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Insight into sustainability themes

Zouk's Views

  • July 2021
    Beyond ESG investing: Building a Culture of Sustainability
  • Beyond ESG investing: Building a Culture of Sustainability
    July 2021

    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

  • June 2020
    Samer Salty appears in Leaders Council podcast alongside Lord Blunkett
  • Samer Salty appears in Leaders Council podcast alongside Lord Blunkett
    June 2020

    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:

    Samer Salty, Managing Partner

  • February 2019
    Blockchain could prove a powerful driver of sustainability
  • Blockchain could prove a powerful driver of sustainability
    February 2019

    Sustainability is probably not the first attribute that springs to mind when mentioning blockchain. Many of us are aware of the stories of vast Bitcoin mining farms using the combined electricity per month of countries the size of Denmark.

    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


  • February 2019
    Leapfrogging 2.0: How Africa leads the way
  • Leapfrogging 2.0: How Africa leads the way
    February 2019

    The subject of Africa ‘leapfrogging’ developments through technology is not a new one, and it has been written about extensively. There is no doubt amongst most commentators that it is the mobile revolution that has catalysed this phenomenon, particularly the now ubiquitous smartphone that has enabled Africa to bypass elements of traditional development.

    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.

  • June 2018
    Reflecting on the iZettle PayPal deal
  • Reflecting on the iZettle PayPal deal
    June 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


  • May 2018
    Bus disrupters: solving the challenges of today’s urban congestion
  • Bus disrupters: solving the challenges of today’s urban congestion
    May 2018

    The challenges of urban congestion have been long suffered by residents and visitors in many large African cities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg.

    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

  • October 2017
    Taking inspiration from the renewables revolution
  • Taking inspiration from the renewables revolution
    October 2017

    ‘Marginal’, ‘niche’, ‘fringe’ were all terms regularly used for the renewables industry fifteen years ago.

    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

    This article appeared in Environmental Finance in October 2017.

  • May 2017
    Online education: set to deliver a massive sustainability windfall
  • Online education: set to deliver a massive sustainability windfall
    May 2017

    When I mention in conversation that I am considering an online high school for my preschool twins, I sense the reaction I receive isn’t always based on a full understanding of the facts.

    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

  • January 2017
    Internet of Things: connecting to a sustainable future
  • Internet of Things: connecting to a sustainable future
    January 2017

    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

    This piece appeared in Environmental Finance in December 2016

  • May 2016
    Fintech: liberating capital for SMEs, efficiently
  • Fintech: liberating capital for SMEs, efficiently
    May 2016

    Today’s evolution in sustainable investing of using technology to go beyond the traditional mandate of cleaner and greener, is nowhere more apparent than in the rapidly emerging sector of fintech - a sector we believe to be at the heart of resource efficient investing.

    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

    This article appeared in Business Green in May 2016

  • March 2016
    Cybersecurity: winning the battle on two fronts
  • Cybersecurity: winning the battle on two fronts
    March 2016

    Cybersecurity is a sector at centre of a sustainability revolution. It is one, which brings the huge risks created by cybercrime together with a solution that puts two levels of efficiency at its core – improving energy efficiency in the first order as well as saving business resources in the second.

    Cybersecurity critical to fulfilling potential of digitisation

    Cybersecurity, in general, is a must-have for delivering on the sustainability and resource efficiency promise of digital technology. This is because cybersecurity protects critical assets from harm and those assets are becoming more and more digitised and interconnected. According to some estimates, over 40 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020 (ABI research). This includes resource-intensive assets in energy, utilities, agriculture, manufacturing etc. This trend is driven by the promise of huge efficiencies delivered by the bridging of the physical and digital worlds. However the flip side is that these connected assets are also becoming increasingly vulnerable and exposed to cyberattacks, which sabotage the frictionless operation of the assets and hence undermine the efficiency of these technologies. It is for this reason that cybersecurity is a must-have to tap the full efficiency potential brought by digitisation and connectivity.

