ALEXANDER BARKAWI, Founder of CEP and President of oikos

“I have been fortunate to have had a lot of external support as well as ideals that helped me decide what and what not to do.”

Alexander Barkawi, who spent most of his childhood in Cairo before moving to Switzerland to study economics at the University of St. Gallen, is one of the few graduates who did not move onto a regular “career track”. Instead, he kept looking for ways how he could most effectively help solving environmental and social problems of our planet.
During his university years, he was engaged as president of oikos St. Gallen, a student organization for sustainable economics and management. After his studies, he established oikos International in parallel to his Ph.D., still in St. Gallen, before joining the financial services company SAM Group in 2000. He left SAM in 2009 and founded his own organisation, the Council on Economic Policies (CEP) while still serving as president of the oikos Foundation.

Some background on Alexander Barkawi:
Alexander Barkawi was born in and spent his first eight years in Germany. He then moved to Egypt with his family, where he was confronted with the environmental and social problems of a large city. He graduated from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, with a degree in economics. Throughout his student years, he was strongly engaged in oikos, a student initiative for sustainable economics and management. After several years as a member of oikos St. Gallen including two years as the group’s president, he established oikos International together with a colleague and wrote his Ph.D. on “Social Change in Egypt in the 1990s”. After having successfully established oikos International at several universities, Alexander joined SAM Group in 2000 and took care of the company’s index business and the marketing and licensing of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. Today, he is founder and director of the Council on Economic Policies – an international economic think tank for sustainability with a focus on fiscal, monetary and trade policy. He also remains engaged in oikos as president of the organization’s board of trustees.

The following quotes are excerpts from an interview we had with Alex in 2007.

Selected quotes

“Before I went for my studies to St. Gallen in Switzerland, I explored how I could contribute to tackling environmental challenges – challenges that I was directly experiencing in the streets of Cairo every day. I was convinced that one of the largest levers lies in the economic system and therefore decided to study economics to understand this system.”

“My time at oikos, and especially the almost three years of establishing oikos International have been fantastic for me. To export this great concept of oikos to other countries, to establish it in a sustainable way and to help inspiring many like-minded people was a great experience and provided tremendous satisfaction.”

“I had been in contact with SAM for quite a while before I started to work for them. I always watched what they were doing and was fascinated with what I saw. When I finished my Ph.D., I once again thought about the most efficient ways to initiate change in the direction I wanted to see it. I came up with three fields: energy, water, and financial markets. Whereas energy and water pose significant sustainability challenges in their own right, I saw financial markets as an area through which you can influence the whole economic system in a certain direction.”

“At SAM, I am responsible for the marketing and licensing of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes – the world’s first equity benchmarks based on economic, environmental and social criteria. It is interesting to see what this index family triggers. The more money it attracts and the more well-known it becomes, the more it influences the environmental and social behavior of companies. In fact, we are seeing a growing number of companies defining a listing on this index as one of their corporate objectives.”

“One of the most important insights for me from my PhD on ‘Social Change in Egypt in the 1990s’ was to become more aware about the impact of communication. Societies are influenced by the choice of topics brought into the public discussion and by the way these issues are discussed. It is in our daily interactions that we actually “create” reality. What we do and what we don’t do, what we say and what we don’t say, creates shared understandings and views within society. In a sense, this can now also be seen in the world of investing where a growing number of players start looking and talking about sustainability in a totally different way compared to the discourse five years ago.”

“The interesting thing about the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes is that they are based on a best-in-class approach. That means that companies have to be a clear leader in their industry in terms of sustainability to be listed in the index. We review these benchmarks on an annual basis. As a result, companies have to improve every year. The index has a real influence; there are even companies that connect executives’ bonuses to the membership in the index. The dynamics that this approach creates is fascinating.”

“Personally, I think that financial markets provide a strong lever to change the discussion away from the perception that sustainability lowers performance and to understand that integrating economic, environmental and social aspects into investing does make a lot of sense – also from a profit perspective.”

“An engagement for oikos and the resulting impact on business schools is a superb way to help the sustainability movement. In fact, next to financial markets, I believe teaching of management and economics is one of the key drivers to change perceptions significantly and to move ourselves towards a more sustainable economy.”

About the Council on Economic Policies (CEP)
CEP is an international nonprofit nonpartisan economic policy think tank for sustainability focused on fiscal, monetary and trade policy. The organization formulates and promotes economic policy solutions that strengthen individual opportunity, social cohesion and environmental stability. It pursues goals, not ideologies; believes in the effectiveness of markets as well as in the need for appropriate policy frameworks; and focuses on bold but pragmatic and concrete steps rather than grand redesigns.

About oikos:
oikos is an international nonprofit organization for sustainable economics and management that comprises chapters at faculties for management and economics around the world. The organization  embeds environmental and social perspectives in faculties for economics and management, transforms education and research, and thus empowers future leaders to drive change towards sustainability, It comprises a global network of students, faculty, alumni, advisors and partners, and works


Country: Switzerland

Type of Education: Master in Economics followed by a Ph.D. with the Institute of Sociology at the University of St Gallen.

Foundation Affiliation: oikos

Pathway to Impact: Path of Talent

Impact Area/s: Social Relations – Social cohesion, mutual respect, ability to help others

Organisation Type: Own unique role & environment

Facts & Figures:


Twitter: @abarkwai 

Connect with Alexander Barkawi: Facebook, Twitter.

About the author Helena Rosebery

After completing a Master of Communication (Food & Culture) from Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy, Helena Rosebery followed her heart to Zürich where she is inspired everyday by the resilience and greenness of her home-grown herbs. Helena employs words and coloured pencils to professionally communicate all that is – and is not – in the pursuit of a more ethical world.

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