Both Africa’s entrepreneurs and global financiers are increasingly aware that investing in conservation gives economic as well as ecological returns, our CEO DR MAX GRAHAM found when he took part in a recent conference in Rwanda
Sometimes the meetings that the global conservation sector holds for itself can feel a little like talking into the mirror.
We all attend, we make our points to our peers, there is agreement – or, occasionally, ferocious disagreement – and then we head home after pledging to redouble our efforts while decrying the lack of funding we need to reach our goals.
But it was very different looking around the hall during the ‘Business of Conservation’ event that the African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation recently hosted in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
In that room were conservationists, yes. But we were hugely outnumbered by no-nonsense C-suite execs from Africa’s big businesses, keen teams from household-name family foundations, and sharp young entrepreneurs looking for paths to prosperity. Not your usual cast of characters at these sorts of events.
To my mind, something’s in the air when you’ve got people turning up like the Oppenheimers, or Danish retail giant Bestseller, or China’s richest man Jack Ma, or representatives of US hedge fund and tourism investment titan Paul Tudor-Jones.
These are people interested only in serious long-term value investment. And where do we find them today? At a conference on conservation in Africa.
This is a great sign of the growing confidence that this is a sector that’s going to be generating real value, both economically and ecologically, perhaps not in five or 10 years, but in 20 or 30.
That’s why these family foundations were at the Rwanda event. And why were Africa’s young entrepreneurial start-up set there? Because, as ever, they’re ahead of the curve.
They’re in on the secret that the perception of wildlife conservation as the indulgence of the privileged that comes at the expense of Africa’s development is a view that’s seriously outdated.
Tourism is the world’s fastest-growing business. In Africa now and I’m sure well into the future, tourism means protected wild habitats both on land and under the sea just off shore. Protect those assets, and they’ll be geese laying golden eggs for generations more.
Renewable energy investment is soaring, too, driven by the realisation that climates are already changing, and action to slow it is required everywhere, including Africa. That action can earn financial as well as planetary profit.
Associated enterprises like training and career development, or business support services, can all expect a growing slice of this growing pie.
That’s why those entrepreneurs were there. They know that conservation is taking its rightful place as an industry alongside any other in their countries – manufacturing, agriculture, horticulture – and they’re smart enough to want in on the ground floor.
Think I’m stretching facts? What about this: by the end of that two-day conference, something like $600 million had been pledged for new enterprises focused on protecting habitats, renewable energy, conservation-compatible tourism, and environmental career development.
What hugely helped the event’s success was that it was hosted by the African Leadership University, the brainchild of the astonishingly smart Fred Swaniker. If you don’t yet know that name, you will soon enough.
He’s a Ghanaian entrepreneur and leadership development expert, an alumni of McKinsey and Company and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business who’s launched four organisations that aim to develop leaders, primarily in Africa. He founded the African Leadership Academy. I was honoured to lend him a hand putting his conference together, to give an address, and lead a panel there.
What does this mean for Space for Giants, and our Giants Club? It means that the points we’ve been raising from the get go are starting to spread and be heard in some very impressive circles.
Our work, and especially the Giants Club, has always been about identifying the value in conservation, protecting that value so it lasts, and attracting capital to fund its growth. It’s gratifying that more and more people are joining us.
That’s what the African Leadership University conference highlighted: the increasing appetite of business and philanthropy for a business-focused solution to conservation, and for the private sector to be involved in commoditising nature to generate value.
It wasn’t just the recognition that this is important. It was the appetite to make that happen. That reinforces Space for Giants’ objectives and goals as an organisation and shows that we’re heading in the right direction. It also presents an opportunity for us because it widens the circle of people we interact with, whose work we can support, and who can support our work.
We’re really excited about this, and will keep you updated as our conversations in this space continue, and our work accelerates because of those new synergies we’re starting to identify.
- Dr Max Graham is Founder and CEO of Space for Giants