Nathalie was part of the very first Fellowship cohort in 2009, called iCats program at the time. Ever since her Fellowship at Escuela Nueva in Colombia she has pursued a career in the impact and philanthropy space. In this Spotlight interview she shares some of the highlights of her impressive career and how the Fellowship has triggered her path.
In the Alumni Spotlight series, we dive deep into past Fellows’ experiences and learnings from their Fellowship, and their career trajectories since then.
Q: Looking at your profile as Fellowship organizers, it really puts a smile on our face. You have spent four years at major consulting companies prior to the Fellowship and have never left the social/environmental impact space ever since your Fellowship. Have you always known that you want to work in this domain or has the passion truly sparked during your Fellowship?
No, I haven’t always known that. At the time I was working as a Consultant at Bain & Company and I was considering to take some time out. However, I didn’t want to pursue an MBA and oblige myself to return to the company, but instead I was striving to do something more meaningful. Back then philanthropy and impact investing didn’t really exist and so I started reading a book by Joanna and Wolfgang Hafenmayer (“Die Zukunftsmacher”), portraying entrepreneurs how they generate social impact. I got extremely inspired and knew that this was a direction I wanted to take. One thing led to another, and I got in touch with the founding team of LGT Venture Philanthropy, who offered me a Fellowship placement in Colombia with the idea to take me on board permanently thereafter. During my Fellowship I have seen how entrepreneurs achieve impressive positive impact with very little means and from that moment on I knew that I never wanted to invest working hours again without having a meaningful impact.
Q: You conducted your LGT Impact Fellowship (at the time iCats program) at Escuela Nueva Foundation in Bogota, Colombia, as Business Development Analyst. What was the organization’s mission and how have you contributed towards it in your role?
Escuela Nueva was founded in 1987 by Vicky Colbert, who also served as Colombia’s Vice-Minister of Education. The mission of Escuela Nueva is to deliver high quality child-centered learning. Especially in rural areas there are only few schools available, and not only have children to come a long way to attend class, but they also find themselves in a challenging teacher-centered, multi-grade setting. The concept of Escuela Nueva is based on the child-centered Montessori approach, improving learning outcomes tremendously.
When I joined Escuela Nueva they had just been nominated for a Skoll grant with the goal to expand into additional countries. My role was hence to support them in the essential ground-work preparing for an international expansion. I contributed to the strategic discussions around how to expand, at which scale, how to train implementation partners, etc; and my main achievement was to bring clarity into the discussion and ensure that the management could make informed decisions. Despite the international recognition, Escuela Nueva was very much anchored in Colombia and hence the international success was only limited. However, on a positive note, we were able to develop a case study for IESE Business School, sharing the challenges faced and learnings gained during the expansion project.
Q: More than ten years have passed since your Fellowship and you have been engaged in many different exciting activities and projects in the social/environmental impact space. Which have been the highlights?
My time after the Fellowship as Investment Manager at LGT Venture Philanthropy was definitely a highlight. I remember my very first business trip to Haiti to conduct due diligence for an organization that was producing nutritional supplements for children. We had visited hospitals where children benefited from these supplements. I remember that it was very tough to be confronted with the brutal reality and made me really understand what it means to have local impact.
I continued to be driven by this determination to have real impact, which led me to found Mavia, an impact investing and philanthropy advisory firm – another highlight of my career.
Moreover, I very much enjoyed being involved in fascinating projects, such as BOOKBRIDGE. BOOKBRIDGE is an organization that started off building libraries in Mongolia and became an accelerator program for social entrepreneurs. I truly appreciated the close collaboration with various stakeholders – social entrepreneurs, NGOs and people from the private sector.
And finally, I have recently started a new exciting venture – Clima Now. As Co-Founder and CEO I am setting up a foundation that mobilizes dormant capital, finances climate solutions and showcases them, while democratizing decision-making by the community.
Q: How has the Fellowship prepared you for this career path? Which was the most important learning during the Fellowship that was of use for your post-Fellowship ventures?
Through my Fellowship experience in Colombia, I have gained the understanding for local contexts. I came to realize what kind of daily challenges an organization in Colombia has to overcome. I am impressed with how organizations master resilience as they are facing difficult situations that are simply beyond the imagination of the developed world. They are exposed to ever changing circumstances, political instability, energy cuts and many more unpredictable interruptions. I obtained an understanding of how difficult it is to realize the impact that these organizations have. This kind of understanding is invaluable in our sector, as investors have to be more engaged and deploy so-called “patient” or “understanding” capital. The Fellowship simply provided me a deeper understanding of the sector, which is crucial for all my work.
Q: Back to the year 2004 when you started your professional career as a Business Consultant. What would you do differently today? Which career advice would you give to candidates considering a Fellowship?
I wouldn’t do anything differently. My advice is: Get yourself the necessary tools, gain relevant work experience and build your capabilities. It requires a lot of experience and know-how to build something and work with organizations’ management teams, especially in a different cultural context. The host organizations take good care of Fellows when they work on the ground with them, and hence Fellows really have to deliver value-add in return. “Impact tourism” won’t benefit neither of them.
Q: Fast forward to the year 2030. What is your vision for your professional future?
I have just ventured into a new chapter. With Clima Now I have established a charitable foundation that aims to democratize climate solutions. The foundation invests in climate solutions and makes them accessible to everyone. There is a need to inspire the community and not just a small number of investors. Our theory of change is that climate change can only be solved by letting as many people participate in the decision-making process as possible. Within the next five years we want to inspire 100’000 people through our climate solutions.