South Pole recently welcomed Gaëlle Bonnieux as a Director in our Climate Investments business line, where she will be focusing on creating a new forestry carbon fund. But this isn't her first time leveraging the power of impact investing. From the lessons learned working in the space to her own experience managing a small regenerative agriculture operation, Gaëlle shared her insights into how this brand new fund will unlock positive impact in communities that need it most.
Gaëlle, please tell us a bit about yourself and where you're coming from.
I was born and raised in Normandy, France, which is where I still call home today with my family, including two kids.
I started working in microfinance in 2007 as a consultant for a microfinance holding company and developed microfinance networks from scratch in emerging economies. It was a real eye-opener for me to see how amazing finance is as a tool to lift people out of poverty, and if you structure your products intelligently to mitigate risks, even if people are poor, you can lend to them without risking your bottom line. I also increasingly realised how much harder it is for people in rural or remote areas to access finance, and I wanted to be able go a step further to make sure tools were available for these people to lift themselves out of poverty, which is when I started to get involved in financial inclusion for agricultural SMEs. I later joined responsAbility Investments AG as an investment officer in the financial inclusion team and later participated in the creation of the company's first retail fund dedicated to agriculture investments. I built a team of 35 investment professionals managing close to 300 million USD of assets across 50 countries and commodities. It wasn't an easy task! But this experience helped to build a second fund in 2018.
South Pole prides itself on having boots on the ground as well as in the boardroom. If I'm not mistaken, you've also got direct agricultural experience of your own?
That's true. Together with my business partner Claire, we manage a 14 hectare farm in Normandy focused on regenerative agriculture practices. It started as two pieces of bare land: we started right from the beginning by sowing grass, planting trees and hedges, and creating a market garden to sell to the local community here in France. Since then we've diversified, with 1,200 chickens laying organic eggs, plenty of vegetables, horses, and some guest accommodation, too. We apply regenerative practices like rotational grazing, no-till farming, crop rotation and association, and agroforestry. We have planted 2,000 trees so far. And after three years, we have managed to store 0.4% additional organic matter in our soil, which aligns with the 4 per 1000 initiative.
Throughout all of it, our mission was to prove that you can have a woman-led farming business, you can pursue regenerative agriculture, you can be profitable, and that agriculture can be a climate solution. And to be honest, it's very similar to many of the people and communities I've seen on the ground pursuing women-led, environmentally-positive activities that only need a bit of finance to be wonderfully successful and to pull people out of poverty.
You've also got experience in the boardroom. How have your experiences on the farm and on the ground affected how you approach donors and financiers?
Having actually done on-the-ground work myself, I think it has given me a better understanding of risk. When you have your own farm, you are confronted with reality more than theory. Impact investors generally need information on specific criteria to determine risk, and they can get frustrated when all of the information isn't provided. But having been there and done it myself, it has given me a much better understanding of the reality on the ground and why information isn't always available. And this experience has proven valuable when I work with inventors to address their concerns.
And now, with South Pole, you'll be working on a new fund. Can you tell us more about that?
The new forestry carbon fund will pool resources from private and public players to invest in reforestation, assisted natural regeneration, and jurisdictional REDD+ projects. Assisted natural regeneration means the human protection and preservation of natural tree seedlings in forested areas, while jurisdictional approaches are a type of integrated landscape management with high levels of government involvement, leading to the comprehensive governance of forest and land use across entire political territories.
The objective of the fund is to remove 9 million tonnes of carbon by 2039, as well as to have strong co-benefit sharing in place. This will improve the livelihoods and resilience of local communities by providing some good sources of income; it will also improve biodiversity and hopefully also change some of the actual environmental characteristics of areas, like putting more moisture into the soil and enabling other productive activities for the communities.
The fund, which is global in scope, will start with an initial investment of US $100 million, which will be invested in the first five to six years in eleven projects already identified in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Contact us today on how to get involved in South Pole's new forestry carbon fund.