Announcing the first winner of the Rockefeller Foundation & Kellogg School of Management Sustainable Investing Fellowship
CampoColombia, a Sustainable Investing Challenge finalist, will receive a year’s worth of intensive support
Gustavo Bernal Torres is the inaugural recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation & Kellogg School of Management Sustainable Investing Fellowship. His investing concept CampoColombia is 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 utilizing their farming skills and helping them harvest capital intensive crops such as cocoa, coffee and rubber. Such farmers, who were forced off their land during the Colombian conflict, will receive a leased parcel of land with a housing unit, allowing them to constructively contribute towards the economic strength of Colombia.
CampoColombia was a top ten finalist in the 2015 Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge, which recognizes up-and-coming sustainable finance practitioners. However, after receiving his MBA from the National University of Singapore in 2016, Bernal had to put CampoColombia on the back burner in order to work at Stradegi Investment Management Consulting, in part to pay student loans. Now, Bernal 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.
As part of the fellowship, Bernal will travel to Portland to work closely with Dave Chen, Chairman of Equilibrium and Adjunct Professor of Finance Program Director of Impact Investing, who will advise Bernal on creating a framework for CampoColombia and connecting him with key advisers. “We want to make sure he’s got access to agricultural investment expertise and Latin American expertise,” says Chen, who adds that while the fellowship’s stipend money is appealing, “What’s really actually important is putting [Bernal] together with an investment firm that can help galvanize this idea into a potential product.”
Adam Connaker, program associate in innovative finance and impact investing at The Rockefeller Foundation, anticipates that Bernal will benefit from the foundation’s experience backing other social innovators. “We’re packaging [Bernal] up with people in our network who have tackled similar problems and used similar structures in different ways,” he says. Putting these types of innovators together creates what Connaker calls a “coordinated basket” for investors—those with their minds on topics like IDPs, climate change, and the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
What struck the fellowship judges was Bernal’s dedication to finding a way to make CampoColombia work—even if he didn’t win the fellowship. His passion for assisting IDPs traces back to his undergraduate days when he volunteered with TECHO, a Latin-American NGO. There, Bernal says, “I met hundreds of [IDPs], a lot of them families. I’d go to the neighborhoods where they lived and got to know their stories.”
Much has changed in Colombia since the 2015 Investment Challenge. “When we pitched, we leveraged a lot on the peace talks that were going on in that moment with FARC,” Bernal says. “Since then the peace talks are done and FARC is handing out weapons to the UN as part of the peace agreements. The timing is exceptional.”
Part of the fellowship’s role will be quickly updating CampoColombia so that it can meet Bernal’s goal of helping at least 3,000 IDP families. “We will provide him with the support he needs to take [CampoColombia] from an idea that hasn’t matured much since 2015 to bring it up to date and get him to the point where he’s ready to take it to market,” says Meghan Kashner, ’03, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of Social Impact at Kellogg,
By the time the twelve months of work is done, Chen believes the new version of CampoColombia will be a testament to the support it will receive from Kellogg, The Rockefeller Foundation and Equilibrium. “It’s not just a fellowship in isolation,” he says. “It’s part of a lineage and a process, our contribution to the next generation of sustainable investment strategies.”