Insight into sustainability themes
Insight into sustainability themes
Between the fallout from Covid and its associated public policy response, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and ongoing market volatility driven by rampant inflation and monetary tightening, we are experiencing an unprecedented combination of economic and geopolitical turbulence. These disruptions are challenging entrenched practices around production, consumption, and trade, and prompting businesses and governments alike to reset their key strategic priorities with a focus on resiliency across the board. Chiefly included among these are an urgent need for adaptability in global supply chains; security and resilience in food and energy supplies; and efficient usage of energy and key commodity inputs in the context of rising prices and scarcity.
In this environment, many climate tech companies are finding themselves better positioned than ever, benefitting from the overlap of climate-driven needs with newfound demand for their solutions spurred by inflation, supply chain dynamics & energy policy. And many of the most compelling climate tech solutions are to be found in the digital realm, with applications cutting across energy, transportation, industrial production, and food & agriculture. In Europe for example, where energy autonomy and a decreased reliance on fossil fuels have become geostrategic imperatives overnight in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, we are seeing significant opportunities for companies offering digital platforms to help streamline the identification, funding, and implementation of clean energy and electric mobility projects. Meanwhile, some of the energy intermittency challenges introduced by renewables are being solved through digital network management, seamless integration of distributed energy assets, and flexible networks / marketplaces for energy & related services. In markets that rely heavily on food imports, we are seeing companies being able to leverage AI and big data to help countries and corporations rethink and future-proof their food sourcing strategy, factoring in climate as well as macroeconomic and geopolitical risks in a holistic way. And across various industries, companies are leveraging technologies such as blockchain to bring about new levels of transparency, efficiency & flexibility across the supply chain, promoting efficiency gains in resource consumption and production, from the sourcing of raw materials to the disposal and recycling of end products.
With such robust demand tailwinds, and as the wider technology sector undergoes a healthy correction in valuations, we are as optimistic as ever about the prospects for investing in and supporting the next generation of digital climate technology companies. Faced with the double jeopardy of climate change and energy dependence, Europe has no choice but to lead on climate tech innovation and adoption, and we look forward to playing our part in supporting the climate tech leaders of tomorrow, in Europe and beyond.
John Higelin, Partner, Zouk Capital
In the US, an estimated 1 out of every 3 individuals has been affected by extreme weather in the summer of 2021 alone. Myriad other occurrences worldwide point to a same disturbing trend: extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more devastating – likely so for the foreseeable future. And as the evidence for a causal link to global warming continues to mount, calls for achieving Net Zero are growing louder. But while greenhouse gas reduction remains key for addressing the likely root cause of this trend in the long run, there is also an urgent need for adaptation strategies aimed at minimizing the scale and scope of the damage wrought by these traumatic events.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is showing some promise in this endeavour. Deep learning techniques perfected in recent years for image recognition are being applied to weather imagery data with promising results. Other approaches are applying machine learning methods to a combination of weather, social media, and other data in a bid to further improve forecasting accuracy and timeliness. By providing more advance notice of such events, even by a small margin, AI could go a long way in helping to prevent catastrophic loss of life and economic harm (in the US alone, the 8 extreme events in 2021 to date are estimated to have caused in excess of $1 billion in damages). And in addition to improving short-term prediction capabilities, AI could also be applied to longer term weather pattern prediction to inform better decision making in agriculture, urban planning, and critical infrastructure management. As access to more high quality data and AI capabilities continue to expand, we may see new services and business models built on hyper-localised, highly accurate, real-time weather forecasting, in industries such as logistics and insurance.
While many of these initiatives have yet to be commercialised at scale, there are some promising developments in this regard. Companies like Spire are radically improving the quantity and quality of weather data by using a constellation of nanosatellites to measure the state of the atmosphere at very high spatial and temporal resolutions. And firms like ClimateAI are now using AI to help forecast crop supply and demand by factoring in the likelihood and impact of major weather events, thereby allowing growers to optimize their sales and build resiliency in their operations. As these solutions continue to prove their viability, Zouk looks forward to supporting the mission-driven founders that are working to bring them to market.
John Higelin, Partner Zouk Capital
Until fairly recently, ESG was an infrequently used term in the investing world, and in the eyes of mainstream asset managers, was used by a very small percentage of investors. Those with sustainability mandates were seen to be rather idealistic in their philosophy, more philanthropic than seeking alpha. Over the years I have had many discussions with investors about how sustainable and profitable didn’t need to be mutually exclusive and that companies that placed ESG considerations at the heart of their strategy were in fact more likely to generate alpha. Not many saw the connection.
