Two Wings Network - a development effort that combines financial acumen with service to humanity
LINZ, Austria - Among the endeavors that financier Faramarz Ettehadieh is perhaps most proud of is the Two Wings Network, a non-governmental organization aimed at supporting development projects that focus on the education and empowerment of women in the Global South.
Founded by Dr. Ettehadieh in 1996, the Network is composed of a board of directors representing individuals in both the North and the South, with the goal of increasing the sense of partnership between the developed and the developing world.
"In contrast to many development agencies, where the North tells the South what is good for it, we finance only projects where men and women from the South have also been consulted," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "That is the essence of the idea of having a board composed of members from both regions of the world."
The name for the Network comes from a quote in the Bahá'í writings that compares men and women to the "two wings" of a bird and says that until both wings are equal, the "full flight" of human development will be impossible.
"Our focus is on projects that have a long term impact," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "And when someone gets a good education, especially a woman, it gives her the power to change her life and the life of her family."
The Network also makes use of some innovative financial instruments to help raise funds for development projects in the South, in cooperation with Partner Bank, a private bank established by Dr. Ettehadieh in 1992.
Specifically, Partner Bank offers a specialized "Two Wings stock basket" to its investors. The stock basket offers investors an opportunity to automatically donate their stock dividends to the Two Wings Network, for the purpose of funding development projects in the South.
In 2001, the readers of risControl magazine, a publication for insurance and financial service professionals, chose the Two Wings stock basket as its product of the year.
The Two Wings stock basket is built around a collection of high quality stocks, from global companies with long records of security and steady growth, said Dr. Ettehadieh.
"For the Two Wings basket, we try to select companies that have long track records of continuous development, with a global strategy that enables them to outperform other companies," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "We also avoid companies that are involved primarily in military production or with poor environmental records."
So far, about 1,000 investors have purchased shares in the Two Wings stock basket. Of those, about 25 percent have decided to donate their dividends to the Network. Over the last six years, this has raised some US$300,000 for the Network.
That money has been disbursed to a dozen projects around the world. Specifically, projects in Bolivia, Chad, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Zambia have received money.
"Of special significance is the fund's sustainability and growth rate," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "Because the dividends are paid quarterly, the development partners in the South can count on sustainable support over the next decade and so can embark on long term projects. And the growth rate is double-digit because of the growth of the investment and the growing numbers of the investors."
Partner Bank also offers other stock baskets built around specific moral themes, so that investors can target the kinds of companies and activities that they care about. It offers, for example, a Health Care basket and a Lifestyle basket. In each case, investors can donate the "dividends for development," which is a Partner Bank slogan.
"Over the last thirty years I have visited 75 countries and traveled to remote areas and villages," said Dr. Ettehadieh, reflecting on his long time concern with studying and promoting social and economic development in the Global South. "Based on my observations I realized that many development projects lack a consultative manner with the people they want to serve and tend to impose Western solutions.
"I feel education is the main key for development," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "This is why we supported the development of schools in Africa, especially, that target girls who lack access to education.
"Observing the great need of education and the limited resources they have in the South, we developed the idea of bringing together people with the intention to support development in the southern hemisphere," said Dr. Ettehadieh. "By applying our capability of networking in the financial services business we try to multiply our resources."