Reece Proudfoot was committed to finding solutions to climate change. So he became a climate campaigner, focussing on advocating for change, and promoting a renewable future.
The only problem… it wasn’t working. Or as he says, “we weren’t winning”.
That was ten years ago, today Reece is Head of Innovation and Impact Investing at WWF. And while most of us recognise WWF as a ‘traditional’ charity, focussed on habitat conservation and biodiversity, Reece helped the organization to embrace impact investing.
Through Panda Labs they’ve funded a number of impact ventures that are not only providing services and engaging new audiences to the cause of conservation, they’re also helping WWF generate new forms of financial support, which is a challenge most charities are facing post-covid.
New Pathways to Impact
Reece’s background was in international development. He spent time in Tonga, working on business development and capacity building. He knew the challenges of climate change, and the outsize impacts it was having on developing nations in the Pacific.
When he returned to Australia, he joined WWF and he maintained his focus on climate change, but he began to see that the traditional advocacy/charity model just wasn’t cutting through.
Reece recognised that business was a powerful force, and that while some industries were fueling the problem, the power of business could be harnessed to drive positive change.
“We needed to be experimenting with new ways of creating the kind of impact at scale, and at the scale that we need.” Reece explained. “And so our innovation programme really came out of a need to experiment with new approaches to solving complex problems. And that could be climate change. It could be biodiversity, it could be food, food security, but essentially, it’s a willingness and an openness to experiment.”
Reece embraced the core assets of WWF: a rich heritage, deep networks, access to markets, and lots of problem-solving intellectual property. And he worked to find ways to integrate it with the new breed of impact ventures.
This saw the birth of Panda Labs, WWF’s innovation program that works to accelerate and amplify innovating technologies.
The first enterprise they launched was Open SC.
Open SC: Managing Supply Chain Impacts
WWF has been operating in Australia for over 40 years, and in that time they’ve worked on a lot of big, complex problems. The result, is a huge repository of ‘problem-solving IP’.
“NGOs as the custodians of problem-solving IP” Reece says.
But all that work also built powerful partnerships, and this would offer a valuable launching pad for getting cutting-edge ventures off the ground.
“We launched Open SC a few years ago in partnership with BCG Digital Ventures.” Reece says. “Open SC is all about making supply chains more sustainable, reducing friction in supply-chains, so you can create a quality product and charge a premium price.”
The company works with leading brands who have global supply-chains. It captures data on the source of a product, and how it was made, or harvested. Think fishing in legal waters, or logging operations.
Open SC captures the data and processes it on the blockchain. Other stakeholders then have access to the information; whether that be others along the supply-chain, or customers.
WWF know a lot about logistics and supply chains, it’s a big operation, and all that knowledge was brought into play. And when it was linked with the technological smarts of BCG, across blockchain and AI, and you have a very powerful combination.
“Essentially what we try and do with Panda Labs is look for opportunities to use what we call ‘WWFs superpowers’, and combine them with the superpowers of a partner organisation that has complementary skills and expertise, and can do more with WWFs IP than we can do on our own.” Reece says.
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Nurturing a startup is one thing, but impact is about people, and Panda Labs wanted to go further. Not only helping to fund businesses, but also building a community around them. Which is what Impactio is all about.
“We know that there’s plenty of capital out there. There’s plenty of investment dollars out there. We speak to investors, and they tell us this all the time. And what is really missing is a way of identifying impactful and trustworthy ventures to invest in.” Reece says.
“Impactio is an impact marketplace for connecting impactful ventures with subject matter experts that can help them be the best that they can possibly be before they’re put in front of funders and investors who ultimately help to bring them to life.”
The platform brings together people working on projects, investors, as well as contributors who want to pitch in. And with help from WWF’s global network, it’s a powerful proposition.
A recent challenge getting a lot of attention is called Innovate to Regenerate. The idea came in the wake of the bushfires in the summer of 2020. It sprang from the green shoots they were seeing in the community, with so many individuals to find ways to help and contribute.
But they didn’t dive in, prescribing a solution, instead they spent four months traveling around Australia, listening to people.
“We asked them what their vision for Australia would be in 10 years time. And what we heard was really quite amazing.” Reece says.
“Everyone was really, really craving for a return to a connection to place and to nature, and to cleaner, greener pastures. But also in making sure there were economic opportunities for local communities, and that young people weren’t leaving the regions. To restore social capital in communities around Australia, which had been so badly impacted by COVID.”
These stories culminated in the Innovate to Regenerate challenge, which is live on the website now.
But, it also saw Damon Gameau turn the stories into a short-film called ‘Regenerating Australia’. It paints a picture of a not too distant future, where the aspirations of today, turned into real positive change.
The film and the Impactio challenges, and all of the work WWF has been doing for decades, it all needs community support to survive. But now, there’s more ways than ever that we can get involved.
The full audio of the conversation, between Reece Proudfoot and John Treadgold, can be found on the Good Future podcast.