We’re so pleased to share an interview with Wendy Schmidt as part of our 15 Voices blog series. In 2006, Wendy established The Schmidt Family Foundation to advance the wiser use of energy and natural resources and to support efforts worldwide that empower communities to build resilient systems for food, water, and human resources.
Here, Wendy shares her reflections on the Foundation’s involvement with Root Capital’s peace and recovery work in post-conflict countries.
We’re deeply grateful for Wendy’s support and the support of The Schmidt Family Foundation in helping us grow rural prosperity in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas.
Root Capital: When did you first encounter Root Capital?
Wendy: Our foundation focuses on climate change, sustainable agriculture, and human rights. Where these areas intersect, we found ourselves watching Root Capital as we considered making mission-related investments in post-conflict or post-natural disaster countries like Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We are constantly reminded of the fragility of these communities and our resolve to support healthy economies in these vulnerable areas is underscored.
We were impressed with Root Capital’s track record, willingness to iterate and test their framework in new geographies, and with their focus on quantifying the impact of their work on rural poverty and the environment.
Root Capital: Why have you been involved with Root Capital?
Wendy: A few years ago, we approached Root Capital with two questions: First, could their framework for financing agricultural businesses and smallholder farmers be effective in the face of degraded ecosystems and ongoing economic and social turbulence? And second, could our investment facilitating smallholder farmers’ access to capital, training, and markets help create a shift towards agriculture-based livelihoods and farming practices that avoided further degradation of the environment?
Knowing that Root Capital had seen great success working in post-conflict Rwanda in 2005, we wanted to provide seed funding for them to iterate their existing framework, in hopes that similarly complicated and risky areas, like the DRC, could follow a similar path forward.
As was also the case in Rwanda, Root Capital was looking to enter into these countries once they had passed through their conflicts, were in great need of support, and showing strong signs of recovery. We knew Root Capital had the strategy and track record to execute, and that their model was customizable enough to work in very heterogeneous markets and local situations in Africa.
Our foundation has pursued a partnership with Root Capital because we see hope emerging from deeply troubled regions like the DRC, and we want to make meaningful mission-related investments in their transition to peace and security.
Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind?
Wendy: Focus. Root Capital focuses on alleviating rural poverty by investing in businesses that grow long-term rural prosperity for farming families across the world. In post-conflict regions, that focus is especially palpable: In 2013, Root Capital began lending to three coffee clients in the fertile highlands of the Lake Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, just across the border from Rwanda. These clients are now aggregating beans from more than 11,000 farmers to sell to specialty coffee buyers, including the UK retailer Sainsbury’s, meaning Congolese farmers – thousands of them war widows providing alone for their families – are beginning to rebuild their lives.
Root Capital: What excites you most about what Root Capital can achieve in the next 15 years?
Wendy: Root Capital has the leadership to think through tough issues around the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers around the world, and to consider their best use of resources in pursuing global economic opportunities going forward.
We have watched Root Capital develop its approach over the years, conducting social and environmental due diligence to the regions that they serve, and we look forward to that continued, thoughtful evolution. As Root Capital keeps innovating and pushing the frontier of financing practices, we’d like to see our partnership deepen the impact of our foundation’s work in other post-conflict geographies.