers together and said, “this is your new CEO”. I was caught by surprise – I thought I was going to be an intern. But I was parachuted into this role, and it wasn’t easy. I had no mentors, no board, no one to be vulnerable with. I just had to stick with it, and to re-learn how to learn, because I’d been a terrible student and never learnt how to learn properly at school.
A little while later, I co-founded a mobile payment platform and failed. We were way too early to market, so I learnt that timing is everything, but purpose is everything too. At 21, I was focused on material self-enrichment. I didn’t necessarily love what we were doing — I just wanted to be the co-founder of a unicorn. But if you don’t have purpose in what you do, at some point it will fail.
I love to be the least successful person in the room. And I don’t just mean financially. I love to surround myself with curious, crazy, motivated, kind people. Sometimes those people are celebrities, sometimes they are creatives in a refugee camp, sometimes they are my kids. Essentially, we have a finite amount of bandwidth, and I want to make sure I leave any conversation with pages filled in my notebook. In my experience, magic tends to happen when you get unusual suspects together in the room.
I was explaining AI to my son. He asked whether I would ever get a chip put in my brain. I said I would. He said: “I’ll follow you, so long as you promise me I won’t lose my soul”. I almost choked on my food! My eight-year-old reminded me of the risks of technology, and grounded me. I promised him that he wouldn’t lose his soul, so long as we went into it with intention and integrity and understood the risks and rewards of any technology.
At The Alpina, we have important people staying with us. As creative director, I’m able to curate an environment that can nudge guests in a certain direction. We place stories and products around the hotel as memes, or as Trojan horses, which allow important conversations to be sparked. We put a 3D-printed porta potty in the garden. That’s not something that is textbook luxury, but it allowed us to explain the fact that more than 800,000 people a year still die from a lack of safe sanitation. If we can use something the luxury world understands, which is high-quality design, and use it to spark conversations, we feel we’re doing our part.
This feature was taken from Gentleman’s Journal’s Summer 2023 issue. Read more about it here…
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