With a strong background in finance and investment, Jeanne Specht Grijp began as Rewilding Europe’s Finance and Business Director (a.i.) in October 2019. We caught up with Jeanne to discover a little more about her, her love of wild nature, and the role of finance in conservation and rewilding.
In the key role of Finance and Business Director, Jeanne contributes to Rewilding Europe’s mission through the management of finance and operations, and the development of innovative business approaches delivering meaningful rewilding impact across Europe.
Why did you decide to become involved with rewilding?
I first heard about Rewilding Europe through the executive search bureau where the vacancy was advertised. Reading the profile of the initiative, as well as the job description, I was really enthusiastic – here was a position relevant to my background in finance and investment, my experience with the socio-economic aspects of business, and my love for nature as a hiker!
Although rewilding was new for me, the more I read about it during the recruitment process, the more I felt I wanted to contribute and make a difference.
How do you see yourself adding value to Rewilding Europe’s work?
I see myself adding value through both my professional skills and experience and the values which are important to me as a person. My experiences as an accountant at an audit firm, my work as a project and change manager at several financial institutions, and my latest role as managing and finance director at a single family and investment office, have taught me much about the world of financial and investment management.
In 2018 I also co-founded an initative called LifeTree. Inspired by “Ubuntu” – an African philosophy that emphasises mutual trust, interconnectedness and humaneness as core values of life – it is designed to bring together entrepreneurs with a business focus on social inclusiveness and long-term sustainability. Such values are also promoted through Rewilding Europe’s community work and efforts to develop nature-based businesses and economies, and I look forward to supporting and advancing this.
The financial perspective
How important is business and finance in conservation?
I believe sound and progressive financial practice is critical to conservation efforts. While good finance is not a means to an end in itself, smart business thinking can create long-term opportunities which support the recovery of wild nature.
In Europe, for example, the establishment of new financial models can revitalise rural economies by driving the development of a wide range of nature-based businesses. Such commerce not only furthers the cause of rewilding, but create jobs, sustain livelihoods and benefit communities.
Would you say Rewilding Europe is playing an innovative role in financing European rewilding?
Rewilding Europe is currently pioneering new ways to support the long-term growth of European nature-based businesses which support rewilding. Examples of this include our support for the rewilding of communal forests in Portugal, and the rewilding of peatland in Finland.
In many areas, such businesses may otherwise have very limited access to finance. Viewed from a traditional investment perspective, with a focus on maximising profit over the short term, these initiatives may be perceived as high risk. Yet they have the potential to be hugely transformative, both for people and wild nature.
I would say we are still in a “learning by doing” phase in this regard. Rewilding Europe is very good at piloting new models – we are not afraid to make mistakes, to learn from them, and to act accordingly. We are also committed to demonstrating that we are a long-term, intergenerational partner for nature-based businesses, which fits in with our long-term vision for a wilder Europe.
What would you like to see achieved in your area of work over the next five years?
I would like Rewilding Europe to develop more hybrid financing options to help nature-based businesses become established and grow. These would use a combination of capital forms, merging financing from grants, debt, equity and convertible capital with small-scale (yet still scalable) business and earning models, exemplified by the European Safari Company.
I would also like to raise awareness among potential financing partners of the need to consider the true price of investments, which ties in with natural asset thinking. Generating healthy financial returns is, of course, important. But investment is not only about short-term money making – it’s about recognising that things such as rivers, lakes and trees have a tangible and intangible value that should be represented on the balance sheet. Or as William Bruce Cameron, an American writer, says: “Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”
Very often investing in the restoration of natural assets (such as clean, free-flowing rivers or rewetted peatland that locks up carbon dioxide) can reduce costs later. For the financial sector, this means adopting a far more generational, interconnected, long-term way of thinking, which ties in with my work with the LifeTree initiative.
Wild nature in Europe
What would you say are the biggest conservation challenges that Europe faces today?
I believe that we as humans create all of our challenges through the choices we as individuals, groups or societies make in our everyday lives and behaviour. Conservation challenges are also behavioural challenges, and in every one lies a hidden opportunity to think and do things differently.
We can choose to use less plastic, or take fewer flights, or place a higher value on wildlife and wild spaces. In this way, with positive and transformative action, we can counter challenges such as climate change and biodiversity decline.
How do you see the future of wild nature in Europe?
I would say I am optimistic about the future of wild nature in Europe. There are challenges, obviously, but the awareness and learning curve of humans from an intergenerational perspective, as mentioned above, gives me cause for hope.
I think rewilding can help the process of behavioural change by highlighting the importance (and the benefits) of wildlife comeback, wilder nature, natural processes and the development of nature-based economies. Rewilding Europe is not only about “learning through doing”, but “showing through doing” too. By being a very practical, hands-on initiative, we can help people to think and do things differently by demonstrating there is a better alternative to the status quo.
Do you need wild nature in your life?
Wild nature is part of my being. I try to reconnect with nature almost every day, and really miss it when I don’t. Living at the Bussumerheide (an area of heathland in the northwestern part of the Netherlands), it’s easy to step outside my door and walk directly into nature. For me this is meditative and eases the mind.
I don’t know all the names of birds, trees and flowers, but I can recognise the textures, sounds and smells of a particular landscape. There’s a big difference between South Africa and Kenya! I love walking and have hiked a lot in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I certainly can’t wait to explore Rewilding Europe’s operational areas.
Rewilding Europe’s Management team