One family office's approach to conservation finance in Africa

Kathaka is a single-family office deploying capital and strategic resources into investment and philanthropic endeavours, but Caroline Rupert, its founder and chairwoman, says the name has a deeper meaning—Kathaka in Sanskrit means, ‘One who tells a story’.
By Lamia Irfan

Kathaka is a single-family office deploying capital and strategic resources into investment and philanthropic endeavours, but Caroline Rupert, its founder and chairwoman, says the name has a deeper meaning—Kathaka in Sanskrit means, ‘One who tells a story’.

“Looking at the venture community (founders in our portfolio businesses for example) or at the work we do with Peace Parks, in both worlds storytelling and narrative is critical to properly engage and invest your stakeholders in what you are doing and in the goals you are seeking to achieve and to keeping people engaged for the duration,” Rupert said.

“I have always believed in the power of telling stories; storytelling speaks to a world of possibility and imagination; it allows us to experience the world from the perspective of others. Being able to relate to and believe in a founder’s vision is at the essence of what we do.”

Caroline Rupert is the founder and chairwoman of the family office Kathaka.Rupert’s family office has enabled her to expand the reach of her work in venture investing and to expand her capacity for philanthropic endeavours.

“I set up the family office to institutionalise [my investment due diligence and reporting structures] and to build capacity in a more holistic way, so that I could take on more endeavours and be more ambitious. Initially, I limited myself in what I would do because I didn’t have the bandwidth but setting up the family office and bringing in really brilliant people has allowed me to do so much more.”

Kathaka’s philanthropic work focuses on supporting Peace Parks Foundation in Africa. Peace Parks Foundation was founded in 1997 by Rupert’s grandfather, Dr Anton Rupert, President Nelson Mandela and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (pictured). Peace Parks mission statement is “to re-establish, renew, and preserve large functional ecosystems that transcend man-made boundaries—thereby protecting and regenerating natural and cultural heritage vital to enabling and sustaining a harmonious future for man and the natural world.”

Rupert said her grandfather founded WWF (World Wildlife Fund) South Africa.

“From the 1950s, the core principle of his philosophy was co-existence between man and man, extended a decade later to include the co-existence between man and nature. This belief in the golden thread of coexistence and partnership led him to facilitate the creation of transboundary conservation areas between Sub-Saharan African countries.”

Covering 100 million hectares—roughly the size of France and Germany—the sheer scale of Peace Parks makes it a truly outstanding endeavour. For Rupert, this huge undertaking is a way of honouring her grandfather and the close bond she shared with him.

“When my grandfather was reaching the end of his life, he recognised that his greatest contribution would be in the form of Peace Parks and he wanted it to be a mantle that was taken on by future generations. He asked me, when I was about 20, if I would take on the Peace Parks mantle in the future. This was a wonderful responsibility to be given.”

Caroline Rupert’s grandfather took a personal interest in imparting his values and wisdom on to her to prepare her for the role of being his successor.

“There are intergenerational learnings that one gains. I started going to his office and he would instil upon me his principles and life learnings that he hoped I would take on.”

As a result, Rupert took up the responsibility of carrying on his mission.

“Our mission has always been based on four tenets, the four C’s. It is ‘Commitment’, which is engaging with governments and communities to secure protected land. ‘Conservation’ at scale, which is the habitat restoration of entire ecosystems. ‘Commercialisation’ development to make the parks sustainable and ‘Communities’, to unlock the benefits of the park.”

Rupert and her family office are able to help bring a wider range of stakeholders into the Peace Parks ecosystem and additional skillsets to complement the goals of the organisation.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to bring our wider office network to help Peace Parks—exposing a wider array of partners to the work Peace Parks is doing helps to open a new gambit of financing opportunities. Having the expertise to harness these contacts and join the dots between the private sector and NGO worlds is a very important bridge the office is able to build.”

While donations play an important role in running Peace Parks, there are additional revenue streams that can be mobilised through other projects in and around the parks.

“I think grants and donations will always be our core means of funding. Many of these grants are from government organisations and institutions which reflect trust built up over decades, alongside the trust and partnerships established with local communities and government.”

While donations play an important role in running Peace Parks, there are also independent revenue streams that are generated through the work done on the ground.

“We are always looking at ways to enable the parks to become sustainable and to translate benefits back to the local communities. This can be through tourism, carbon credits and other innovative financing structures we are trying to initiate.”

