From Refugee To Venture Capitalist To Social Impact Pioneer

Called by the British press a “compassionate capitalist,” “sophisticated and urbane,” and “a man of intellectual distinction,” Sir Ronald Cohen is a trim 72 with wavy white hair, dark eyebrows and an inspiring eloquence that reflects deep thought in the industries and systems around which he orbits — venture capital and impact investing.  

Though Cohen strikes one as a veritable English nobleman of our times — he was schooled at Oxford, knighted in 2001 and has been dubbed the Father of Venture Capital in the U.K. — his backstory is anything but predictable. Born in Egypt, Cohen and his family fled the country on the heels of the 1950s Suez Canal Crisis when he was 11 years old.

Sir Ronald Cohen standing in the Ford Foundation offices in New York City

“It became very difficult to be Jewish in Egypt, because there was an identification of being [tied to] Israel,” said Cohen.

With his boyhood collection of Egyptian stamps gripped at his side and only a few Egyptian pounds in his parents’ pockets, the family settled in England, where his mother had citizenship.

Despite Cohen not yet speaking English, his father enrolled him in a London grammar school and promised the headmaster that, given the opportunity, his son would be top of the class.

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