However, while this has been changing over the last couple of years, the last twelve months particularly have seen a combination of the effects of the COVID pandemic, a rise in awareness of social and racial injustice as well as looming net-zero government targets, and so ESG has landed on the agenda of every investor. What is now certain is that the question of how companies and investors should approach the interconnection between sustainability and financial returns is becoming a more important part of investment decision making. I believe that this shift in thinking is now here for the long term. However, transferring this shift in thinking to the fundamentals of an investment philosophy can’t simply happen overnight. A culture of sustainability has to have been properly pervasive through the whole organisation – part of its DNA – for some time.
So how can investors be sure that the companies or funds they are investing in, aren’t simply using clever marketing to demonstrate their so-called ESG credentials? We have seen an increase of around 30% of professionally managed assets subject to ESG criteria since 2016 alone and with the momentum generated in 2020 this is only going to increase. Measuring sustainability and impact however is still hard to fully quantify and standardise, and many methodologies fail to capture the nuances involved. Given the quantity of funds now subject to ESG criteria, I hope we will see an improvement in the adoption and standardisation of measurement practices, ensuring that only those businesses making a genuine impact will be recognised for their contribution and making non-compliance harder to hide.
To judge the validity of ESG claims, investors need to look at how long sustainability has been part of a fund or a company’s formal approach, and whether such policies are clearly articulated and genuinely embedded into decision making. But they also need to take a close look at organisational culture and whether it is supportive of such policies. At Zouk, for example, we formalised our approach back in 2006, and since then ESG has been at the core of every investment across both of our strategies. Our methodology seeks to ensure that sustainability and financial performance are inherently aligned, and that this alignment is properly quantified, monitored, and maintained throughout the investment lifecycle. Each investment is assessed on its own merits, both in terms of its potential to specifically advance one or more of the UN SDGs – be it affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, or reduced inequalities – and in terms of how strongly the investment’s expected financial returns may correlate to them. Ultimately however, these policies rely on our values-driven culture, one in which a genuine concern for sustainability is shared by each individual across all levels of the organisation.
As the world hopefully puts the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, the emphasis is shifting back towards more urgency around the route to net zero. We will also start to see investors taking far more interest in how companies are genuinely addressing diversity, social and racial injustice and workforce safety and wellbeing. More transparent policies will be expected by investors, and companies that visibly care about society and the environment are receiving long awaited recognition. I believe we will look back on 2020 as the tipping point to ESG considerations becoming the rule, not the exception, for every investor. Investors should now focus on fostering a culture of sustainability within their ranks, to ensure that this shift in perspective translates into genuine and lasting change, as well as higher returns on investment.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
This article appeared in Environmental Finance in July 2021
The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is currently in the process of talking to leadership figures from across the nation in an attempt to understand this universal trait and what it means in Britain and Northern Ireland today.
Samer Salty was invited onto an episode of the podcast, which also included an interview with Lord Blunkett. Host Matthew O'Neill asked both guests a series of questions about leadership and the role it has played in their careers to date. Samer talks about the impact of covid-19, his leadership influences and the importance of considering sustainability in our thinking about the world.
You can listen to the podcast in full here: https://youtu.be/II0O0pmsOBo
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
Unfortunately, this is where Bitcoin and blockchain have become interlinked in the minds of many, but is where a distinction should be drawn. Sustainability is not only to be found in energy savings, but also in the ability to drive business process efficiency and transparency across industries, which in turn ensures better usage of resources and creates value. In this sense, blockchain, and distributed ledger technologies (DLT) more broadly, are among the most powerful drivers for sustainability on the horizon of technology development.
Supply chains are a good example of how goods and payments cross landscapes without constant monitoring. Blockchains can help to trace the provenance of goods and services across that landscape in an automated fashion allowing data to be exchanged seamlessly. This ensures that where traditionally inconsistencies could slip in, this can be avoided with blockchain technologies. Suddenly a whole process previously susceptible to anything from basic paper duplications or quality issues to fraud or money laundering becomes 100% transparent and traceable.
Take the pharmaceutical industry as an example. Blockchain can today be used to track and record the movement of drugs and medications. In the case of drugs used illicitly, this has huge implications for public health, particularly when you consider the impact of the opiate crisis in the USA currently. Every packet of every drug can be tracked and traced at all times.
Property and real estate is another area that can benefit from creating a public ledger for ownership and transfer, thereby significantly improving identity management and ensuring authentic historical records. The same can be said for energy trading and establishing contracts where blockchain enables a secure and accountable case to be built for every trade. In financial services, across disciplines, there is a move towards blockchain being used an integral part of a product offering to ensure that clients are specifically benefitting from transparency from the outset.