Peace Parks has projects that include re-wilding initiatives, a wildlife crime unit, a zoonotic veterinary research centre, colleges for tourism and wildlife, as well as training programmes to preserve traditional skills, such as animal tracking and herding. Just measuring and recording Peace Parks’ strategic aims is a considerable mission.

“Peace Parks is very good at measuring impact. A key component of impact measurement is our Geographical Information Systems (GIS). This helps us to create maps and databases, which we use for predictive modelling. We look at a whole range of things from increasing species to carbon sequestration. It’s very detailed. For example, we go into areas and measure the size of every single tree in multiple sampling blocks and extrapolate the data so that we know exactly how much sequestration is happening over vast stands of indigenous forests.”

The monitoring and measurement work done is also used to address donors’ measurements requirements.

“We’re constantly doing evaluation work for our partners, who have different sets of goals they want to see achieved. We are able to tailor the reporting of our impact to ensure every partner is properly updated on those elements of our work that matters most to them.”

Peace Parks has achieved outstanding success in helping support adjacent communities and preserve ecosystems.

“It’s been wonderful to see the evolution of certain parks over the years and the transition from being paper parks to becoming really viable landscapes with teeming wildlife, which are now visibly biodiverse and have been restored. For example, in Maputo Special Reserve (MSR) in Mozambique we have successfully introduced 4,964 game animals and 11 new species—all of which used to occur in MSR but became locally extinct during the civil war.

"When Peace Parks started supporting the development of MSR in 2008, there were only three species left, namely elephant, red duiker, and reedbuck. We now estimate that MSR currently has somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 game animals, including about 480 elephants.”

Peace Parks is seeking to build even stronger bonds with private sector partners—including impact investors, large corporates, and banks focused on improving their sustainability credentials as well as other like-minded family offices. Kathaka is seeking to use its expertise and networks to help Peace Parks develop and expand its range of partnerships.

“David Blood [of Generation Investment Management] made the point to us that family offices have both the opportunity and responsibility to pioneer change. They can do this by taking risks and exploring ventures that larger institutional capital is less able to pursue with the same flexibility and speed. I found that very inspirational advice: to be able to be innovative and be a first-mover in laying down groundwork for other capital to hopefully follow.”

Rupert also feels that her and her family’s longstanding relationships with other like-minded families and family offices creates a strong network to support Kathaka and Peace Parks.

“The privilege I’ve had is that a lot of the family offices with an established and longstanding track record in conservation are a generation or two before mine. So, I have the benefit of being able to talk to real thought leaders who have given support and guidance.”

Through her work, Caroline Rupert hopes to inspire others in the conservation finance space.

Kathaka’s strategic support for Peace Parks has helped enable the creation of a dedicated Innovative Financing Division within the organisation.

“If we help create a new and innovative financing model that benefits conservation, we’re not proprietary about it. We hope it’s imitated. The idea is that if something we try is successful, other organisations should be able to replicate it. This is about inclusively solving a problem and bringing as many people as possible into that solution.”

For Rupert, the two aspects of her business, venture capital and strategic philanthropy, work seamlessly together.

“We try to look at problems holistically and see the interconnectivity between things. We spend a lot of time working through potential investment opportunities on the venture side. We also spend time talking with institutions, agencies, and other principals of family offices about the work we do in conservation. These two things don’t need to be binary, often there is interconnectivity to draw on each to help the other.”

Rupert’s family office has created a strong set of values and ESG considerations which form part of all decision-making, particularly for investments.

“We want the office to be reflective of our values. There are certain things we have deliberately excluded from our investment mandate, even if they might be financially very interesting.

Interestingly, where capital is fungible, the fact that we have strong ESG and ethical values is an important consideration for a lot of the founders we back too.”

Crafting meaningful partnerships is key to Caroline Rupert and something that has been instilled in her by her family. She brought the same ethos to her own family office and hopes to pass this value onto her own family.

“There is a trust and loyalty intrinsic to what we do as a family business. Whether it is the companies we invest in or the investors in the larger company. There has always been an understanding that we work for them and we want them to do well out of it. That translates into what we do as a family office as well. I would like that trust, loyalty, and respect to continue.”

Discover more insights in the new Investing for Global Impact: A Power for Good 2021 report by Campden Wealth with GIST Global Impact Solutions Today and Barclays Private Bank.

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