More than a decade ago, it began with an all-important realization. Rapid growth of the global economy has accelerated the degradation of the Earth’s most important asset: the environment. Persistent poverty around the world threatens the critical natural resource base while resulting climate change further exacerbates the planet’s delicate balance. The good news is, there is an emerging core of creative, passionate entrepreneurs who are working towards innovative market solutions to transform business to benefit local peoples while also preserving the land, forests and sea integral to ecological well-being.
Introducing EcoEnterprises Fund, led by Tammy E. Newmark and an all-women investment team, Michele Pena, Eugenia Villalobos, Nathalie Prado and Oksana Aguilar who have pioneered investing for success of the very businesses, which confront these issues head-on. Focused in Latin America, EcoEnterprises Fund provides venture financing and business advisory support to community-based businesses in expanding sectors such as organic agriculture, aquaculture, ecotourism, sustainable forestry, and non-timber forest products. These companies serve as models, paving the way to demonstrate that profitable returns, long-term sustainability of natural resources and creating local opportunities in rural areas helps address current environmental challenges.
Over 10 years, EcoEnterprises Fund invested in 23 small companies in 10 countries in Latin America. The businesses, first movers in the industry, offer a wide range of innovative products: from organic shrimp to organic spices, from Forest Stewardship Certified furniture to pesticide-free, biodynamic flowers, and delicious smoothies made from the acai palmberry. Collectively, these investments generated significant environmental and social impacts – 3,513 jobs created, partnerships with 293 community groups, cooperatives and/or local environmental organizations; and over 2 million acres of land directly conserved.
Newmark began on this path almost 30 years ago from her days on Wall Street with Chase. She with other women in finance established an informal networking group, “Women’s Work in Progress” to volunteer in burgeoning fields, such as microfinance and community lending. She credits these gatherings with setting her on her path today. And, notes with delight that she not surprisingly crosses paths with some of those same women in her field today. Since Chase, her work has taken her to Indonesia and Philippines to create groups championing investing in green businesses, including renewable energy, recycling and energy efficiency; both of which were then managed by local women led and to Africa and rural Oregon and Washington.
Newmark has seen an evolution in thinking and doing with growing interest by the next generation of investment and business professionals in the U.S., Europe and Latin America to bring about positive environmental and social impacts. As an educational tool in order to continue to champion these approaches and further mainstream the work, Newmark with Michele Pena recently published, Portfolio for the Planet: Lessons from 10 Years of Impact Investing, Earthscan/Routledge press. Reflecting on experience of EcoEnterprises Fund, the book is a combined how-to-manual and business case study, highlighting triumphs, defeats and industry trends.
With an office in Costa Rica, a country which is the vanguard of biodiversity protection, Newmark is joined by her colleagues as they continue to champion this unique investment niche. The pursuit is rare for finance professionals and additionally unusual to have a female investment management group leading the charge. The next EcoEnterprises Fund was recently launched in 2012. Joining The Nature Conservancy and the Inter-American Development Bank, partners since 1998, are European institutional investors, family foundations and private investors. The new fund builds on its legacy, scaling in size in order to bring greater economic, social and environmental benefits.
On this Earth Day, the mainstreaming of EcoEnterprises Fund and success of the sustainable companies in which it invests offers a glimmer of the possibilities when proactive and progressive change is brought about. Harnessing the power of capital markets, business and human enterprise to work together helps generate greater momentum to conserve and preserve the planet for future generations, and these women are leading the way.
Make a difference. Earth Day is Sunday, April 22. Find your local events.
Tammy E. Newmark, Fund Manager is a leader in the sustainable investment field, served as President, EcoEnterprises Fund for The Nature Conservancy for over 10 years. Under EcoEnterprises Capital Management, LLC, Newmark with Michele Pena has launched EcoEnterprises Partners II, LP. Newmark managed Technoserve, Inc.’s environmental business advisory services in Latin America and Africa.Prior to that, she was a founding officer of Environmental Enterprises Assistance Fund, the first nonprofit venture capital fund that specialized in renewable energy, clean technology, and green investments in emerging markets. She established investment groups: Yayasan Bina Usaha Lingkungan and Preferred Energy Investments in Indonesia and the Philippines, respectively. She has also worked for the International Finance Corporation and J.P. Morgan Chase. Newmark has an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Michele Pena, Chief Operating Officer joined EcoEnterprises Fund in 2001 and has served in senior positions as Director, Operations and Director, Business Development. Pena brought organizational management and marketing expertise from her 5 years as a Program Director at the Climate Institute, a nonprofit organization that facilitates dialogue regarding global climate change among scientists, policy makers, business executives and citizens. She has an MA from American University in Washington, D.C. Eugenia Villalobos Baldioceda, Vice President for Investment joined EcoEnterprises Fund over 10 years ago from Citibank Costa Rica where she worked as a Risk Officer in the Corporate Bank Division. Prior to that, she worked with Grupo Bursatil Aldesa, a brokerage firm in San Jose, Costa Rica as a Corporate Finance Project Analyst. Villalobos holds an MS in Industrial Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. She has passed the first level of the CFA certification program. Oksana Aguilar, Financial Controller worked for EcoEnterprises Fund from 2000 to 2005 as an Investment Monitoring Officer, Aguilar rejoins the team in this new capacity. Prior to this present position, she was Finance and Administration Director for the World Wildlife Fund’s Central America Program Office. She also has been a Finance Specialist at The Nature Conservancy and worked in the comptroller’s office for IUCN’s Mesoamerican Office. Aguilar holds an MBA with emphasis in banking and finance from the University of Costa Rica. Nathalie Prado, Investment Officer rejoins the investment team after several years at Root Capital. She served as a loan officer for Central America at Root Capital, leading investment activities in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Haiti. She increased her portfolio over 50 percent during her tenure to $17 million, including Root’s first deal in Haiti. At EcoEnterprises Fund, Prado worked as a monitoring officer, undertaking post-investment field visits and managing several deal workouts and exits. She holds a bachelor degree in Business from Universidad Internacional de las Americas and she is finishing her Licenciate degree in Finance from Universidad Latina.