Biz Alumni 01 August 2017

MBA alumni awarded inaugural fellowship for sustainable investing

Gustavo Bernal Torres, our recent MBA alumni (Class of 2016) has been awarded the first Rockefeller Foundation & Kellogg School of Management Sustainable Investing Fellowship.

Based on his team’s pitch during a 2015 Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge, the idea named CampoColombia, which won second prize during the challenge, recognises up-and-coming sustainable finance practitioners. 

Gustavo was approached in 2017 to apply for this fellowship. He updated the concept of CampoColombia to suit the current climate in Colombia, a for-profit real estate private equity fund that aims to empower the Internal Displaced Population (IDP) in Colombia by building a productive agricultural business model while providing investors with secured, risk-adjusted financial returns. This model empowers displaced farmers by utilising their farming skills and helping them harvest capital intensive crops such as cocoa, coffee and rubber. During the Colombian conflict, these farmers were forced off their land, will now receive a leased parcel of land with a housing unit, allowing them to constructively contribute towards the economic strength of Colombia.

After graduating from NUS Business School, Gustavo continued with his career in Finance at Stradegi Investment Management Consulting in Singapore. With the fellowship, Gustavo made a huge decision to leave his job and return to his home country where he will spend the next year focusing exclusively on CampoColombia with the aid of $90,000 in stipend funds, incubation within the sustainable investing firm Equilibrium, and mentorship to help him move CampoColombia’s sustainable investing innovation towards market readiness.

Gustavo (right) with his team at the 2015 Morgan-Stanley Sustainable Investment Challenge

Gustavo chalks it all up to perfect timing, “Since the Investment Challenge in 2015, our pitch leveraged a lot on the ongoing peace talks with FARC. Today, with the peace talks concluded, I think it is the best time to return home to help be part of the Colombia’s rebuilding effort.” He adds,”Many of my fellow countrymen tend to leave the country for better work opportunities, even looking to further their studies in overseas universities. I’m so happy that with the blessings of my teammates, I could make use of the same pitch idea, head home to test bed the model, and hopefully bring about some life improvements for the displaced farmers and ultimately help them gain back their sense of autonomy.” Part of the fellowship’s role will be quickly updating CampoColombia so that it can meet Gustavo’s goal of helping at least 3,000 IDP families.

His passion for assisting IDPs traces back to his undergraduate days at National University of Colombia when he volunteered with TECHO, a Latin-American NGO. “I met hundreds of families who were displaced and living in poverty in the city. During my three years of volunteering, I got to know their stories and struggles.”

.As part of the fellowship, Gustavo will able to work with experienced organisations and individuals within the finance and social sectors to help focus his efforts and connect with key advisers such as agricultural investment expertise, Latin American expertise, etc. Gustavo said, “I truly hope investors who are serious about social and environment impact investing will find this fund meaningful. I believe there are such investors, however there are not enough programmes to fund or scale. My primary concerns will be identifying the displaced families and the skills they have, relocating them and finding the right avenues in which the farmers’ produce can be sold, while raising capital to launch the fund as a viable investment product.”

Gustavo adds, “This feels like a full circle for me. I first decided to come to Singapore to do an MBA due to the prestige of NUS Business School. With its English-based programme, and the strong Asia-Global connection, it has brought me opportunities that I could only dream of back then. I am happy to be heading home to Colombia and starting on a new chapter of my career.”