Blockchain and its applications are still in early stages but have the potential to achieve a seismic shift in transparency across the digital economy. Already in sight is a world where every piece of information has its source verified independently. In this new paradigm, “fake news” could be stopped dead in its tracks, and people could regain control of their personal information and make more informed choices.
Indeed it is the fully open and transparent nature of blockchain, particularly within public ledgers that will validate the whole value of transparency. Public blockchains have the potential to completely disrupt current business models by fully disintermediating the entire process, taking away the companies that act as middle men in for example financial transactions such as banks, as well as drastically reducing infrastructure costs. With blockchain employed in every public ledger, all government transactions would be open for scrutiny. The potential therefore, for massive improvements in efficiency and subsequently sustainability, is vast.
Ultimately, crypto-currencies will also fall into line and become more sustainable. New distributed ledger technologies such as Hedera Hashgraph are already showing that some of Bitcoin’s major limitations – including low transaction volumes and high energy consumption – could be overcome. And as cryptocurrency adoption goes mainstream, it will drive yet another wave of unprecedented efficiencies across the economy.
So, in simple terms, it is the wide array of increasingly powerful tools provided by blockchain that will streamline the complexity of transactions, contracts and communications the world over, facilitating hitherto unprecedented levels of transparency, efficiency and value. Technology is once again at the centre of a sustainable future.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
This article appeared in Business Green in February 2019
Since I began investing in Africa, I have realised that leapfrogging needs to be examined from two different perspectives. Firstly, we need to differentiate between leapfrogging the ‘old’ world – that is, bypassing how the West did things in the past, such as how Africa generally avoided building a comprehensive fixed line network and instead moved straight to mobile; and leapfrogging the ‘new’ world. Leapfrogging the new world is sidestepping the current industry status quo by using technology, which provides a much better, more efficient, and more sustainable way of doing things. For example, many of the traditional industries across the world are deconstructing with no likelihood of returning to antiquated models. We are seeing huge changes in the global financial services, energy, and communications industries among others. Clearly, Africa does not stand alone in leapfrogging. In some cases, Africa is in fact leading the world in developing new business models with technology at their core.
If you take a look at the energy industry for example – the growth of renewables is rapidly reducing the requirement for resource-heavy power generation. At the same time, there has been an increase in distributed power networks - through wind, solar and battery technology - meaning that the old centralised energy model is seeing its role diminish gradually. In Africa, great effort has been made to establish large coal and gas-fired power plants. It is time-intensive, hugely costly, and has been difficult to implement; and with 600 million Africans still not connected mains electricity, the off grid model has been filling that gap. Off-Grid Electric is an example of a company that provides vital, affordable solar to homes across Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda. The combination of localised renewable energy and storage managed through IT and mobile payments is what makes the business so disruptive, massively scalable, and capable of changing the status quo. This distributed energy model is essentially what is now happening in the West, albeit on a different scale, and there is no doubt we are learning from the African model.
Education is another important sector in the development and advancement of Africa, which is successfully leveraging online tools to leapfrog the traditional route and fulfilling huge potential. Indeed, leapfrogging in the world of education is occurring globally - not only in Africa - as technology offers online access to a far wider cohort of students than physical institutions could ever provide. GetSmarter is a South African online education provider, acquired by 2U (the biggest online education company in the US) in 2017, which is leading the way not only in Africa but also on an international basis through its pioneering interactive learning experience. This interactivity came about because GetSmarter recognised it needed a differentiated approach, and this approach eventually led to institutions such as Harvard and MIT choosing to partner with it above others.
Financial services is another area where technology is disrupting the sector. 10X Investments, a tech-enabled asset manager, has shaken up the sector in South Africa by combining technology with proven investment strategies, and reducing fees by as much as 80% compared to the traditional model. Founded in 2008, 10X was way ahead of its time with the notion of leapfrogging the traditional money management models and opening up access into the mass market previously frozen out of an expensive and exclusive market managed by consultants and advisors. It was the first organisation to combine distribution, administration and index investment with low cost accessibility, demonstrating that a company founded in Africa could lead the way in using technology to bypass traditional business models.
Similarly, blockchain technology is revolutionising currency transactions and is proving a game changer in global markets. In Africa, the knock on effect of the disruption of this industry is also massive, where companies such as Kenyan digital foreign exchange and payment platform BitPesa are taking full advantage of the new norm, delivered by this innovative technology, to send and receive payments in multiple currencies.