    Massive cost of cybercrime

    This vulnerability is highlighted by the high profile security breaches that are rarely out of the news these days. Not only are they highly damaging and disruptive to international businesses, they are unimaginably costly. Research by accountants Grant Thornton in 2015 revealed that the total cost of attacks globally was estimated to be at least US$315bn over the past 12 months, a figure they based on estimates of total business lost. McAfee, one of the leaders in cyber security, quotes at the very least a similar figure in a 2014 report on the global impact of cybercrime. These are huge numbers, meaningful for any economy, and there appears to be no slowing in the exponential growth of these crimes.
    Whilst the cost of implementing a comprehensive cyberdefence strategy can be significant, this pales into insignificance when you compare it to the cost of loss of business including lost reputation, a loss of trust and permanently damaged relationships with your customers? There is no doubt that US retailer Target’s catastrophic 2013 cyberattack, which led to customers’ credit card details being made public, had a far more lasting effect than simply the immediate cost of corrective and restorative action. The benefits behind effective cyberdefence become glaringly obvious when comparing the cost to Target of installing FireEye malware detection appliances at US$1.6m with the cost of the subsequent breach, highlighted in a 2014 Bloomberg article. In 2015, Target revealed the data breach cost it US$262m.

    Successful cyberdefence requires a resource efficient philosophy

    However, simply implementing a cyberdefence plan is not enough on its own. FireEye had detected the 2013 attack, however, Target’s internal reporting systems failed to pick up the alert. The bottom line is that for cybersecurity to be successful it needs to be implemented with resource efficiency at the heart of a business philosophy. Otherwise even if the attacks are detected, they will not always be properly identified. Effective cyberdefence requires a blanket attitude to efficiency in the organisation as a whole, one that encompasses internal reporting procedures, governance and processes ensuring that the way the business is run is efficient to its core.
    At Zouk, we see the cybersecurity sector as one that clearly benefits from a resource efficient approach. New companies in cybercrime-detection have been designed in an era where efficiency considerations were front of mind and where the fundamental design of the business architecture has leapfrogged similar businesses where efficiency was of secondary importance. This is where first order, physical efficiencies i.e. those that save energy, also start making a difference.

    Cyphort offers energy and business efficiency

    Cyphort is one such company. Cyphort’s cloud-based, software-only architecture is de facto less carbon intensive than physical appliance-based solutions and therefore enables the company to offer energy efficiency as an additional benefit. This goes beyond simply a desire to be ‘green’ because being more energy efficient basically also means cheaper and more scalable to run. Cyphort’s approach means sizeable energy savings of up to 70-80% compared to existing solutions - also saving similar amounts of energy required for air conditioning of the data centres. From a second order perspective, Cyphort’s software-based approach represents a step change in efficiency, moving to an even more efficient level within the cybersecurity space. Cyphort has a fully virtualised solution that unlike many more traditional cybersecurity firms does not rely on installing dedicated physical appliances. Cyphort’s software based model offers much better scalability and flexibility of deployment, resulting in significantly higher resource efficiency. The bottom line is that this next generation approach to efficiency helps Cyphort’s clients to mitigate massive cyber threats in a truly efficient manner, which saves time, cost and ultimately risk to reputation and future growth.

    Second order savings go beyond clean and green

    So in conclusion, resource efficiency has become more than simply saving ‘old’ first order resources such as energy or water. Today it looks at what ‘second order’ savings can be made within business models, or digital resources, reputation or even time – all of which lead to successful, effective businesses. For us at Zouk, there is no doubt therefore, that cybersecurity is already an area where massive business savings are being made when an efficient cybersecurity solution is employed. When you consider the scale and impact of cybercrime today, an approach that helps companies defend themselves from attack, whilst delivering efficiency savings across the board, has never been so essential. 

    Samer Salty, Managing Partner

    This article appeared on in March 2016.

