x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Money&Me: Spend responsibly to help the planet

Gundeep Singh, the founder of The Change Initiative, has built his business on a foundation of responsible spending.

Gundeep Singh, the founder of The Change Initiative. Sarah Dea/The National
Gundeep Singh, the founder of The Change Initiative. Sarah Dea/The National

Gundeep Singh is the chief executive and founder of The Change Initiative, a concept that helps consumers to make more responsible lifestyle choices. The Indian businessman, who moved to the UAE in 1999, is launching a superstore in Dubai next month that will sell environmentally friendly products and also act as a hub of information for those interested in living a sustainable life.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I have been a spender, but over a period of time, I have significantly reduced my spending to a point that I buy only what I need. In some ways, you can actually spend to save. In fact, that's the core of our idea; where we expect consumers to spend and make responsible choices to save the planet.

What is your philosophy towards money?

I think money has created a vicious cycle of conspicuous consumption that hampers the ability of people to disseminate their actual needs versus extraneous consumption.

How can living a sustainable life help people financially?

Buying sustainably means longevity and durability along with a host of other benefits, which significantly reduces the spending cycle and people's need for buying superfluous things they use in their daily lives.

Why did you decide to set up The Change Initiative?

I strongly feel that population growth, urban expansion and dramatically increasing water and energy demands will ultimately threaten the existence of billions of people and that is why I believe we need to be prudent in our consumption patterns. I wanted our store to act as a hub of information and services for anyone interested in sustainability. And I can say that we have succeeded in building a place where visitors will be able to discover, learn and share information.

Describe the financial journey that helped to bring about The Change Initiative.

A project like this requires a set of shareholders that are completely aligned with the philosophy of sustainability and at the same time are willing to invest long term. Our idea brings sustainability to the grass-roots level by driving sustainability through the consumers. Initially, the investment was from my side, but later on there was a lot of interest shown from European and local investors. They have invested heavily into the business and they continue to do so.

What has been your most valuable financial lesson?

Leverage in the context of easy money. To explain this, I would like to take you back pre-2008, when banks and other financial institutions threw caution to the wind and started providing high-risk, cheap leverage, which led to individuals getting overleveraged and accruing significant liabilities that far outweighed their net worth. This led to the same individual going through financial hardships that were driven by pure greed. We all got caught in the cycle in a big or small way and had to pay a price for it.

Have you experienced any financial difficulties along the way?

Yes, I have faced financial difficulties. A few years back, I started a company in India called The Learning Curve. It failed miserably and I lost a lot of money. Even during the downturn of 2008, I lost a significant amount of money. However these setbacks did not make me weak. In fact, I have come out as a stronger person.

What has been your biggest financial challenge?

Resisting the temptation to increase my risks when money is cheap. As a businessman, I constantly have to weigh the cost of growth versus the reasons to retain status quo. Low-cost finance and money supply that emanates out of economic events like quantitative easing creates a false sense of security. To be able to reasonably assess the future and take mature and conservative decisions in a world that is on a hyper drive always remains the biggest challenge.

What do you like to invest in?

Tangible or physical assets because of the insecure and complex financial system that we live in today, where prices of stocks, equity and other securities, such as derivatives, are constantly being driven by public sentiments rather than market realities.

Is money important to you?

Yes and no. Like everybody would say, money is only valuable to the point of satisfying material needs, but it tends to be quite redundant in matters of health and happiness.

What do you like to spend your money on?

On books and photography - something that can impact people's lives.