Beyond technology as a catalyst in various sectors, what is also important to remember is the impact that technology has facilitated across Africa on very basic level. The digital economy has created a level of transparency in a continent hampered by corruption. It has opened up borders, allowed companies to scale without boundaries, and has ensured that fledgling companies are not beholden to the business establishment – all of which have created a platform for growth and development, as well as fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and success.
Finally, what is clear is that in many cases, Africa is not simply keeping up the pace with the rest of the world using technology — it is at the forefront of leapfrogging some of the world’s most established industries in taking advantage of a new paradigm.
By Samer Salty, CIO DiGAME Investment Company
This article appeared on the AVCA’s Afri-Spective blog in February 2018.
It’s a few weeks since iZettle announced it was being acquired by PayPal in a landmark $2.2bn deal, catapulting iZettle into the international spotlight. During this time I’ve had a chance to think some more about why this is such a significant deal and what Zouk added to the party during the four years we have been invested.
Firstly, there is no doubt in my mind that in the last few years Sweden has produced some of the world’s best management teams and the iZettle team is right up there at the top. Magnus and Jacob and their tremendous team have built iZettle from scratch to create a new category gunning for the micro merchant and entrepreneur and providing a superb payment and credit infrastructure. There must be thousands of small traders who wonder daily how they managed before iZettle came along to simplify their whole payment world. The tie up with PayPal will undoubtedly give iZettle’s growth plans a huge boost and enable them to supercharge their expansion across the globe. We are incredibly excited about what the future holds for this complementary combination.
Secondly, the deal with PayPal is another overwhelmingly positive endorsement for the start up ecosystem that is clearly alive and kicking in Europe. From seed funding through to growth and the initial IPO plan, the iZettle success story is a perfect example of how great teams can have the support, funding and markets to create global players. We are certainly proud of the role we at Zouk played in leading $115m of growth funding rounds, as well as supporting iZettle’s expansion geographically and into new product areas.
Finally, it’s probably fair to say we have been below the radar as growth investors and the fact that we were the largest investor in iZettle may have come as a surprise to some of the commentators in this space. However, it is our particular style of highly collaborative support combined with our extensive network of contacts that has been of most use to iZettle. From our first meeting with them, it was clear that we would be able to add value and that in turn iZettle fitted perfectly with our sustainability vision for making investments in technology companies that provided both social and environmental impact. We wish iZettle all the very best in the next chapter of their mission of helping small businesses succeed and we are proud to have been part of their journey so far.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
Nowhere are they more evident than in Egypt’s largest city, Cairo, with a population of more than 20 million. Infrastructure is dilapidated, roads are full and public transport is not always safe, clean or reliable. For those that can afford it, taxi hailer companies such as Uber have stepped into the breach and offered an alternative to driving for a more wealthy demographic. But it is only more recently that a new way of getting from A to B, the so-called bus disrupters have been in a position to start to solve the challenges of urban congestion.
To give this some context - every day in Cairo, a quarter of the city’s population –attempt to commute to their jobs. Only 11% own a car, there is only one government bus per 4329 people and 67% of traffic is due to congestion and infrastructure - which is costing around $8bn* in Cairo alone (*World Bank). This basic lack of infrastructure delivers at best a difficult journey. Enter a new, convenient and reliable form of bus transportation, which is affordable and safe. The bus disrupters, we believe, are in an exciting space, which is trending globally with players in major cities in Africa as well as in India and China has the potential to solve many of the world’s transport problems.
Take Swvl, the company DiGAME has just invested in, which is an app-based mass transit system in Cairo. Swvl enables riders heading in the same direction to share fixed-route bus trips for a flat fare. This type of offering combines the best of on-demand hailing services, such as Uber, but is up to two thirds cheaper, but with a quality, more reliable and safer bus offering than public transport. This makes it very appealing to a large market of frustrated commuters. By using dynamic software to ensure no one is left on a street corner or arrives too late, SWVL is able to use its fleet of buses - which incidentally are idling as a result of the economic slowdown in Egypt - in the most efficient manner to provide an excellent service. It already has a loyal following of aspirational tech-savvy young Egyptians who are delighted with a new more inclusive and affordable solution to their transport woes.
Not only are bus disrupter services taking more cars off the road and providing more reliable commuting, they are also helping to combat pollution and congestion, the number one cause of death of young people in Cairo (*WHO). What the rapid adoption of Swvl and other similar services has demonstrated over the past couple of years in Cairo, is the huge opportunity of technology driven companies to complement state services and provide a real social impact as a result of something as simple as improved travel. We are delighted to be supporting the Swvl team.
