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When Nafida Bendali is not facing an opponent in a fencing match, she’s helping defeat disease around the world. Bendali is head of investor relations for one of the world’s largest healthcare life-sciences investment funds. With a passion for both science and finance, Bendali works towards securing investment for the medical advances that she believes will make a difference.
“There are still a lot of diseases that we are not optimally treating. There’s huge room for improvements in our treatments for cancer, orphan disease, neurodegenerative and diseases such as Parkinson’s,” Bendali said in an interview in Switzerland.
Bendali started her career as a neuroscientist before moving to internal auditing at Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. She then immersed herself in company finance and spent the next eight years of her career working in investor relations at Novartis.
Eager to deepen her understanding of the investor side of the pharmaceutical world, however, Bendali joined a Swiss healthcare dedicated venture capital firm in 2007. There she was involved with initial public offerings, placing shares and making investment decisions.
Always an entrepreneur at heart, she set up her own company, BENDALI Consulting, in Zurich in 2010.
As a private consultant, Bendali did a lot of work for the Oman government and advised on other non-health related projects, before deciding that healthcare was her long term love.
“I realized my true passion is in the healthcare sector. I missed using my science background to explain the industry to investors. Now I am in a good place, I have experience as an independent consultant and understand the complexities in attracting the right investors,” she says.
Bendali enjoys the opportunity to manage investor expectations, answer questions and explain changes in the sector. She strives to get investment for companies where she feels the management has a good mix of entrepreneurship and science. Bendali is pleased to be in Switzerland as it is a center for healthcare, with expanding areas such as the Lausanne Innovation Park and Zürich Technopark. She notes that while it’s great to be at the heart of health innovations in Switzerland it’s important healthcare ideas are shared worldwide. Bendali believes that there should be more Internet platforms where scientific information can be exchanged. She reads widely on a daily basis, keeping abreast of everything from World Health Organization material on infectious diseases such as Ebola, to university research and various health-based websites, keeping herself informed about the latest scientific developments.
“There are a lot of diseases that are not being well treated or properly managed, such as diabetes, obesity and endometriosis… Life-science is outpacing the world index – people are living longer and we have many new types of stress-related and lifestyle illness to treat now,” Bendali said.
If Bendali is not fighting for improvements to the medical world, she is fencing. She learnt the sport as a child in France
She has also studied History of Art — in her spare time — at the Sorbonne in Paris. She is a great art lover, visiting different galleries all over Europe: the Van Gogh museum in the Netherlands, the Louvre in Paris and the Tate in London.
Once a month, Bendali enjoys a social gathering called, “brainstorming while cooking”: a meeting with friends, where an idea is selected for debate. The topic is discussed while they prepare the food and enjoy wine. Bendali likes French and Italian red wines, with Chateau Margaux from Bordeaux being her favorite. She also enjoys the lesser known Joseph Perrier Champagne, and more famous brands, Laurent Perrier Rose and Taittinger.
The famous poem “My Boy Jack”, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1916 about the death of his son, is one of Bendali’s favorites. “I like this poem because it reminds you that you can lose everything in a day and then reconstruct everything tomorrow. It also tells you to always be humble, and simple,” Bendali says. Although Bendali speaks German, Arabic and English she reads most in her mother tongue, French. The first book she ever read was Crime and Punishment by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was given to her by her older brother when she was only 15. She is also inspired by the novels of Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer, intellectual, philosopher, political activist and feminist. Bendali is a big fan of all types of cinema, particularly movies from other cultures, such as Chinese and Bollywood films, or true stories and historical films. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and “Magic in the Moonlight” are films that she’s liked a lot recently.
When asked about the future, Bendali says she doesn’t rule out eventually having her own company in the healthcare space. If she launches one, it will be in an emerging market, and Russia is one of the places in which she is particularly interested. Countries that have learnt the lessons of past crises are likely to continue performing well and overcome challenges, she says, and emerging markets offer the best prospects for strong long-term economic growth.
Bendali has a great admiration for Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who promotes women’s advancement in the workplace. “Empowering women is not only the right thing to do — it makes economic sense. Women’s participation in the labour force still lags men’s by 12% even in developed economies. In the Middle East and North African region it can be up to 50%. That is a wasted resource.” Bendali says.
Only time can tell how the market will affect Bendali and her future decisions but one thing is for sure: she will continue to have an impact.
Photos: personal collection