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Aashna Desai: Addressing the Defining Global Challenges of Our Time

Aashna Desai: Addressing the Defining Global Challenges of Our Time

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Aashna Desai, the investor of Nuveen Private Equity Impact. Let’s learn what’s happening at Nuveen Private Equity Impact and how Aashna is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Aashna! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Nuveen Private Equity Impact?

Aashna: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The Nuveen Private Equity Impact team seeks to address the defining global challenges of our time: climate change and inequality. Our goal is to scale companies that are driving an inclusive transition to a low carbon economy globally, while also achieving strong returns for our investors. We target innovative businesses that reduce waste and emissions, use resources in a circular manner, and/or expand access to basic products and services for underserved consumers, especially financial services. The broader Nuveen platform has been a pioneer in impact investing, with a long track record of driving strong financial results and a positive influence for society’s pressing problems.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Aashna: I’ve had a longstanding passion for directing capital to people and places that need it the most. Growing up, I’d join my dad on visits to social entrepreneurs all across India as part of his philanthropy work. In college, I worked at a refugee center in Philadelphia and a farmer producer cooperative abroad. I was so inspired by the changemakers I met along the way and wanted to use my finance skills to help scale their impact. I also saw firsthand how the most vulnerable are often at the frontline of climate change. As the world moves towards decarbonization, we need to build companies and infrastructure that create inclusive growth, so we promote sustainability without leaving anyone behind. I joined Nuveen to help do so at scale.  

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?

Aashna: We recently led an investment in Perch Energy, a community solar servicing platform that connects solar developers with energy consumers. Reaching low-to-moderate-income (LMI) consumers is key to democratizing solar energy and ensuring that the clean energy future is equitable. As such, we are spearheading a unique partnership with Perch and Nuveen’s real estate platform to get community solarand the electricity bill savings it represents—to residents in the affordable housing portfolio who stand to benefit most. LMI tenants can save five-to-twenty percent on their utility bills while catalyzing the renewable energy transition. It's a great example of how we collaborate across the firm to create impact in our portfolio. 

Spiffy: Tell me about an inspiring startup that your organization has helped to advance its impact.

Aashna: One of our inspiring portfolio companies, Ecozen, makes solar-powered irrigation and cold storage equipment. It primarily serves smallholder farmers in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, a segment that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Ecozen’s products typically replace, or prevent the need for, diesel-powered devices, simultaneously avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and increasing incomes for low-income farmers through its value-added technology. We invested in the company in 2022 and have supported the exceptional management team to scale the business to serve many more customers since. Through the sale of its solar-powered products, the company has helped avoid 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. 

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Aashna—it’s been an honor!

Aashna is an investor on Nuveen’s Private Equity Impact team. She previously worked in private equity at Lexington Partners and began her career at BlackRock, advising global financial institutions on capital markets challenges. Aashna holds degrees in finance & international studies from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.(Nominated by Shirley Wu from Partnership Fund for NYC. First published on the Ladderworks website on February 6, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Daniela Vega. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.