Samer Salty, CIO DiGAME Investment Company
Back then, only a few dreamt of world powered by clean energy, and even fewer predicted the impact renewables would have on the whole world. Fast forward to 2017 and the tipping point has been reached and neither power generation nor the future of energy storage will ever be the same again.
Today we are relying less and less on scarce resources and through the distributed nature of renewables alongside well-priced storage capacity, we are needing fewer large power plants. Indeed the huge advances in energy storage plus the downward trend of pricing are leading the whole approach towards baseload power to be re-evaluated. Ironically, the increasing reach of renewables means the future for many is starting to look more ‘energy secure’. The combination of the anti-inflationary nature of renewables together with the fact that we are no longer needing to rely on limited resources means that renewables are enabling developing nations to take control of their own power generation. That said, we are clearly not yet at utopia - there is a lot of work left to do.
If we look back to what fuelled the growth in renewables in the first place. There is no doubt that it took the passion of a few pioneers and the foresight of the German government to ignite the market and create the impetus for investment by business and trust by consumers. Germany’s innovative approach and its development of the Feed-In Tariff structure was fundamental in so far as what happened in Germany helped to develop an ingrained culture of clean energy which was financially rewarding whilst increasing energy security. It is this culture that is working to transform the world’s energy production. What the German government brought into effect was not simply good for Germany, it proved also to be good for the individual, good for the community, good for the country and good for the world.
But where Germany had the will, there are other countries that have also played a significant role in the transformation of renewables from niche to mainstream. China, for example, has demonstrated remarkable drive. In the early days China quickly took over from Germany in manufacturing solar panels turning them into a mass market product and driving prices down, which had a dramatic effect on adoption rates. In fact, this focus on manufacturing was so successful it took China to the forefront of production. This was not as a result of cheap labour as assumed by most - the process was heavily automated - but as a result of the cheap cost of financing and the support for winning global orders. Alongside driving the global production of renewables infrastructure, China also became a significant client and today accounts for a third of the global total in clear energy production and is the world’s top clean energy investor. This year, in its goal to reach the Paris agreement targets, China announced the world’s largest solar farm sitting high on the Tibetan plateau and with a capacity to produce 850MW of power able to supply 200,000 households. So whilst China is still the largest polluter in the world, it is now also the largest provider of green energy and the balance will only shift one way. What I find particularly interesting is whilst Germany built its renewable strategy on a culture of sustainability which led to ‘need’ to develop renewable energy, China in reverse has built on the need for more cheap power. Indeed China is now well on its way to developing a culture of sustainability, which is emerging strongly and from which there is no return. The questions remains will China make the same impact as Germany and achieve good for the individual, good for the community, the country and the world?
The third country to make a significant impact globally on renewables is the US that has to date provided the size and scale required to start to make a difference. 2016 data from the US Department of Energy shows that US solar will have tripled by 2017 and is growing by almost 40% a year. We wait and see how Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement will affect this commitment. Some would say however, that the momentum is barrelling forwards, with or without his buy in. Even the shale gas revolution that has provided cheap energy over the last decade has not stopped the rapid growth in renewables in the US. It seems that US industry has recognised that shale isn’t a long-term solution and it won’t allow it to become its Achilles heel.
The actions of these three countries have paved the way for developing countries to turn towards renewable energy as the first option. Indeed renewables have enabled technologies to leapfrog the status quo - that is, by bypassing rather than following the historical precedent. Take Off-Grid Electric in Africa, a company that uses mobile technology to be able to install and manage solar panels in countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania. The whole process, which uses mobile to enable the billing systems, allows consumers to take their power needs into their own hands. Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal and Ivory Coast likewise have all seen huge increases in home solar and small-scale renewable systems and mini-grids. This ‘leapfrog’ process allows countries to use technology, today far less restricted by cost, to entirely circumvent the traditional power plant and instead take full advantage of the potential and cost savings within renewables.
The next revolution in renewables is the growth of battery storage, which is going hand in hand with developments in electric vehicles. Certainly, the transformational effect of renewable energy is strongly evident when the explosive growth in electric vehicles is taken into account. Concerns about CO2 and particle emissions are driving regulatory change on a global scale, leading to fast-tracked development of electric vehicles and an intense focus on improving battery performance. As a comparison, since 1990, the cost per watt for solar panels has dropped more than 95%, as a result of more investment to create better technology, cheaper production, and an ever-increasing market. We are seeing these same dynamics in the development of better batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage, which are expected to lower costs and increase demand over the coming decades.
