In another episode of Conservation Conversations, Peace Parks Foundation’s Communication Coordinator, Lésa van Rooyen sits down with Victoria Leggett, Head of Impact at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP), a private bank and wealth management firm headquartered in Geneva, and Colin Porteous, Peace Parks’ Chief Investment Officer, to discuss how and why one of Switzerland’s largest private banks and one of southern Africa’s largest conservation organisation, developed an unique partnership.
So, the question on everyone’s lips, is what is the nature of this relationship and how did it come about? As Colin explains, he was tasked with capacitating the new Innovative Conservation Finance Division within Peace Parks, with a mandate to look for revenue that goes beyond donor funding. After being introduced to Victoria, who was ultimately looking to get UBP involved in something similar from a financial point of view, multiple discussions ensued, and the Biodiversity Restoration Fund was born.
The fund is a listed equity portfolio which invests in companies that are listed on the stock markets across the globe. In essence, it is about finding profitable solutions to specific problems and putting capital behind innovative companies. It looks at whether regulation supports themes like biodiversity, for example the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy which aims to eliminate pesticides used in the food system, and the clean-up campaign of harmful PFAS chemicals in the United States. PFAS chemicals are made up of an extremely strong bond of fluorine and carbon molecules, which makes it difficult for these chemicals to disintegrate in both the environment and our bodies. It essentially marries top-down support with bottom-up interest and looks to create opportunity around biodiversity restoration.
But what is biodiversity and how can it be defined? Colin explains that biodiversity is looked at in three ways – the abundance of species, the variety of species and the connectedness of landscapes. It can be hard to measure biodiversity, but by combining the practical expertise of Peace Parks who is able to demonstrate biodiversity gains on the ground and academic-based testing methods and policy-making skills from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, the third partner in this fund, UBP can then come in with their financial expertise, creating a unique trifecta.
As explained by Victoria, UBP charges a management fee for running the listed equity fund and generating positive returns on behalf of their clients, and out of that management fee, a portion is carved out which can go directly to Peace Parks Foundation, or a combination of Peace Parks and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. This moves away from the typical donation-funded conservation model, and utilises financial markets to fund conservation, at no extra cost to the client.