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Guest blog by Jake Sargent
I first learned of Health In Harmony only six months ago – I had recently co-founded a venture fund, called Softmatter, to invest in sustainable consumer start-ups, and was looking for inspiring stories of disruption to share with our small community of like-minded investors and social entrepreneurs. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I decided my time, and resources, were best utilized helping to cultivate a shift in our global consumption – but it stemmed from five years as the creative director of a fashion brand and being a participant in an inefficient system that produces waste at all levels of the supply and distribution chains. We can find, and support, a better way.
Unlike my journey towards impact investing, there was a precise moment when deforestation shifted from a puzzling bewilderment (why are we destroying our most precious ecosystems to produce commodities like timber and palm oil?) to an urgent call to action. And it comes down to one fact, which is worth repeating here - that the slash and burn of rain forests and peatlands in Indonesia have, on their worst days, released more carbon into the atmosphere than the entire United States economy.
With that fact in hand, deforestation suddenly began to look a lot like the behemoth issues that Silicon Valley takes on – large, seemingly insurmountable, requiring the collaboration and reorganization of government, corporate and citizen players, and, most importantly, ripe for disruption. Such complex issues are intimidating by their nature and can produce paralysis – in the ecosystem of Silicon Valley, the race towards a billion-dollar valuation or personal wealth and reputation is incentive enough to cultivate innovation. But in the ecosystem of the Indonesian rain forest, where the measures of success are complex, the responsibility collective, and the rewards more planetary than personal – where to even begin.
Thankfully, we have trailblazers like Kinari Webb and the team at Health In Harmony, who show us there is a form of disruption – harmonious disruption? – that relies less on technological invention and more on responsive action, that places more value on the empowering model of radical listening than the anonymity of big data, and that builds coalitions rather than undercuts competition.
Clayton Christensen, the father of the disruptive innovation theory, writes that disruptive innovations “offer a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from the mainstream” – they are designed for a new set of customers. In this sense, Health In Harmony’s model of radical listening, in which community members for the first time are empowered to identify the root causes and solutions of environmental destruction on their home lands, is truly disruptive.
There’s another important quality to disruption that’s embodied by Health In Harmony, and that’s optimism. Disruption is forward looking, a rejection of the status quo, a vision for a more efficient, holistic, joyful future. There’s a tendency – that I have, and I think it’s shared – to feel paralyzed by collective guilt for the environmental destruction we’ve caused. Kinari is one of those rare individuals who can face an issue like deforestation, undeterred by the magnitude or the weight of the problem, and be in action on a solution.
I’m still new to venture capital, but I’ve already met with close to one hundred founders and hope I’m becoming adept at sharing their vision, distilling their business plans, and using my best judgment to measure their likelihood for success. In venture capital we look for disruptive ideas - those that begin on the fringes, solve unmet needs, and reach underserved populations, and we look at how to scale them. There is a world of vulnerable habitats at risk, and local communities who, when empowered, are ready to protect them.
In Health In Harmony, we have a model of radical listening and health-conservation proven through the successes of the ASRI pilot program in Borneo. Let’s invest in scaling Health In Harmony’s disruptive model with the same enthusiasm and bold commitments that gives venture capital its name – the stakes couldn’t be higher.
About Jake Sargent
Jake is a founding partner of Softmatter, an early-stage venture fund investing in ideas to reduce the environmental impact of modern consumption. Jake seeks out investments in fashion, food, and consumer goods with a focus on advanced materials, supply chain innovation, and values-based brands.