A recent report by Morgan Stanley predicts that battery powered electric vehicles on the road have the potential to reach a billion by 2050 reaching parity with vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine. Today, whilst only 1% of cars sold globally are electric, it is the explosive growth rates that are important - UK sales, for example, are up a huge 51% this year compared to 2016. The expansion in rapid charging stations to support these numbers is underway with companies such as InstaVolt in the UK working with local councils and businesses to provide the necessary infrastructure. However it is the huge potential in the world’s developing countries that will really have an impact. India’s automotive industry for example is trying to leapfrog into full EV by 2030, and China has similar goals. Take a step further and imagine a world running on electric vehicles, powered by renewable energy. The increasing acceptance by car manufacturers and investors that this is the future, more than proves that a revolution is underway, and who knows, may go all the way.
Alongside batteries in cars, batteries are also set to power our homes. Take Tesla’s Powerwall innovation, already today storing solar power to generate electricity for household use. There is no doubt we will see significantly more developments in this space with regard to both batteries for the home as well as those for the grid. Grid batteries are also taking on many forms and are driven by the necessity to stabilise the grid from the unpredictability of renewable energy. Projects range from big batteries with huge storage capacity to more unusual ones such as Green Hedge’s Energy Barn, an opportunity for farmers and landowners to generate additional income by housing batteries in barns on their land.
It is not only our energy and transportation industries have been changed forever, but I believe a more sustainable approach to every part of life is becoming a deep rooted cultural shift for companies, people and investors. We can see that there has been a cultural change, once we are doing ‘good’, doing ‘well’ is one of the lessons combining financial, economic and impact. This power of culture becomes even more effective when overlaid with better economics and the multiplier effect means it not only makes better sense environmentally, but also economically. I would go as far as to say that this move towards sustainable living is now becoming part of our global culture, even starting to become the norm.
So what have we learnt? We have learnt that a small, niche industry, believed at the outset to be peripheral to the future of global energy can bring about a monumental turnaround to the global system. Renewables make absolute sense and they are not a zero sum game. Their success has taught us it that isn’t fruitless to dream of a massive transformation in an industry and the lessons we have learnt from renewables can be applied and transferred to other industries, for the good of everyone. We have also seen that the drive to do good is not niche and once an industry has found a better, cleaner, more economically attractive way to do something, then there is no return to old ways. Let’s be clear, if the world is to support a population, which is increasing by at least 1bn every 12 years, then we are going to need principles that we can build on. We have to ask ourselves the question as to whether the lessons we have learnt from renewables - combining big dreams with doing well, financially and sustainably and ultimately doing good for the individual, community, country and the world - will help us to establish those parameters to address the enormous challenges ahead. I’m certain they will.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
What is clear however is that the global education system into which my children are about to enter, is one of the largest industries to face disruption through technology advances and change is affecting all areas therein.
Today lifelong learning overlaps traditional education and training and requires a much more blended approach than we were previously set up to implement. A market of over $5.5 trillion globally, education is split into a series of sectors from K-12 - the sum of primary and secondary education, to graduate and then postgraduate study and on to professional development and finally training and languages. So-called MOOCS (massively open online courses) offer a supermarket approach of delivery and enable access to vast selections of online courses in subjects as diverse as Design Thinking of Innovation to Medical Neuroscience and multiple variations in between and spread across all the education sectors. Today global academic institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Karolinska Institut and Kyoto University as well as companies such as Facebook and Google have opened up their content to a worldwide audience, something previously inconceivable to anyone other than very rich, very privileged or very connected.
Running in parallel with the advances made in delivering education online, are the challenges facing the workplace. A recent World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report predicted that artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors that impact the need for human workers will result in as many as 5 million jobs being lost before 2020. Traditional jobs will be replaced with many new jobs but they will be in more specialist sectors that will require a huge retraining and retooling of the workforce.
This re-tooling of a workforce marginalised by technological advances, and the educational sector supporting it, is an area we at Zouk are particularly interested in. Institutions in their current format are constrained by curriculum, structures and physical presence and are frankly not in a position to address the requirements of this ever-growing base of students.
Specifically aimed at the professional development market at executives aiming to reskill themselves and prepare for a future marketplace, is South Africa based company GetSmarter. Offering specialist online short courses from Universities such as Cambridge and MIT as well as local South African institutions, GetSmarter boasts a 90% course completion rate with students interestingly coming from a split of US, Europe, and the rest of the world. What makes GetSmarter so exciting in my view is that its high touch business model offers more levels of engagement and global collaboration than most traditional MOOCs. This is exactly where the businesses that have recognised the importance of creating proper depth and breadth of interaction between students are on a path to real success.
