Zahra Husain (2006, Economics for Development)

Zahra has recently been named in Management Today’s 2018 35 Women Under 35, for co-founding the social enterprise Humans in Finance. She is also an Investment Director at Commerzbank AG.

Zahra Husain, co-founder of Humans in Finance and an Investment Director at Commerzbank AG

My time at Oxford really expanded my ability to truly think and dream big.

I grew up all over the UK, in places with a high degree of inequality, as well as a five-year stint in Pakistan which sparked my initial interest in Economics. Keen to take my knowledge to a higher level, I pursued a master’s degree in Economics for Development at Oxford. I then joined Merrill Lynch in 2007, when the financial services industry was still considered a prestigious profession. I envisaged an environment where I would not only be intellectually challenged, but learn lessons in mental and physical endurance – yes, the hours are brutal! – as well as working with diverse people and companies from across the world.

That absolutely held true – except the aftermath of the financial crisis meant that I found myself hiding my profession socially. Not quite what I had imagined for my career! However, I also noticed that slowly but surely the industry was beginning to innovate in order to become more socially impactful, with people working above and beyond to do so.

Following a journey of learning and discovery, I co-founded Humans in Finance in my spare time, to champion finance professionals that are committed to a better world. Through social media we have been able to share the stories of these innovators with a global audience, raising awareness about the potential power of the finance industry in making the world a fairer and more prosperous place for all.

However, even 10 years on, British public opinion of the industry remains extremely negative due to the greed of a small minority. While the industry is moving in the right direction, there is still work to be done in moving away from the “short-termism” of quarterly results and short-term profits dominating decision making. We also need to work to drive forward principles of sustainable finance – which requires looking beyond the bottom line to account for any environmental or social impacts in financing decisions.

An impossible task, you may think? This takes me back to my time at Exeter and Oxford, where you are constantly reminded of how dreams, no matter how seemingly impossible, can be achieved. Reminders of those who walked before us are everywhere. My time at Oxford really expanded my ability to truly think and dream big – and this continues to drive me to this day.

You can find out more about Humans in Finance on their website www.humansinfinance.com