- N’Gunu Tiny, an impact financier, views the truth as a good investment, especially during the pandemic.
- Emerald Group, a boutique investment firm, was an early stage investor in the fact- checking company Poligrafo, which has become part of a global network of watchdog organizations fighting against misinformation.
- In the past few years, ‘fake news’ has been blamed for eroding the public’s trust in the press and democracy, say experts.
He hails from the small tropical West African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, but N’Gunu Tiny’s impact investment drive now affects large swaths of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tiny is the chief executive officer and founder of the Emerald Group, a boutique investment firm headquartered in Dubai that embarked on a spree of investments in recent years in sectors such as mobile banking, mining and medical technology.
Two years ago, the company invested an undisclosed amount to acquire 30% of Poligrafo, a fledgling Portuguese fact-checking company that helps readers discern the truth in the daily stream of global news and information from more obscure sources.
At present, the company is a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network, a unit of the the Poynter Institute, an influential U.S. journalism school that owns the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.
Over the course of last year, Poligrafo helped uncover the truth and dispel a political crisis that threatened to derail the electoral campaign of Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa, who was falsely accused of being on vacation at the time when a deadly fire killed over 60 people.
Now the organization has debunked misinformation in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The investment was part of Tiny’s impact mission to combat “fake news” around the world, especially in emerging markets and lusophone countries such as Brazil and Angola.
“Poligrafo has become not just politically relevant, but also very useful in clarifying [the truth] to the population at a moment when we are going through one of the biggest public health crises of all time,” Tiny said in a written interview with Karma. “The truth is the most important item to create a valid and reliable opinion. Nowadays, the truth is melted and merged with false information, propaganda and misinformation. This has a huge impact and can even lead to social and political unrest.”
Misinformation campaigns that have spread on social media have been blamed for whipping up political discord in elections in several countries in the past few years.
Poligrafo, which employs 10 people, says it reached a break-even point late last year as its content is published via different mediums, including TV, and it gets revenue from being part of Facebook’s Third Party Fact-Checking Program.
A lawyer by training, Tiny is a believer in patient capital and is not in a rush to see Poligrafo expand too fast like the example of the office-share company WeWork.
“You want to build businesses that are sustainable, not the next WeWork.”
“Too many companies focus on pure growth and expand beyond reasonable and sustainable levels. It’s so important, vital and ethical, to operate within profitable boundaries,” Tiny said.
“You have employees’ livelihoods at stake, not just early stage investors’ interests to factor in. You want to build businesses that are sustainable, not the next WeWork.”
During the past decade, Tiny became an Angolan citizen. He has used his business experience, which includes a year-long stint in 2012 on the board of the diamond company De Beers Angola Investments, to create several investment vehicles. He founded Optimal Investments, SA and Eaglestone, an investment firm focusing on energy, commodities and natural resources.
He has distilled the goal of the Emerald Group as giving financial tools and credit to the unbanked masses especially in regions such as Africa where small and medium sized entrepreneurs struggle to grow their businesses.
“Ultimately, our mission is to bring empowerment and inclusion to more and more people. Our first objective is to keep the intellectual and monetary capital within the local markets,” Tiny said. “We also aim to bring the unbanked into a regulated environment where they have some kind of protection. The impact we can have in communities, if we can save them just a small amount of money and offer them a greater degree of protection, is almost unfathomable.”
This year, he formed a strategic partnership with a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Mohamed Al Nahyan, aimed at financing and building infrastructure in Africa.
Around the world, 840 million people live over 2 kilometers away from asphalted roads, 1 billion people don’t have access to electricity and 4 billion global citizens don’t have access to the internet, says the World Bank. Massive amounts of financing will be needed to extend access to critical infrastructure to more people in order to reach the United Nations sustainable development goals.
“It is rare to find a partnership focused so unanimously with the same goal and with the same passion for technology. His Highness has an understanding of how technology can be used for the betterment of society as a whole,” Tiny said.
Overall, Tiny sees growth areas in the application of blockchain technology in medicine, which has become crucial during the global outbreak as governments scramble to find equipment to protect citizens.
Emerald has invested in a track and trace product developed by GoChain, which keeps a track of the pipeline of protective gear and pandemic related equipment.
“It also certifies the source and creates trust and transparency in the delivery process. Governments are able to see the entire lineage of products and often cut out the high costs of middle men,” he said.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Mohamed Al Nahyan is a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, a part of the United Arab Emirates. A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to him as the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.