Alongside the massive social benefits afforded by this shift to democratising content and making it available to anyone globally with an Internet connection, there is also clear evidence of a significant sustainability effect. The obvious sustainability benefits of moving education online are not difficult to detect. Savings made simply though fewer journeys to and from bricks and mortar institutions or reduced requirements for electricity or paper are fairly obvious sustainable benefits and are sizeable.
However, the area we believe will have most impact is the second level benefits through the vast efficiencies created by opening content and opportunity up to a global audience at the same time as enabling a generation of reskilling for new jobs to take place. We believe that this effect is so huge, that it will have a more significant impact on the planet than either renewable energy or electric cars. Indeed, we would go as far as to say that there is no other sector more core to sustainability and efficiency than online education.
It remains however that the perceived lack of social interaction provided by online education is where the largest misconceptions lie and where eyebrows are raised when I suggest it. This is simply not an issue. Today increasingly, online collaboration is forming a much more significant part of online courses and so powerful is the opportunity this affords, that MIT for example is in the midst researching this topic in detail in order to ensure a far better online learning experience for their students ensuring social interaction is at its heart.
So going back to my point about an online high school, it is for all these reasons that I am considering the option for my twins. I recognise the significant benefit they would have with the literal opening of their world, the recreation of the old school classroom and the opportunity to engage with children based all around the world. But I can also see clearly that this is where the future of education - from primary to retooling a changing workforce - is heading unequivocally.
It is up to us, the investors, to support this expanding sector and facilitate the creation of dynamic new opportunities for education and employment in this evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This article appeared in Business Green in May 2017
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
From smart fridges, to wearable health monitoring devices, connected energy grids and networked thermostats, a great deal has been reported over the past few years on the potential of digitising the physical world. Today it is clear that ‘the internet of things’ (IoT) is connecting ever more devices over the internet - using sensors and microchips – for machines to talk to each other, to other applications and to talk to us. Our view at Zouk is that IoT is enabling a sustainability revolution with two levels of efficiency at its core – improving energy efficiency in the first order, and generating significant productivity gains through connectivity in the second.
To put this efficiency gains in context, we can take lighting as an example. A traditional energy efficiency goal would be to design a better lightbulb, which might improve its energy consumption by 10%. In a digital efficiency context, in a ‘smart city’ if every streetlight in a city uses sensors and is connected to the Internet, lighting can be fully optimised across the entire city lighting system – saving energy but also saving time, resources and reducing downtime. By applying analytics to sensors and location data in real time, the improvements are fully automated, take little additional equipment and are highly scalable in nature.
In fact, there is a quiet revolution underway in our lives and much of this, is made possible by IoT. Everywhere we look, its influence is in our lives - reaching into factories and shops, improving operating efficiencies as well as creating systems in vehicles such as autonomous cars or in flight navigation or in engine efficiency. It is core to human devices that monitor our health, it helps us in the home where systems connected to the internet control our heating or security.
The improvements in energy efficiency alone are notable. A 2016 AT&T report predicted that a boom in these machine-to-machine technologies could even cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost a fifth in the coming decade – as much as 9.1 billion tonnes by 2020 equivalent to 18.6% of global greenhouse emissions in 2011.
It is the connectivity improvements that take efficiency benefits to another level. Alarm systems, city lighting, pallet tracking, water monitoring and pipeline monitoring are all business areas benefiting hugely from IoT providing much optimised processes. Imagine a security system or network of pipelines able to anticipate an outage or fault, well before it becomes an issue. But with the explosive growth in data traffic globally as well as the massive expected ramp up in connected devices, significant improvements in telecommunications network infrastructures will be needed in order to enable the full potential of IoT.
SIGFOX, a French company and a global leader in IoT, is addressing these demands. By deploying a low-cost, wide area, low-power network operating on unlicensed spectrum, it is able to provide the most affordable and energy-efficient connectivity solution to date, enabling the IoT for billions of new devices. Its innovative business model means that end customers don’t need to roll out their own network and can connect their devices seamlessly anywhere in the world, making it extremely efficient and very cost effective. These improvements promoted by the likes of SIGFOX, we believe will in turn catalyse efficiency gains across other sectors of the economy. Recent McKinsey analysis of the breadth and magnitude of these opportunities puts estimates of the value of IoT at no less than between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion by 2025 with Gartner estimating that 26 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.