  • January 2016
    Technology is pivotal to today’s sustainable investing
  • Technology is pivotal to today’s sustainable investing
    January 2016

    Technology is pivotal to today’s sustainable investing 

    For years economists and scientists have been telling us of the impending doom of diminishing global resources and the ensuing catastrophic impact on business. Without doubt, this scarcity has meant we have had no choice but to find more sustainable ways of doing business. In contrast, digital resources have exploded - created by the abundance of information generated in our online age. This has led to a new approach in technology investing, one which addresses the impact of shrinking resources and that creates the means to manage the profusion of new digital resources. By actively managing both, we create better and more sustainable businesses. This is what we call resource efficiency.

    New efficiencies improve resource consumption

    So as investors today, we should be looking for ‘efficiencies’ at the core of every investment – efficiencies in ‘old’ resources such as energy, water or materials and efficiencies in ‘new’ ones, such as data, computing power, networks. Efficiency is not only about ‘doing more with less’; it is about using technology to uncover improvements in resource consumption. Take Google as an example.  According to the company, its data centre servers are now able to generate three and a half times the computing power at the same cost and with less electricity than they did five years ago. Information technology is THE critical enabler for efficiency gains and is the next generation approach to cleantech investing.  As far back as 2010, Accenture wrote a report on the cloud’s unprecedented efficiencies and subsequent environmental impact. Today investors are beginning to recognise that resource efficiency makes not only good sustainable sense but also good business sense. In fact, when you stop to consider this further, it is clear that there are whole swathes of the technology industry that have resource savings and improved efficiencies at their core. Document storage, payment services, security, online education and the sharing economy all have elements of resource efficiencies within. There are some big trends emerging from within a raft of different industries – and we believe there are unprecedented opportunities for investors.

    Fintech benefits from streamlined processes

    The world of financial technology is ideally suited to take advantage of the revolution within resource efficiency. Applepay, launched this summer in the UK, and a timely illustration of advanced efficiency in payment systems. What could be more efficient than being able to pay with your mobile phone? And with these efficiencies provided for making payments, in order to maximise efficiency, the same approach is surely required for receiving payments. iZettle, a provider of mobile payment services and apps, allows an entrepreneur or micro merchant to streamline their entire payment system, and is now the number one provider in Europe. By making this process so easy and painless, the resulting effect is more time for small businesses to concentrate on running their company and doing more business.

    Taking a corporate rather than consumer perspective is Taulia, the supply chain finance company has revolutionized invoice management, by eliminating cash crunches for companies with slow-paying customers. Taulia not only saves ‘old’ resources by saving paper and transport for example, its cloud-based solution creates huge efficiencies by harnessing and channeling massive quantities of data - another classic example of a resource efficient investment.

    Intelligent collaboration streamlines information overload

    Collaboration software on the other hand helps to solve one of the modern day resource problems – that of too much information and how to manage this. Collaboration software is reaping the benefits of a resource efficient approach. Huddle, whose cloud-based content collaboration platform, is delivered via a SaaS-model to enterprise clients, and is disrupting the enterprise technology space and transforming the way that teams and companies work together. Today’s workforce doesn't need just cloud storage, but intelligent collaboration tools that help teams get their jobs done.

    Finally, in today’s new world of devices linking up to talk to each other – so called Internet of Things, this is precisely where the vision of connectivity between traditional industries and enabling technologies becomes a reality. SIGFOX, is one of the most exciting providers of dedicated connectivity for Internet of Things and Machine to Machine communications. It is a pioneer of cost effective and energy efficient two-way connectivity to billions of objects.

    Green is only one answer

    In conclusion, whilst resource scarcity will long remain a critical issue, it is no longer only a ‘green’ approach that addresses the dilemma. Technology is filling the void and creating highly efficient sustainable businesses – efficient in resources and efficient in business model. It is our job as investors to support the growth and development of these companies. Next time you look to make an investment, consider it through the efficiency lens. Today technology indeed plays a central role in ensuring a sustainable approach to investing.

    Samer Salty, Managing Partner

    This article appeared in Alt Assets in January 2016.