Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Alejandro de León (AL): I studied finance in Madrid, before heading to Geneva to work at JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. I have been an entrepreneur since 2009. Since then, I have also completed an MBA with IE and Brown University and another Masters in Philosophy at UNED.
Looking to the future, I think I should learn to programme. That’s what it’s all about.
MB: What led you to start Microwd?
AL: What really led me to start Microwd is that fifty children were on scholarship with an NGO I had set up, and the mothers of these children started asking me for microcredits. It is very easy to start a business when you already have clients.
The truth is that I feel very fortunate about this “lucky strike” because it has allowed us to create a profitable company that generates wealth and prosperity wherever we go.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
AL: The problem I aim to solve is the one Esther Dufló pointed out; that many microfinance companies do not improve the lives of their borrowers. For our 7,000 clients, I can guarantee that they do in most cases. There are many reasons why Microwd helps improve their lives. To name a few: we don’t penalise late loans for those who are having a hard time, we don’t ask for collateral because that would hurt them a lot if anything went wrong, and the loans we offer have really low interest rates compared to the competition.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
AL: The challenge is to beat the stock market. I want to be more profitable than the traditional companies on the Spanish or European stock market and more profitable than investing in real estate. If we achieve that, social impact companies will convince big capital to look this way. I don’t think the solution is compassion. I think compassion helps, but the game changer is to demonstrate good returns and low volatility.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
AL: My vision is that technology mixed with people with good intentions (social entrepreneurs) can be a winning mix. We are the generation of Google Drive, of WhatsApp, and for our clients, this ally is powerful. Who would have thought that searching in Google would be free – what a marvel. Who would have thought that using the internet would be free, that the tool is “open-source” – incredible, isn’t it? What a gift Tim Berners-Lee gave to humanity. Now, let’s take advantage of it.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
AL: Let them keep it up. Let no one convince them that making profit is illicit, it’s not true.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
AL – “If you are going through hell, keep going.” (Winston Churchill).
MB – Who inspires you?
AL – I am inspired by the thought that I’m only going to be here about 100 years, and that our parents left us with this world full of wonderful opportunities to do good things. I see how certain public profiles attack a lot our parents. I feel ashamed of their audacity and ignorance. Our parents have made it possible for us to have come to hover around 5% extreme poverty but I see those bourgeois talking about inequality and freedoms and it is very hard for me to listen to it.
MB – How do you define success?
AL – I have no idea, I don’t remember thinking about it. I promise. I seek the freedom to choose my path, if that leads to success, good for me.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
AL – I’m not a perfectionist at all, although I suspect it’s too late to change.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
AL – “The Aleph” by Borges, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by García Marquez, “Chaos and Order” by Antonio Escohotado, “The Road to Serfdom” by Hayek, “Nicomachean Ethics“, “Enlightenment Now” by Pinker, “The Uneasiness in Civilisation” by Freud… I can think of too many. I’ll leave it here.
MB – What do you do to relax?
AL – I finished a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and now I have started my undergrad. I’ve done it the other way around, but the truth is that reviewing the philosophers and seeing how they have structured our society, is a marvel.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.