With 30+ years of experience helping emerging markets get their footing, Quona’s new COO sees impact investing as the future of investing.
David Mathewson, who recently joined Quona as Partner and Chief Operating Officer, has been enthralled with emerging markets since he stood in the center of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin at midnight on Unity Day, October 3, 1990, the day East and West Germany were reunified for the first time since 1945. For Mathewson, a young MBA student at Northwestern at the time, the experience left a significant impression. There he was, witnessing history being made, the beginning of a social, political, and economic transformation that would profoundly change the lives of countless everyday people. “I was literally standing right in the center of the action thinking: ‘I have to be part of this,’” he says.
And for the past 30 years, working across sectors, geographies, and roles, he’s held true to his word with a distinct career focus on emerging markets. His resume boasts experiences that in conversation Mathewson will call his “tour of duty” across global emerging markets. But talk to Mathewson for any amount of time, and that impressive list of jobs — including senior leadership roles for the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, private investment groups like Soros Fund Management, Appian Group and Delphos International; big financial institutions like Franklin Templeton Investments, and non-profits like Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF) — are brought to life with real-world impact stories that cut deep into his consciousness.
He still remembers the taxi ride 30 years ago when he heard a radio interview with a worker at the candy factory in Lithuania he’d helped privatize to Kraft Jacob Suchard after the fall of the USSR, talking about how she and her family’s lives had been positively impacted by the change; they now had “hope for the future.” He loves the story about meeting a man in Albania whose father had been saved by the oncology hospital he’d helped establish that brought international-quality cancer care to the country for the first time. And he will tell you about walking down the streets of Belgrade, seeing results of the NATO bombing campaign that destroyed, among many things, Serbia’s TV broadcasting capacity and how that inspired him to help found and build a cable business in the country that brought broadband internet and TV programming into people’s homes. Mathewson will be the first to tell you that while the impact of this work on everyday people’s lives is profound and inspiring, it’s also incredibly smart business. Within five years of launching that cable company, for example, it was sold for nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.
Being on the frontlines when products and services are brought to a region for the first time has been some of the most rewarding work he’s done. He has been part of a dozen fund advisory boards, has handled multicultural, multi-office regulatory regimes around the world, has structured and negotiated commitments to global private equity funds, and since 2016 has worked in the impact investing space, first at SEAF, which manages impact-focused emerging markets funds that provide growth capital and operational support for entrepreneur-backed companies, and now at Quona. “Five years ago, my goal was to work in impact — taking capital and employing it across sectors for both social good and solid commercial returns,” he says. “When you bring capital to people for the first time and they get credit and can buy a refrigerator, a car, or a cow for the first time, it’s really transformational.”
Mathewson is driven by these kinds of success stories, which is what drew him to Quona. The ability to provide financing to micro and small businesses is what excites him most about this new role. “Those successes driving capital deeper and deeper into markets is very exciting. I love to project forward ten years from now,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily happen immediately, but funds we are investing this month are going to have a significant impact five, ten years from now in the communities where they are being dispersed.”
At Quona he looks forward to supporting the firm’s global teams and continuing the meaningful work of impact investing, learning more about regions he’s worked less in, like Africa, and getting partners to take a closer look at markets like central and eastern Europe where he has much experience. “I’ve seen with my own eyes how you can affect people’s lives with capital well deployed,” he says. “I’m convinced that this is the future of investment. The majority of capital will be put behind people who bring socially-focused intentionality to their investment strategies. It’s a growth area and a smart place to be.”