What inspired you to start The Ground_Up Project?
In 2011, I travelled to Suriname with my friend Jennifer Baarn. We drove across the country looking for people who were doing extraordinary things creating jobs by protecting the environment. We found ecolodges, conservation projects, sustainable agriculture projects, responsible mining projects, all small and medium-sized and quite far apart from each other. I was struck by how many green entrepreneurs there were, how similar their entrepreneurial approaches were, and by how savvy these entrepreneurs were at working hand-in-hand with the natural environment to create sustainable businesses.
We helped advise and took note of their requests – funding, advice on operations, media & communication and continued to think about how to help these entrepreneurs long after we had left the country. I then went on to set up a program that helped the Kenyan, Mexican and the Vietnamese governments each attract funding for green industries and agriculture, while at the World Economic Forum and supported by the G20. In these countries too, as in many others, there was such richness of small enterprises that combine economic and financial returns with community and environmental gains. It became clear to me that transformation at scale would only be possible if we could support the largest majority of enterprises to do the right thing to conserve, save and recycle resources, and to preserve and improve the environment. Taken singularly, these projects are very hard to find and too hard to “sell” to investors. Their shared characteristics however, and the fact that they are connected – via mobile or the internet – means there is a huge potential to make them visible to those who have the money or the technologies that they need to grow. It was only a small step and large leap of faith from this realization to the creation of The Ground_Up Project.
What are the guiding principles for The Ground_Up Project?
We want to be the best at finding green enterprises, curating that information and making it relevant to investors. Our aim is to significantly increase the deal flow for equity and seed investment, asset management, impact investment, crowdfunding, governmental and philanthropic funding, all those whose market is the huge array of small and medium-sized enterprises, globally.
We look for opportunities; where others see limited choice, we see huge potential to partner with organisations that work on the ground to incubate green enterprises. By working in partnership, we create value not just for our shareholders and our customers, but we expand the value chain by allowing others to generate more value, faster. The planet is at a crossroads and time is ticking, to protect resources for ourselves and for future generations. We must mobilize the largest numbers and so beyond the strategic partnership approach we work through campaigning approaches, social media and digital marketing to reach wide and far.
What one word do you want to own in the minds of your customers, team and partners?
Purpose. 21st century entrepreneurship has purpose beyond profit.
What is your leadership style?
I would say “inclusive” best describes my style. But you would have to ask our team – and I’m very proud of our highly professional, smart-working and purposeful team – our all-star mentors, partners and our great number of smart, committed and enthusiastic volunteers. I run the ship, but everyone onboard is creating our company and pushing us forward.
Why is the Ground_Up Project relevant? How will it be relevant five years from now? Ten years from now?
Firstly, the sheer scale of the opportunity. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the largest numbers of enterprises in any economy around the world. In some countries they even comprise 90-95% of enterprises and provide 70% of employment. Around the world, there are about 250M SMEs and they are a huge source of innovation.
Secondly, the networks and the culture of collaboration across the private and the public sectors. In an interconnected world, a world of big and fast data, comparing and benchmarking are the norm. There are many organisations working to make SMEs “investor-ready”, there are large and effective capacity building programs.
Thirdly, the investor outlook. Up to $1Tr will be directed towards impact investment by 2020. And it has already started. Last year, for example, for the first time there was more investment in renewable energy than in conventional energy, and distributed energy has never sold better. There is an impressive number of climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture and agroforestry funds that are being opened. These trends will only continue to grow and those who have taken the chance today will be the front runners a decade from now.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Complexity. We live in rapidly changing economic, geo-political and environmental circumstances. The flow of information has never been faster and denser and society changes faster with every generation. In such circumstances, it is easy to withdraw behind short-termism and short-sightedness. I see complexity as an ally. If things are changing fast, then it means that by choosing the right drivers and mobilizing individuals as well as enterprises and other forms of associations, we can ride the wave of fast change and enable the positive environmental transformations that we need. And that can only be done through collaborations, by working outside the box if you allow the paraphrase.
Projecting forward 25 years: What will you be most proud of?
A lot can change in 25 years! I believe that all we have is the present moment, every moment. If we can keep mindful, connected, care for our planet as the only source of life and wealth we have and do our best to give meaning to our work, we’ll all do well for many years.
What are your passions outside of work?
My work is my passion. Whoever said working on something you love doesn’t feel like working was right. Other than The Ground_Up Project though, I love photography. I enjoy travelling and street photography has become my passion in recent years. I have an ongoing project photographing the people of Langa, a township of Cape Town where I hope to go visit again this summer and I have just wrapped up a 3-year project photographing the mystical Processions of the Mysteries that take place each year at Easter, in Sicily. There is a space now for a new project to come my way. I’m excited to see what the next few months might bring.
Brindusa Fidanza is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Ground_Up Project, a fintech platform for small environmental impact projects.
She is also the Founder of the Ground_Up Centre for green entrepreneurship. Previously, she was Associate Director, Climate Change Initiatives and Global Leadership Fellow at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. In 2012-2013, she designed and deployed the country program of the Green Growth Action Alliance, working with developing country governments in several regions to attract public and private investments into clean energy, energy efficiency and climate-smart agriculture. She was a facilitator of the Task Force on Low-Carbon Prosperity that reported to the UK G20 presidency in 2009. Previously, Brindusa worked in corporate affairs for the international private sector and in governmental capacity building in the think tank and international organizations.
An alumna of the Graduate Institute in Switzerland, Brindusa is an amateur photographer and founded of The Art Corner project. She lives (and thrives) between the lake and the mountains, in Geneva, Switzerland.