Going global

Growing up in Herefordshire in the UK, Hannah Brooke spent many happy days walking the hills with her grandparents in the Welsh Borders, developing an early love for the natural world. Later studying environmental geography, she researched consumer motivations behind food purchasing and sustainability in different retail settings.

“I realised what a huge part our emotions play in shaping the choices we make, and that to be successful, any attempt to influence behaviour and create a sustainable food sector has to meet emotional needs as well as adapt to particular social and cultural contexts.”

Now based in Nairobi with the Capitals Coalition as regional lead for Africa, Hannah is an advocate for the integration of natural and social capitals in business decision-making, and helping to bring wider international perspectives to ‘capitals’ thinking.

In Africa, even though many companies are small, or in primary sectors which aren’t consumer-facing, many are also keenly aware of environmental and social challenges even if they don’t label them as ‘sustainability’. The global Capitals community has a lot to learn from this, and hopefully we can offer an accessible framework for African companies which allows them to contextualise and communicate their efforts. We’re in the starting blocks but the opportunities are immense.

Virtually inclusive

Aiming to expand the global conversation around natural capital, the Capitals Coalition decided to build on its previous World Forum events in Edinburgh with a first-ever regional event in Africa for 2020. Choosing Uganda as the host, a country whose National Development Plan frames natural capital as underpinning livelihoods and well-being, felt full of promise – but in the final stages of planning, the COVID-19 pandemic broke.

“We had to make a snap decision about whether to cancel or do something different. We knew there was a great opportunity for the Forum to bring together the policy and business communities in Africa, so we decided to take a leap of faith and go virtual.”

It was the right decision. Instead of the anticipated 200 participants meeting for two days, what became the African Forum on Green Economy attracted nearly 900, more than half of whom came from 37 different African countries. Addressing a different topic every fortnight, from agriculture and water to finance and data, through an extended webinar series from May to July, it was a truly diverse event.

“Delivering the Forum online was such a leveller. I’m really proud that more than two thirds of our speakers were African and a third were women. A lot of our intended higher profile speakers were unavailable because of the demands of managing COVID, so we took the opportunity to swap Board level for more on-the-ground practitioner perspective. It meant we had a more diverse, practical. And removing travel costs was liberating. It allowed us to be much more inclusive, and meant we could find the best speakers for each topic without the financial barriers to participation.”

Compelling all-African stories covered topics ranging from a payment for ecosystem services scheme involving local farmers in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha region, to how natural capital modelling is being used in Senegal’s Saloum Delta to value ecosystem services and assess the impacts of different development options. Several participants joined from their project sites, with one Ugandan speaker presenting from a tent using Wi-Fi from a local hotel!

Making waves

The Forum has helped nurture an emerging community of practice around natural capital, which is now seeing some high-level engagement from international organisations and governments.

“Rather than being just another talk shop, we wanted the Forum to inspire practical action and have a multiplier effect, for people to participate and connect, and then go and do something fantastic on their own.”

One promising outcome from the Forum is the formation of an African Business Working Group on natural capital. Connecting with the World Bank-led Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) partnership, this will bring an African business voice into the World Bank public policy conversation – an important step in breaking down sector silos in the natural capital debate in Africa.

Elsewhere, the Coalition is working with civil society organisations to integrate natural capital thinking into COVID-19 recovery plans, and developing pilot projects to demonstrate how public and private sectors can collaborate in sharing data and information on natural capital. The African Development Bank, for example, is exploring natural capital in the context of development finance as a means of identifying investment risks within its portfolio.

Communities, civil society organisations and companies are starting to come together across landscapes and across sectors to collaborate on capitals thinking and resource stewardship. The Capitals Coalition is offering businesses and governments pursuing social purpose and sustainability the tools to engage. Now it’s about getting to critical mass.

How does Hannah contribute to MAVA's mission?

Find out more about how Hannah and the Capitals Coalition are contributing to our action plan on integrating natural capital into green economy planning.

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