What was your first job?
Apart from the pocket-money banked from household chores, my first ‘real’ job was working in the kitchen at a global fast-food chain. I must admit it gave me a great grounding in teamwork, food safety, working under pressure and from a sustainability perspective, waste!
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
I was approaching the end of my undergraduate studies and didn’t really have a firm grasp on what I wanted to do. During a final semester lecture we were fortunate to be joined by the Head of Agribusiness for a major bank. His discussion on food production and the role of finance was intriguing.
Following the lecture I had some time to chat with him one-on-one and he suggested I apply for their graduate program. I somehow got through the selection process and was given a position at a regional bank branch working in Agribusiness.
When did you first discover the concept of impact investing?
Perhaps I am a late comer? My first clear memory of hearing the term ‘impact investing’ was around 2014 during my time working at BCorp – Silverchef. The Founder, Allan English gave a presentation where he discussed involvement in start-up ‘Who Gives a Crap’. While that brand name is well known to most of us now, at the time it was an unknown to me and most staff. The concept also seemed somewhat foreign, i.e. sell toilet paper to create positive health impacts. I had a grasp on CSR, microfinance and philanthropy but this was something different.
Fast forward another 18-months and I was fortunate to meet Danny Almagor along with some of the other staff at Impact Investment Group while volunteering. This chance encounter provided me with further insights into just how significant Impact Investing was at a global scale.
What’s one exciting research development you and your team have in the pipeline?
It is always a busy time at RIAA with so many interesting research themes. I am excited about the establishment of RIAA’s Nature Working Group, as nature has always been a passion of mine. While the research program is only just getting under-way, I am involved in the sub-group with a stated aim of activating investment opportunities.
Opportunities in environmental markets and services continue to grow. Just look at the likes of Climate Asset Management, Tasman Environmental Markets, Eco-Markets Australia, NatureCo and Xpansiv, to name but a few. There is also increasing interest from larger corporates (some who are heavy emitters) in acquiring nature-based solutions, an example being the 2020 acquisition of Australian carbon farming project developer Select Carbon by Shell.
Globally there is the advent of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), with a beta framework launch planned in 2022. Nature research is also coalescing alongside climate, sometimes referred to as the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. It’s an acknowledgment that we live in a complex planetary system and we need to consider the implications of these interactions.
So in short, nature is a focus and I look forward to contributing to the research and development of local opportunities alongside other Nature Working Group members.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
My Masters thesis was on Blue Carbon investment and I continue to keep a close eye on developments. These Blue Carbon ecosystems are crucial to conserve and protect, providing a myriad of co-benefits. The Blue Bonds for Nature project ticks a few impact boxes for me personally. It is also great to see large investors interested in the blue carbon space.
Alongside private investment, in 2021 the Australian Government has also committed to AUD $100M in funding for ocean protection. Roughly one third of this funding is allocated to practical action to restore and account for blue carbon ecosystems.
Looking forward to this coming year in our region, the Fiji government has indicated an intention to issue a Sovereign Blue Bond in 2022.
Name one high impact company (globally) that has caught your eye?
Tough question. Agriculture and the food/nature/climate nexus is another passion and there are some amazing start-ups and SMEs operating in this space across a range of impact themes. The RIAA Certification program is also seeing increasing investor interest in relation ESG themes such as emissions, animal welfare, biodiversity and deforestation in food supply chains. After all, in a changing climate what could be more important than food security, nature positive outcomes and solutions to climate change. Agriculture provides opportunities for impact across the spectrum.
In Australia, Sea Forest is developing farm animal feed from seaweed (Asparagopsis) and that caught my eye. The aim is to reduce GHG emissions from ruminant livestock through a feed supplement. I came across the concept some time back and Australia is a world leader in this space so it is great to see companies such as Sea Forest start to garner increasing interest from investors. I also follow the developments of Sarah Nolet and Matthew Pryor at agrifood tech VC – Tenacious Ventures closely.
Globally I note increasing interest in companies involved in the development of bio-stimulants which are aimed at reducing or replacing the use of synthetic fertilizers in agriculture, so that is a space to watch.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
In future I envisage an increasing standardisation of impact measurement. This will likely have pros and cons given the complexity and nuance of impact investing themes.
I’d like to see increasing interdisciplinarity in impact investing. There is such rich and diverse knowledge to transfer that it is important for investors work alongside scientists, policy specialists and NGOs for instance. I am also a fundamental believer in operating within safe planetary boundaries. The Principles of Doughnut Economics provides a framework for thinking about investing for impact within safe ecological and social limits. We are already seeing Doughnut cities emerge, such as Amsterdam.
Finally I’d like to see a level of equity baked into impact investing approaches ensuring impact investing initiatives are also directed towards developing and first nations contexts. The wealth of cultural knowledge within these communities will be crucial in creating positive real-world impact. The negative impacts of climate change are also likely to have the most profound consequences in such contexts and this is where investors can play a crucial role with profound positive impact.