So in conclusion, the combination of saving ‘old’ first order resources such as energy with ‘second order’ connectivity benefits puts the digital world at the core of all efficiency gains. For us at Zouk therefore, there is no doubt that IoT is key to delivering on the sustainability and resource efficiency promises of digital technology.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner
Fintech has undoubtedly taken the world of financial services by storm, creating new categories such as peer-to-peer lending, mobile payments, virtual currencies, smart money transfer to name a few. Sustainability within the sector comes in two guises. First order resource efficiency in fintech is the carbon abatement effect – the reduction of paper or even power or replacing hardware altogether. Second order savings go beyond traditional sustainability and regard capital as a resource. Fintech companies are disintermediating banks and enabling a mechanism to allocate capital in a highly efficient manner. Inefficiencies are widespread in the financial services sector, and it is poised for technological disruption.
SMEs have more choice today
One area for significant resource efficiency lies in addressing the financial needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are a significant driver for the global economy, representing over half of global GDP and employing nearly two thirds of the global work force. And yet they have been historically underserved due to incumbent banks’ ineffectiveness in dealing with the sector’s high complexity. Today SMEs have real choice when it comes to financial services, and there has never been such an efficient system for completing financial transactions. Companies like Lending Club, the world’s largest online marketplace offer crowdsourcing and bring lenders and borrowers together for a fraction of time, money and effort required previously. Ditto for money transfer, which, until now this was an extremely complicated and costly business for SMEs. The business has now been transformed by peer-to-peer money services like Transferwise, backed by Richard Branson.
There are other financial technology companies such as mobile payments firm iZettle and financial supply chain company Taulia that are advancing efficiency disruptions in financial services, as recognised by a recent World Economic Forum report. By leveraging combinations of mobile technology, enterprise software and big data analytics, whilst both very different, these companies are able to streamline business processes, such as payments and invoicing, and offer highly competitive products based on a much deeper understanding of the needs of their customers. iZettle, for example, enables even the smallest of market traders to take payments in the same way as larger companies by turning phones into effective POS terminals. This has a huge and positive impact on their businesses. Indeed, evidence has shown that simply having the ability to take card payments can transform a business and lead to significant increase in sales.
Fintech firms deliver tangible, sustainable savings
Furthermore, many fintech companies are also delivering multiple orders of resource efficiency. For instance, we see many companies that are displacing legacy carbon-intensive transaction processes, such as paperwork or dedicated terminals – the so called ‘first order efficiencies’. The first order savings of carbon demonstrated by iZettle are through its low paper usage, ie emailed receipts - and reduction in hardware because merchants can use their mobiles - means that iZettle will be saving carbon emissions of 1,100 tonnes per annum by the end of 2016, the equivalent of 1,009 rooftop solar PV systems. These are tangible, sustainable savings.
Second order savings are those that empower SMEs to streamline their businesses and provide them with access to highly cost-effective financing, effectively helping to accelerate the way they use their cash and stimulating the local economy. These are extraordinarily powerful. Taulia recognised the huge inefficiencies within the invoicing process. Its invoice discounting offer simplifies this manual process, providing an automated invoicing, which does away with physical paper invoices and relies on digital invoices instead. This e-invoicing is not remarkable in itself but it enables Taulia to offer ‘dynamic discounting’, where a supplier can opt for early payment in return for a discount - a simple idea, with dramatic upside. Many of the beneficiaries of this service are the long tail of small suppliers of large corporations. Taulia has revolutionised their invoicing and cash management processes, ensuring far more business efficiency. Not forgetting Taulia’s first order savings - large amounts of paper are displaced and time is saved in processing invoices the old fashioned, manual way. We estimate that Taulia could avoid 681 tonnes of CO2 and 48,000 kgs of land waste from 2015-2018 based on the paper saved through e-invoicing.
Opportunities in fintech are growing exponentially
The magnitude of opportunities in fintech companies has not gone unnoticed. According to an Accenture report in 2015, global investment in fintech companies grew by 201% globally in 2014, compared to 63% growth in overall venture capital investments. Total invested in 2014 was US$12.21bn, three times the amount quoted for 2013. These trends have been acknowledged by prominent industry leaders such as JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon, who famously stated “Silicon Valley wants to eat our lunch”.
So in conclusion, fintech companies take sustainability far beyond saving paper or hardware. The biggest savings made are the bottom line opportunities created by the highly efficient way they liberate capital from the previous constriction of the banking industry. Today’s SMEs can now take part in global business with the same tools as their bigger counterparts. The playing field has been levelled - this is resource efficiency at its most compelling.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner